Morningside Park (New York City)

Coordinates: 40°48′22″N 73°57′31″W / 40.806225°N 73.95848°W / 40.806225; -73.95848

Morningside Park
Type Public
Location 110th to 123rd Streets in Manhattan, New York City
Created 1895 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux
Operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Open Yes

Morningside Park is a public park in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The 30-acre (12 ha) area occupies 110th to 123rd Streets from Morningside Avenue to Morningside Drive at the border between Harlem and Morningside Heights.[1] Much of the park is adjacent to Columbia University.[2] Morningside Park's natural geography contains a cliff of Manhattan schist rock,[3] with manmade features in the park such as an ornamental pond and waterfall. It is operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.[1] The park was first proposed by the Central Park Commissioners in 1867, and the city commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to produce a design for the park in 1873.[4] Jacob Wrey Mould was hired in 1880 to rework the plans, although he died in 1886 before the work could be completed.[1] In 1887, Olmsted and Vaux were asked to modify the plans again,[4] and construction was completed in 1895.[1]

Monuments were installed between 1900 and 1914, followed by softball diamonds, basketball courts, and playgrounds between the 1930s and 1950s.[1] In 1960, Columbia proposed building a gym in the park at 113th Street, resulting in major student protests in 1968. Protestors argued that the gym's planned separate entrances would result in racially segregated facilities, which the university denied. After further protests in 1969, the plan was abandoned,[2] and the excavation site was turned into a waterfall and pond in 1990.[1] An arboretum was added to the park in 1998.[5]


Background of the plot

Native Americans of the Harlem Plain referred to the land as Muscoota.[1] 17th century Dutch settlers afterwards called the land Vredendal (Peaceful Dale), after a Dutch landowner acquired a large portion of the plot in 1738.[1] Colonial forces used a road on the land to retreat during the Revolutionary War's Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776.[1] Year later, during the War of 1812 three blockhouse fortifications were built on the land.[1]

Original design and early stages

The park was first proposed by the Central Park Commissioners in 1867,[4] after Andrew Haswell Green, Commissioner and Comptroller of Central Park, proposed that a park be built in Morningside Heights to avoid the expense of expanding the Manhattan street grid across difficult terrain.[1] In 1870, the City of New York obtained jurisdiction of the property.[1] The original design for the park, submitted by Parks Engineer-in-Chief M.A. Kellogg in 1871, was rejected by the Board of Commissioners for Public Parks.[1] In 1872, The New York Times predicted that the planned Morningside Park "will doubtless be a favorite resort for children and invalids."[2]

The city commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to produce a design for the park in 1873, but the plan was shelved during the economic depression following the Panic of 1873.[4] In 1880, Jacob Wrey Mould was hired to rework Olmsted and Vaux’s plans, with Mould redoing the promenade and the wall of masonry that lines the park along Morningside Drive. He was awarded a construction contract in 1883, although in 1886 Mould died before the work could be completed.[1] While construction was ongoing, in 1885, police captured 16 cows illegally grazing in the park, and local dairymen were often fined for pasturing their herds there.[2]

New designs and construction

In 1887 Olmsted and Vaux were asked to modify their original plan to accommodate changed conditions, such as the 116th Street and Eighth Avenue elevated railway station, and construction of the park began.[4] Among other changes, the modified design included a broad path and a thin path traversing the lower portion of the park.[1] In 1887, a group of Civil War veterans camped in the incomplete park for a weekend, fired cannon salutes and, in a mock assault, stormed the castlelike retaining walls. The newspapers reported that they scrambled up scaling ladders "like cats" even though most "have doubled their waist measure since the days when they did such climbing as a business."[2] Construction of the park was completed in 1895. Vaux, who had remained with the project throughout that time as a consultant, drowned that year in Gravesend Bay. Parks Superintendent Samuel Parsons Jr. afterwards would write that "...perhaps Morningside Park was the most consummate piece of art that [Vaux] had ever created."[1]

The early 20th century

The park had a number of monuments installed after it was completed. In 1900, the statue Lafayette and Washington by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was installed.[1] In 1913 the Carl Schurz Memorial by Karl Bitter and Henry Bacon was put in the park, and the following year the Seligman (Bear and Faun) Fountain by Edgar Walter was installed.[1]

By the early 20th century, the park was perceived as extremely dangerous. Crime in Morningside Park, because of its proximity to Harlem, was often reported as a racial matter. In 1935 The New York Times reported that Teachers College of Columbia University had posted a sign in a dormitory informing students "it is not safe to enter Morningside Park at any time of the day or night."[2] Softball diamonds, basketball courts, and playgrounds were constructed in the east and south parts of the park between the 1930s and 1950s.[1]

Gymnasium and 1960s Columbia protests

In 1960, Columbia proposed building a gym in the park at 113th Street. Opposition to the gym crystallized in major student protests in 1968. The university planned to build a gymnasium on the park as a joint project with the city. Protesters believed the planned separate east and west entrances amounted to an attempt to circumvent recent federal law that banned racially segregated facilities. The distinctive local geography and demographics would have opened one end of the gymnasium to African-American Harlem residents and opened the other end to the predominantly white university. University administration under Grayson Kirk denied that this reflected racial bias and stressed that greater park services would benefit the Harlem community. The university abandoned the plan in 1969 after students occupied administration and classroom buildings and shut down the university for several weeks.[2]

