Journal

The Naming of the Park

Names! It is impossible enter into the visible sphere of a living creature without trying to identify its species and gender name.

Among humans, parentally donated personal names are often inherited in whole as combined first names and last names, the latter usually that of the father, which refers to the paternal head of a same-name nuclear family of parents and children, offspring whose first names remain identifying monikers among those of society at large.

Places such as academic and medical institutions receive honorary names that are often conferred on entire buildings or specialized wings bearing the names of donors. Streets and neighborhoods by social and legal impulse usually have names that are associated with the ethnic communities that inhabit them, and thus their place names are diversified within the urban web of neighborhoods. Cities and towns bear names, often those of presidential icons such as Washington, Lincoln, and Jackson.

Earth itself is globally mapped with oceans, rivers mountains, deserts, and other geologically distinctive land-and-sea formations. What, then, about the otherwise public domain: Places for recreational and passive purposes – regulated sports on the one hand and on the other, casual hiking, leisurely walking, picnicking, sunbathing, and conversing by happenstance or intent with strangers or familiars.

Its original name, The Central Park, was the obvious one to be chosen by its mid-nineteenth-century advocates because of its location encompassing the ground around the Central Reservoir, a key structure within New York City’ new sanitary water system, which conquered chronic cholera epidemics following the construction of the Croton aqueduct in 1842. Nevertheless, although comprehensively integral in its overall design, Central Park is a geographical entity comprised of diversely named sites within its 830 acres. Some of you readers of this episodic online journal to date are aware of my unwavering assertion that the fulfillment of the Greensward Plan, the park’s competition-winning design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1857, is a great work of land art that incorporates into its design existing Manhattan schist rock outcrops and in addition the labor of gangs of immigrant workers who dredged marshy areas to create lakes and ponds, planted nursery-grown trees in conjunction with native ones to enrich woodland scenery and serve in some instances as a botanical showcase in advance of the founding of the New York Botanical Garden in 1891. Moreover, tons of topsoil were imported from Long Island and New Jersey on barges and in wagons in order for this labor force to improve the nutrient quality of the existing soil and alter some of the gradients of existing ground contours in order to achieve a continuous surface of gentle slopes, shallow valleys and flat fields for sodding lawns and meadows.

In addition to sightlines within the new park’s existing natural endowment of rocky knolls and glacially polished bedrock outcrops, the views beyond its boundaries had to be taken into account. Thus, while suppressing with unbroken rows of street trees the visibility of the cityscape outside the park’s perimeter wall, Olmsted and Vaux camouflaged the interior of the wall with low berms supporting shrubby vegetation. By contrast to these exterior-and-interior view-screening strategies the designers created options to enjoy the long-range vistas opened up by the park’s comprehensive, grade-separated circulation system with a circumferential 4.2 miles-long bridle trail consisting mainly of a soft dirt and gravel surface for pedestrians following ground-level paths through the carriage drives’ arched underpasses.

I am often asked the question, “What is your favorite part in Central Park?” The answer is my favorite part of Central Park is all of Central Park as an incomparable landscape fusion of nature and art in which movement through sequences of scenes is the real Central Park experience. The park has been from its birth in the mid-nineteenth century unto its post-millennial personality today, a multi-faceted scene of theatrical élan with multi-transport options for audiences who like to experience beauty in motion. Such is the thought that popped into my head when I recently picked up the Poetry Notebook that serves as a diary-in-verse for me and the page fell open to the sonnet titled The Park Drives, which I had written on May 21, 2002.

The Park Drives

Place as motion, the point of carriage drives
Sweeping in serpentine looping arc,
Parade of fashion in the scenic park
When New York gentry took daily rides,
Then auto route, diurnal motor tide,
Commuters going to and from their work,
Late-sixties closings left their mark:
Cyclists’ race course where rollerbladers glide,
Fluid bodies, fluid space, fluid time,
Pageant of movement: the active human,
Technology’s ever-updated wheel,
The Greensward Plan’s suppleness of design
Ingeniously conspiring to make room for
Unending changes in behavior’s reel. 

To further enhance the experience of the Central Park visitor, Olmsted, Vaux, and Jacob Wrey Mould, who served as Olmsted’s and Vaux’s architectural-embellishment collaborator, added certain prominent eye-catching structures, most notably Bow Bridge, Bethesda Arcade with its colorfully patterned ceiling of Minton tiles, and the cast-iron music pavilion on the Mall. Prominent literally and architecturally is architect Calvert Vaux’s Belvedere (translated as “Beautiful View” in Italian but often referred to as “Belvedere Castle” because of the large turret at the southeast corner of its roofline). In terms of its conspicuous Victorian Gothic profile atop Vista Rock, the Belvedere it appears to grow out of the multi-boulder outcrop of Manhattan schist that serves as foundation.

