Charlton Plaza

Charlton Plaza

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

Charlton Plaza is bounded by the Avenue of the Americas, King Street, and Charlton Street. The plaza is named in honor of Dr. John Charlton (1731Α-1801), a celebrated English surgeon who arrived in New York with British troops during the Revolutionary War. Following England’s defeat, Charlton remained in the newly independent colonies and became the president of the Medical Society of the State of New York. This respected organization, begun in 1749, struggled through the Revolutionary period due to poor organization. In 1794, Charlton reorganized the group, and by 1796, the Society had begun to influence local and state health policy. As president of the Society, Dr. Charlton fought for the inclusion of educational standards in the licensing requirements for medical practitioners. Under his guidance, the Society also provided guidance to the New York City and State governments during a series of yellow fever epidemics. The Society’s recommendations led to the creation of a permanent State Health Office that established quarantines and appointed state health commissioners. In 1807, Trinity Church (which owned the thoroughfare) named Charlton Street for the eminent doctor who contributed to the formalization and organization of American medicine.

Charlton Plaza lies in the Manhattan neighborhood known as SoHo (south of Houston Street). The neighborhood was first settled by a group of freed slaves who were released from the Dutch West India Company in 1644. Unbeknownst to many, the area once had large, rolling hills. In 1815, city planners used the soil from the hills to fill the ditch on Canal Street that now forms SoHo’s southern boundary. The removal of the hills facilitated the development of the neighborhood, and by 1825, the area had become the most populous in Manhattan. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the region had emerged as a center of commerce. The new factories used cast iron facades to ornament their warehouses; these facades were relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Around the turn of the century, the neighborhood went through a prolonged depression when local factories began to fail. The area was revitalized during the 1960s and 1970s, following an influx of artists who sought low-rent studio space. In 1973, the New York City Landmarks Commission designated 26 SoHo blocks as part of an historic landmark district.

The City of New York acquired this property in October 1959 and transferred jurisdiction to Parks in April 1965. Commissioner Stern gave the plaza its current name in 1996, giving the area a well-deserved sense of history. Before 1996, the property had been known simply as “Park.” Charlton Plaza boasts game tables, benches, planters, mural artwork, and three London planetrees. London planetrees are known for their ability to survive harsh urban environments, and they are the most commonly planted street tree.

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