The lost neighborhood under New York’s Central Park

If you’ve been to New York, there’s a good chance you’ve been to Central Park. But there’s a part of the land’s story you will never get to see.

It’s a piece of hidden history that goes back to the 1820s, when this land was largely the open countryside of New York. The expanse became home to about 1,600 people — many of whom were escaping the crowded and increasingly dangerous conditions of lower Manhattan.

Among them was a predominantly black community that bought up affordable plots to build homes, churches, and a school. The area became known as Seneca Village. And when Irish and German immigrants moved in, it became a rare example of racial harmony in an integrated neighborhood during this period.

Everything changed on July 21, 1853. Through eminent domain, New York City took control of the land to create what would become the first major landscaped park in the US. They called it “the Central Park.”

Watch the video above to learn more about the park’s creation. Through city records, maps, and archaeological analysis from a 2011 excavation of the site, we piece together what happened to Seneca Village.

If you want to read more about the community, check out the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History, or the exhibit through the Central Park Conservancy.

This is the fifth installment in Missing Chapter, where we revisit underreported and often overlooked moments of the past to give context to the present. Our first season covers stories of racial injustice, political conflicts, even the hidden history of US medical experimentation. If you have an idea for a topic we should investigate in the series, send it to me via this form!

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