The map depicts both major features and subtle details, including roads, walkpaths, reservoirs, rocks, buildings, and trees. The elevation in feet above sea level is given in red at each cross street, as well as at various points throughout the park. The widths of roads are shown in black. A section titled “References” is provided to the left of the map serving as a key for the various colors and letters used throughout the map, as well as listing the acreage of marked areas with some other survey information.
Central Park came into being beginning with an act passed on July 21, 1853 by the New York City Common Council authorizing the construction of a public park bounded by 59th and 106th Streets, Fifth and Eighth Avenues. The park was conceived to provide recreational open space for citizens of the growing city, which then had few open squares. The site that was destined to become Central Park was then “a bleak, rubbish-strewn area littered with squatters’ shacks.” (Deák) Central Park opened in 1857, and in 1858, the job of improving and expanding it, transforming the area into a pastoral oasis for the “toiling masses,” was awarded to Calvert Vaux, a young British architect, and Frederick Law Olmstead, an American farmer and magazine editor. Reconstruction began that same year and was completed in 1873.
“There was a staggering amount of work to be done to transform the area into a blend of pastoral and woodland scenery. This involved the design and construction of roadways, tunnels, bridges, arches, stairways, fountains, benches, lamp posts, gates, fences and innumerable other artifacts. It also involved the supervision of an army of about five thousand laborers…Olmsted, to whom most of the credit goes, insisted on seeing the multidimensional project as a single work of art, which he was mandated to create. For this purpose, he ventured to assume to himself the title of ‘artist.’” (Deák)
The original 1858 pen and ink drawing of the Greensward Plan on which this map was probably based is now in the collection of the New York City Department of Parks, The Arsenal, and was included in The Greatest Grid, an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York (December 2011 through July 15, 2012) of maps documenting the development of the grid system of mapping Manhattan. The drawing is also illustrated and described in the book accompanying the exhibition. Read more about The Greatest Grid exhibition and book, or order the book here.
Sarony, Major & Knapp was a New York lithography firm from 1857 to 1867, a partnership between Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896), Henry B. Major and Joseph F. Knapp. Sarony was an expert craftsman and a charismatic and gifted entrepreneur. Born in Quebec, he came to New York in 1836 and made his mark working for Nathaniel Currier before joining Major to form their own business in 1846. They were joined by Knapp in 1857. Sarony was the leader, supplying ideas, finding artists and drawing most of the portraits. He withdrew from the firm in about 1867 to set up successful photographic studios in New York and Europe, where he lived for several years. Sarony, Major & Knapp was a large firm operating 40 presses by 1859. They were prolific publishers of book illustrations, prints for government reports, medical and scientific plates, theatrical portraits, music sheets, maps and views.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual light overall toning. Faint crease lines from original folds, as issued, though map later professionally flattened and rebacked on supporting paper.
Ballon, Hilary, ed. The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan 1811-2011. New York: Museum of the City of New York and Columbia University Press, 2012. Item 99. p. 119.
Deák, Gloria Gilda. Picturing America: 1497-1899. Vol. 1. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. pp. 535-536.
Peters, Harry T. America on Stone. U.S.: Doubleday, Doran, 1931. pp. 350-356 (Sarony, Major & Knapp).