If passing his way, I often look up from the south end of the Great Lawn at the Belvedere. Standing here in the footprint of the dismantled wall where surplus water from the Old Reservoir (as this rectangular walled structure was called to distinguish it from the new reservoir above 86th Street that was being built at the same time as the park) I watch a yoga class working out on the strip of grass that serves as a shoreline for what was once Belvedere Lake (now Turtle Pond). From here I let my eyes sweep up the mass of irregularly shaped Vista Rock , a piled-up conglomeration of the variously sized Manhattan schist boulders that comprise Vista Rock. Here I am always amazed by the fact that the great jumble of bedrock boulders deposited by the massive glacier that combed the Manhattan’s surface 14,000 years ago, a site that can best be characterized as built of stones from a proximate quarry Gunpowder-filled cylinders blasted bedrocks into recyclable boulders that could then be turned by stone cutters and masons into geometrically uniform stone building material as is obvious when one looks at the architecturally sophisticated Belvedere, which appears to rise straight out of Vista Rock. If not directly quarried from this source, it is built of large boulders of Manhattan schist quarried close by.

To best understand how prevalent Manhattan schist bedrock is used throughout the park as building stone, step outside its boundary where, along with the parks four cross-town transverse roads preventing erosion of the berms that hold them in place you will see additional boundary walls of uniform stone blocks.

As a public property, the park had openings within the surrounding perimeter wall built from on-site quarrying of the same Manhattan schist that formed the park’s smoothly surfaced bedrock outcrops, some of which, like the Kinderberg, had pedestrian-friendly stairs carved into their sloping surfaces. The locally quarried, large rectangular Manhattan schist building blocks were a ready source for creating the park’s encompassing stone perimeter wall with a series of openings. Interestingly, although these “gates” had no hinged panels to shut, the openings in the wall were randomly given names denoting various societal branches, chosen according to common occupations of the general population at large. As examples there are gates honoring Cultivators (farmers or naturalists), Warriors (soldiers), Mariners (sailors), Engineers, Hunters, Fishermen, Woodsmen (loggers and carpenters), Miners, Explorers, Inventors, Scholars, and Strangers (foreign immigrants).

Within the park, it was also deemed necessary to give different features and geographical sections names. In addition to carrying one of the Central Park Conservancy’s useful maps, a curious visitor walking through Central Park would do well to have an as-yet nonexistent Central Park Gazetteer, a kind of geographical index, at hand. I do not, unfortunately have a gazetteer but out of long experience of hearing and using the locational monikers throughout the park, I felt competent to write the following poem.

Naming the Place

How did they find the perfect place name

For the large green field beside the Mall, North End wetland, Ramble stream

Which are now called Sheep Meadow, Loch, Meer, Gill, none the same.

Words and locale together making scene.

The rustic Copcot, a gazebo refuge in rain.

Sheepfold (now Tavern-on-the-Green).
Stone arches – Winderdale and Willowdell –


Entrance gates – Mechanics, Merchants, Miners,
 Artists, Scholars, Engineers, Inventors –

Bow Bridge, curving cast-iron, ornamental.

Ross and Ross: Arthur and Diana:

One the Pinetum, the other a popular Playground:

Thus, today’s names are those of donors.


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JOURNAL ARCHIVE

DIARY

Venice Revisited

Wainscott: Cherishing Memories of my Former Home in a Non-Hampton Hamlet in the Hamptons

Hill Country Journal

Budding Poets in the Park

Central Park Conservancy 40th Anniversary

Nine-Eleven Remembered

ESSAY

An Analysis of the Sonnet as a Form of Poetic Expression

OBSERVATIONS

Part Five: Central Park as An Outdoor Museum

Part Four: Bethesda Terrace, Arcade, and Fountain

Part Three: Central Park as An Outdoor Museum

Part Two: Central Park as An Outdoor Museum

Part One: Central Park as An Outdoor Museum

Designing the Central Park Luminaire: Nature as Ornament

“The Gates” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, 2005

Jacob Wrey Mould: Central Park’s Third Designer

America’s Greatest Example of Land Art

Summit Rock, the Tallest Point in Central Park as a Palimpsest of Multi-generational History

Discovering Central Park’s Above-ground Bedrock Foundations

POETRY

The Naming of the Park

The Life and Times of Garth Fergusson, Poet

NEWS

Writing the City

REVIEWS

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The Wind in the Willows