While Central Park wasn’t designed until 1857, it’s home to a pristinely preserved relic from America’s most confusing war. Tucked inside the park’s northern border, you can find a blockhouse built to stave off the British in The War of 1812.
In the beginning of the nineteenth century, America found themselves once again at odds with their former sovereign. Britain, fully engaged in a war with Napoleon Bonaparte of France, had disturbed America’s ability to trade with other European nations in an effort to help their own economy and hurt France’s. They were also capturing sailors on American ships and forcing them to fight in The Napoleonic War on Britain’s side. Meanwhile back in North America, Great Britain attempted to stop the United States’ expansion by working with Native Americans and former slaves to hold mid-western territory. America would then try to seize Canada as their own. Though the Americans were woefully unprepared for a fight, ultimately the Brits had overextended themselves and a treaty was signed. Neither America nor Great Britain could really declare a victory but there was certainly a clear loser in the war. The Native Americans lost significant territory and suffered many casualties.
During the war, New Yorkers build fortification in the New York Harbor assuming the British would attack them from the southern part of Manhattan, closest to where they lived. Instead, an attack came on the Long Island Sound at Stonington, Connecticut. New York responded by adding three blockhouses to the northern part of Manhattan.
The British did not have time to invade Manhattan though. The war ended months after the attack on Connecticut. All of the other northern blockhouses would eventually disappear. However, Central Park’s designers decided to preserve the one within the park’s border, using it as an architectural accent, a ruin which they covered with vines. Their decision preserved a reminder of our nation’s first war, making it the oldest building in the park.