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Central Park

The Pond

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

When Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) created their design for Central Park in 1858, they transformed the low-lying swamplands into pastoral water bodies. The picturesque Pond, a 3.8-acre lake, was placed on the site of steep rock outcrops and a natural brook that came from the west side of Manhattan Island and emptied into the East River. In Olmsted and Vaux’s original plan, the area around the Pond was carefully designed to take the visitor through ever-changing scenery.

In the early 1860s, the Pond and the 72nd Street Lake provided an opportunity for ice-skating, previously unknown to New Yorkers since the rivers rarely froze and there was no natural water body in Manhattan suitable for the sport. In the 1860s and 70s, more people came to the Park in the winter than in any other season because of the ice-skating craze. A system of red flags was established as a signal for the public when the ice was frozen. A red ball on the trolleys downtown also let New Yorkers know when they could skate in the Park. In 1951, the northern arm of the Pond, which had been filled in by the early 1940s, became the site of Wollman Rink, which guaranteed good skating conditions throughout the winter.

The most popular feature on the Pond was undoubtedly the swan boats, which today are associated with the Boston Public Garden. The “swan velocipede boats,” first used in Boston, were a popular feature on Central Park’s Pond from 1877 until 1924.

In 1934, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981) created a 3.4-acre nature sanctuary, known as the Promontory. It was renamed the Hallett Nature Sanctuary in 1986 by Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern, in honor of George Hervey Hallett, Jr. (1895-1985), an assiduous civic reformer and an avid bird-watcher.

Gapstow Bridge is the second bridge on this site. The original, whose design is attributed to Jacob Wrey Mould (1825-1886), was built in 1874. One of the most unusual bridges in the Park, it was made of stone abutments, with cast-iron filigree and two semi-circular wooden arches. The wooden arches and flooring deteriorated, and the bridge was replaced in 1896 by a simple stone structure, designed by Howard and Caudwell. It was built of unadorned Manhattan schist.

In 2001, the Pond was completely restored by the Central Park Conservancy, the not-for-profit organization that manages Central Park in partnership with City of New York/Parks & Recreation. While most of the features of the original design were retained, improvements in design and were made. These include the creation of an island for a secure wildlife habitat, the construction of a series of picturesque pools and low cascades on the western arm of the Pond, and the addition of new wetland plantings and upland vegetation to provide seasonal color and texture.

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