Bowling Green is New York City’s oldest park. According to tradition, this spot served as the council ground for Native American tribes and was the site of the legendary sale of Manhattan to Peter Minuit in 1626. The Dutch called the area "the Plain" and used it for several purposes. It was the beginning of Heere Staat (High Street, now Broadway)—a trade route which extended north through Manhattan and the Bronx. It was also the site of a parade ground, meeting place, and cattle market. In 1686 the site became public property, when the City Charter put all "waste, vacant, unpatented and unappropriated lands" under municipal domain.
Bowling Green was first designated as a park in 1733, when it was offered for rent at the cost of one peppercorn per year. Lessees John Chambers, Peter Bayard, and Peter Jay were responsible for improving the site with grass, trees, and a wood fence "for the Beauty & Ornament of the Said Street as well as for the Recreation & delight of the Inhabitants of this City." A gilded lead statue of King George III was erected here in 1770, and the iron fence (now a New York City landmark) was installed in 1771. On July 9, 1776, after the first public reading in New York State of the Declaration of Independence, this monument was toppled by angry citizens, dragged up Broadway, sent to Connecticut, melted down, and recast as ammunition. Portions of the statue are held by the Museum of the City of New York and the New-York Historical Society (which also possesses musket balls made from the statue’s lead).
By the late 18th century, Bowling Green marked the center of New York’s most fashionable residential area, surrounded by rows of Federal-style townhouses. In 1819 the Common Council voted that neighbors could plant and tend the area in return for the exclusive use of the park by their families. By mid-century, shipping offices inhabited the old townhouses, and the park was returned to more public use. Monuments installed in the park in the 19th century include two fountains (now gone) and a statue of New York’s first mayor, Abraham De Peyster (1896, by George Bissell). De Peyster was moved to nearby Hanover Square in 1976.
In the first decade of the 20th century, Bowling Green was disrupted by the construction of the IRT subway. The park was rebuilt as part of citywide improvements made in preparation for visitors to the 1939 World’s Fair. Renovations to Bowling Green included removing the fountain basin, relocating the interior walkways, installing new benches, and providing new plantings. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, members of the Board of Estimate, and local businessmen participated in the rededication ceremony, held April 6, 1939. Despite unseasonably late snow, the ceremony included a demonstration of colonial-era lawn bowling.
A 1976-77 capital renovation restored Bowling Green to its 18th-century appearance. Improvements included the redistribution of subway entrances, the installation of new lampposts and benches, and landscaping. Publisher and philanthropist George Delacorte donated the park’s central fountain.
Since December 1989 the statue of Charging Bull (1987-89) has been on display at the north end of the park. Its sculptor, Arturo DiModica, says the three-and-a-half-ton bronze figure represents "the strength, power and hope of the American people for the future." It has also been linked to the prosperity enjoyed by Wall Street in the past decade.