Two centuries ago, surveyor John Randel, Jr. was charged with the job of laying out New York City’s future grid system, but it’s come to light that his original plan may have entailed filling in the area now occupied by Central Park with streets and buildings. According to a recent article published in the New Yorker, various white marble stone markers Randel used to plot future intersections have been found in the park area, indicating that the city’s eight hundred and forty-three acres of beloved park space may have come very close to not existing.
Image via Library of Congress
According to the New Yorker, a three-foot-tall, nine-inch-square white stone with numbers inscribed on the sides was found during an excavation project in the park in 2014. The finding was significant because the unearthed stone was similar to hundreds of others implanted by Randel around the city when he started painstakingly mapping out the NYC’s future intersections in 1807.
The white stones were set at the intersection of every street and avenue and would serve as the city’s nineteenth-century grid layout under what was called the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. Researchers believe that the marble stone found in Central Park, along with three more marble street monuments that have been found since, mark intersections that, thankfully, never came to fruition.
Once the first stone was found, an investigation by the Central Park Conservancy revealed that the marker was the city’s only known in situ grid monument, which sparked an exciting new archaeological mission for the Conservancy. After the white monument was found in the park, Marie Warsh, Director of Preservation Planning, had high-resolution copies of the original Randel farm maps overlaid on a map of the park. In July of 2015, Warsh led a small monument-hunting expedition starting at the northern end of the park. However, that expedition turned out to be rather arduous due to the land’s thick summer foliage and compelled the group to return in December. This time around, Warsh’s ambitious group found more monuments and an iron bolt in area of the park known as The Ramble.
At last count, there are six traces of Randel monuments found in Central Park: four white stone monuments and two bolts, one found by Reuben Rose-Redwood in 2004. Besides being an important part of the city’s history, these markers evidence the park’s frightening alternate history as eight hundred and forty-three acres of city blocks covered with yet more soaring buildings.
Via The New Yorker