The Blockhouse today

Central Park and The War of 1812

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.

Blockhouse Entrance
Blockhouse Entrance

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.

Manhattan's fortifications for the War of 1812
Manhattan’s fortifications for the War of 1812

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.

The Blockhouse covered in vines
The Blockhouse covered in vines

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Central Park visitors to get soaked in giant water fight this month

Waterfight in Central Park

Ah the waterfight, a perennial childhood favorite. Every year we’d fill up our water guns and run around soaking a sibling or maybe the kid from across the street. It was fun but it never seemed to compare to the giant, all-out water wars you saw on Nickelodeon. Now, all these years later, your childhood fantasy is about to come true. On July 30th from 2 to 5pm, New Yorkers will swarm Central Park’s Great Lawn sporting water guns, super soakers, buckets full of water, and spray bottles (but not water balloons – they’re banned because of the mess they leave) with one mission: getting everyone really wet.

If you’d like to join in the fun, check out the Official Event Page on Facebook. You’ll find rules, recommendations about what to bring, and event merchandise.

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A “hidden” Central Park woodland is returned to New York’s citizens.

The Hallett Nature Sanctuary

When Central Park was designed, it was architect Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s intention to bring nature to the citizens of New York. Rather than just building paved gathering areas or gardens, they built meadows, and lakes, and three wooded areas. Up until this year though, most people only had access to two of the wooded areas: The Ramble and The North Woods.

Hallett's Wild Woodland

The third woodland sits on the rocky western shoreline of The Pond (located near, 59th Street between 5th and 6th Ave). The three and a half acre area, once known as The Promontory, has mostly been closed to the public since 1934 when former Parks Commissioner Robert Moses fenced it off to “to see what happens if you let nature take care of nature,” as Gal Lavid, operations director for the Central Park Conservancy told the New York Times. Commissioner Moses seemed to have a thing for nature sanctuaries, he knocked down an entire fishing resort town on Jamaica Bay to create one.

The Department of Parks continued Moses’s sanctuary experiment for decades. As Central Park is not actually nature, but rather a man-made re-creation of nature, the Promontory experienced the same problem most parks would have if they were left unattended, it became overrun by weeds. In 2001, The Central Park Conservancy began an extensive restoration of The Pond and the surrounding Promontory, tearing out Tree of Heaven, Wisteria, Black Cherry, Norway Maple and other invasive species that had completely saturated the area.

Closeup: Plants in Hallett Nature Sanctuary

In 1986, the Promontory was renamed the Hallett Nature Sanctuary to honor George Hervey Hallett, Jr. a civic leader and lover of nature. It remained closed though until 2013. After 79 years, The Central Park Conservancy finally opened the Hallett Nature Sanctuary to the public for a special viewing. Then finally, this year the hidden woodlands received regular hours. Starting in July, you can visit Hallett Nature Sanctuary on Monday from 2-5pm, Wednesday from 2-7pm, Friday from 2-5pm, and Sunday from 11-1pm. The Conservancy will only let 20 people into the area at once so be prepared to wait in a line. These hours will continue until September when they will be amended for the fall season.

Inside Hallett Nature Sanctuary

As you walk through the area, you’ll find park officials stationed throughout as if you’re visiting a museum. Even though it’s open to the public, the park wants the area remain primarily a wildlife sanctuary. You won’t find benches or street lights and will be asked to stay on the wood-chip path. However, if you walk up to the top of the waterfall, you’ll be able to spot a reminder that the park is still man-made nature. Hidden beneath a log is a white plastic pipe that serves as the source of the falls. For many years this was just a garden hose but it was upgraded before it was open to the public.

The Source of Hallett's Waterfall

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The Ladies Pavilion

The Ladies Pavillion
The Ladies Pavillion – photo by Heather Shimmin

— This guest blog post was written by Heather Shimmin. —

The Ladies Pavilion in Central Park is a delectable Victorian fantasy in cast iron. This delightful little structure sits on The Lake near West 75th Street. Its whimsical decorative ironwork, broken columns, and elaborate cresting topped with gold-leaf finials makes it one of the finest examples of the Decorative Arts movement in the United States.

The pavilion was designed by Jacob Wrey Mould in 1871 as a trolley shelter that sat on the southwest corner of the park at 8th Avenue and 59th Street. It served as a respite from the elements for parkgoers for over forty years until the construction of the Maine Monument began in 1912 when it was moved to its present location.

When the shelter was moved, it was renamed The Ladies Pavilion because of its close proximity to the Ladies Skating Pond. To the city’s surprise, the Ladies Skating Pond was never used much. Women preferred to skate on the large co-ed rink where they could hold a gentleman’s hand in public. Physical contact with the opposite sex in public was strictly frowned upon in the Victorian Era. Ice skating was one of the few activities where men and women could have physical contact in a public space, so naturally the women-only skating rink proved quite unpopular. In 1920, it was filled in and covered with azaleas and other plantings.

By 1971, the pavilion was dilapidated and finally torn apart by vandals. Fortunately, pieces of the pavilion were salvaged and the structure was rebuilt. To prevent future destruction, the pavilion was anchored with steel rods sunk into a three-foot concrete foundation.

Except for its monochromatic slate roof and some missing decorative foliage elements from the arcade frieze, the pavilion looks very much as it did when it was moved to its present location. Having only Mould’s working drawing of the pavilion, done in the autumn of 1871, it is impossible to know what the original finished structure looked like.

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