Cleanup and current state

By the '70s, Morningside Park, the effective boundary between Morningside Heights and Harlem, had a dangerous reputation and had degraded with years of neglect. In 1981 a group of Columbia undergraduates founded the Friends of Morningside Park, which advocated returning the park to its original design. Since its founding, the group has rehabilitated the park through volunteerism.[2] In 1989 and 1990, $5 million was spent converting the excavated crater left by the abandoned gymnasium project into a waterfall and ornamental pond.[1] The reconstruction, which focused on the park between 110th to 114th Streets, also included installing new playground equipment, planting trees, creating a picnic area, and renovating the sports fields.[1] After the statues were refurbished, in 1998 the park renovated the bluestone steps at 116th street.[6]

In 1998, construction began on the Dr. Thomas Kiel Arboretum in the park, named after a founder and former chairman of the Friends of Morningside Park.[5] In 1998 and 1999, a group named the Morningside Area Alliance (MAA) received $35,000 in grant funding from the Kaplan Foundation to work on the park. A portion was used to assess what the park needed done most urgently, while a second portion went to reorganizing the largely dismantled Friends volunteer group.[7] In 2001, around 14 major public events were organized by volunteers in the park, including festivals, concerts, and various holiday celebrations.[7] As of 2005, Friends of Morningside Park had approximately 1,000 volunteers.[2]


Operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation,[1] Morningside Park's distinctive natural geography is a rugged cliff of Manhattan schist rock. There is a large rock formation of Manhattan Schist in the park, which is a visible sign of the bedrock below much of lower and northern Manhattan.[3] The park is one of several promoted by Andrew Haswell Green that owes much of its design to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Twentieth century additions include playgrounds, basketball courts, and softball diamonds.[1]

In 1998, construction began on an arboretum in the park. The design of the arboretum was based on original plans for Central Park sketched by Olmsted and Calvart in 1858. While later abandoned, these arboretum plans involved paths leading through several hundred species of trees and shrubs. The plans were reworked for Morningside Park as The Kiel Arboretum, and was started with plantings of the trees from the Magnoliaceae (magnolia) family and shrubs from the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) and Berberidaceae (barberry) families.[5]

Other features include:

  • Lafayette and Washington statue (1900) by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, an exact replica of a statue in the Place des États-Unis, Paris
  • The Carl Schurz Monument (1913), with a statue by Karl Bitter and setting by architect Henry Bacon, stands on a plaza at Morningside Drive and West 116th Street, overlooking the park, but is officially part of it.
  • Seligman (Bear and Faun) fountain (1914) by Edgar Walter
  • Waterfall and pond;[8] residents and visitors include great blue herons, night herons, red-winged blackbirds, painted turtles, and mallard ducks
  • Baseball diamond and basketball courts
  • Morningside Dog Run an enclosed space for dog owners to bring their dogs to play and socialize off the leash. Primarily wood chips over dirt, there are two fenced-in areas. The larger section has multiple levels, separated by a step. The dog run is most easily accessible when entering from the east through the entrance at 114th Street and proceeding up the stairs. When entering from the west, either set of stairs from 116th or 114th provides the quickest route.
  • 145th Street: Short Stories, a story collection by Walter Dean Myers, mentions Morningside Park.
  • CBS's NYC 22 also filmed an episode in the park.
  • Person of Interest S2 E09 COD features a shooting in Morningside Park.

The famous late comedian George Carlin grew up in Morningside Heights and on one of his popular comedy albums called it "White Harlem". Part of West 121st Street, going west from Morningside Drive to Amsterdam Ave was renamed "George Carlin Way" For a variety of reasons it was controversial.

See also



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 "Morningside Park". New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Retrieved July 30, 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Gray, Christopher (July 31, 2005). "An Oasis of Green, Reclaimed by City and Community". The New York Times.
  3. 1 2 3 "Manhattan Schist in New York City Parks". Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Dolkart, Andrew S (2001). Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development. Columbia University Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0-231-07851-X.
  5. 1 2 3 "Morningside Park - Dr. Thomas Kiel Arboretum". Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  6. Smith, Dinitia (September 10, 1999). "Heights Filled With Grand Visions". The New York Times. Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  7. 1 2 Hollander, Jason (2001). "Morningside Park Flourishing With the Help of Some Friends". 'Columbia News. Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  8. Kadinsky, Sergey (2016) Hidden Waters of New York City Countryman Press. Pp. 48-50 ISBN 978-1-58157-355-8

Further reading

  • Kunen, James Simon (1995) The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary (Brandywine Press). ISBN 1-881089-52-5.
  • Avorn, J. L. (1968) Up Against the Ivy Wall: A History of the Columbia Crisis (Scribner). ISBN 0-689-70236-1.
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