Central Park

Seneca Village

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

What was here before?

Seneca Village was located from 82nd to 89th Streets between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in what is now a section of Central Park.

Beginning in 1825, parcels of land were sold to individuals living downtown, and to members of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, considered one of the largest and most prosperous congregations of African Americans in 19th century America. By the 1850s, the community expanded to over 225 people; two-thirds were African American, and the rest were primarily Irish immigrants. Over half of the African American population owned their homes — making it the largest concentration of Black property owners in the city at the time. The presence of a natural spring near 82nd Street likely provided the fresh drinking water necessary for the maintenance and stability of a large community.

Religion played an enormous part in most communities in the nineteenth century, and Seneca Village was no exception. Two churches, the African Union Methodist and the AME Zion (today known as Mother AME Zion), were constructed in the village near 85th Street. Their congregations were completely African American. Colored School No. 3, one of the few black schools in New York City, was established in the 1840s adjacent to the African Union Methodist Church. All Angels' Church, an affiliate of St. Michael's (currently on Broadway at 99th Street), was built in 1849. It had a racially integrated congregation of African Americans from Seneca Village and Irish and German parishioners living in the village and nearby.

How did this site become a park?

In 1853, the state legislature authorized the use of "eminent domain," the taking of private property for public purpose, to create Central Park, the city’s first large public park. The site originally encompassed the land from 59th to 106th Streets between Fifth and Eighth Avenues. In 1863, additional parkland was annexed to include the area between 106th and 110th Streets. Those who owned land within the boundaries of the proposed park were compensated for their property, though many protests were filed in New York State Supreme Court, as is often the case with eminent domain when owners contest the amount of settlement. Approximately 1,600 people, who owned, lived, and worked on the 843-acre tract of land, had to move when the Park was created.

Research shows that residents and institutions of Seneca Village dispersed and did not re-establish their community in another location.

What is this site named for?

The exact origins of the name Seneca Village are unknown and some references from the time of the village located the community in Yorkville. The name was first recorded by a priest affiliated with All Angels’ Church. Some have posited that it was a derogatory term likening the village to an uncivilized society. Other researchers have theorized that if the name originated in the African American community, it may have been after Seneca Falls in upstate New York for its history of abolitionism.

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Know Before You Go

Ice Skating Rinks
Harlem Meer Center (formerly Lasker Rink)

The Harlem Meer Center is closed in order to rebuild the facility to increase access to nearby communities and enhance year-round programming. For more information, visit Central Park Conservancy's Rebuilding Harlem Meer Center page.
Anticipated Completion: Spring 2024

Outdoor Pools
Harlem Meer Center

The Harlem Meer Center is closed in order to rebuild the facility to increase access to nearby communities and enhance year-round programming. For more information, visit Central Park Conservancy's Rebuilding Harlem Meer Center page.
Anticipated Completion: Spring 2024

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