When the Board of Commissioners of Central Park organized the design competition for a new park in 1857, the rules did not stipulate that the plans include any features for children. After a few years, however, the Board decided to set up a "children’s district" with attractions specifically intended for younger park visitors. By 1872, this district comprised the Carousel, a playground (now the Heckscher Ball Fields and Playground), the Children’s Cottage (since destroyed), the Kinderberg Rustic Shelter (now the Chess and Checkers House), and the Dairy.
Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) designed the Dairy, which is constructed of Manhattan schist and sandstone. The structure incorporates many features typical of Gothic Revival architecture. The windows of the Great Hall and the spire recall a country church. The steep pitched roof and loggia (open-air porch) evoke images of a mountain chalet. Finally, the framing of the beams and gambrel ceilings resemble those of a rustic barn. Situated and designed to catch the cool breezes coming off the pond (the site of the present Wollman Rink), the bucolic loggia provides respite from the summer heat.
Central Park’s designers Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) planned the Dairy as a place of respite to maximize summer breezes. It was to feature a refreshment stand with light snacks and fresh milk for children. In the 1850s, a rash of tainted milk was sold in New York. This milk, known as swill milk, was taken from cows which had fed from swill—mash leftover from the beer brewing process. In the mid-1860s, the production and sale of milk became strictly regulated. As a result, most of the milk consumed in New York City was shipped in from upstate farms, as inner-city dairies became less common and less able to meet the heightened standards. Despite the regulations, milk quality remained a concern to social reformers and health advocates. Olmsted and Vaux may have been thinking of those recent scares when they drew up the plans for the Dairy.
The Dairy was also to include a kiosk to loan out toys, but this became the province of the nearby Children’s Cottage. When finally opened to the public in 1871, the Dairy barely resembled Olmsted and Vaux’s original plan. Park officials from the Tweed Administration had installed a public restaurant priced to attract middle-class New Yorkers. By the time the restaurant closed in the 1950s, the Dairy’s dilapidated loggia had been torn down, and the stone building had become a maintenance shed.
In 1979, after years of vacancy, designer James Lamantia and Weisberg Castro Associates restored the interior of the Dairy. It reopened as the park’s first visitor center under the new Central Park Administration. Two years later, the loggia was restored to its Victorian splendor and the Central Park Conservancy took over management of the Dairy. The Conservancy, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1980, manages Central Park under contract with Parks. Today, the Dairy houses a permanent exhibit on the history and design of the park.
Directions to Central Park
Know Before You Go
There are currently 2 service interruptions affecting access within this park.
As of April 27, Central Park's Bow Bridge is closed to the public for structural work and a fresh coat of paint. The work is expected to last three to four months. Removing the old paint will require wrapping the bridge in a tent-like structure to prevent debris from falling into the water. Along with repainting, the work will include replacing the wooden decking, fixing several beams on the underside of the span, and reinforcing approaches at either end.
Anticipated Completion: Summer 2015
Starting June 29, 2015, Central Park Drives north of 72nd Street will be permanently car-free. For more information, please visit on.nyc.gov/1MOAh40.
Central Park Weather
- NYC Parks Celebrates A Decade Since Unveiling The Gates In Central Park, Looks Forward To Art In Parks In 2015
- This Weekend In Parks
- Tomorrow's World: The New York World's Fairs And Flushing Meadows Park On View At The Arsenal Gallery
- Exhibition: Living Landmarks
- Shakespeare in the Park: Cymbeline
- Exhibition: Living Landmarks
- Central Park Tour: Southern Welcome Tour
- Lecture: Seneca Village and Central Park, Unearthing a Forgotten African-American Community
- Baseball Fields
- Basketball Courts
- Bicycling and Greenways
- Dog-friendly Areas
- Fitness Equipment
- Great Trees
- Handball Courts
- Historic Houses
- Horseback Riding Trails
- Ice Skating Rinks
- Nature Centers
- Outdoor Pools
- Paddleboat Rentals
- Recreation Centers
- Soccer Fields
- Spray Showers
- Tennis Courts
- Volleyball Courts
- Wi-Fi Hot Spots
- Zoos and Aquariums
Know when to go:
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