In 1825, downtown New York City was growing crowded. Then, as now, racism made New York an uncomfortable place for Black Americans, so Andrew Williams, a Black shoeshiner, took an opportunity to move north, away from the hubub of lower Manhattan. For $125 he bought three parcels of land between what is now West 85th Street and 86th Street and where once there was just farmland. Shortly thereafter, a church bought up a plot with plans to create a cemetery for African Americans. Other Black Americans soon followed.
That was the beginning of a neighborhood called Seneca Village. Residents there, like Williams, were largely laborers. But land ownership provided an opportunity for upward mobility and Black landowners with property worth $250 or more could vote in elections. By 1850, there was a school, three churches, gardens, livestock, some 50 homes, and roughly 225 residents, the majority of whom were Black.
But the New York Williams had tried to escape was growing too: The city doubled in population between 1845 and 1855, and citizens began clamoring for green space to be set aside for recreation. Though several sites were up for consideration, including a tract of private land along the East River, the city decided on a large swath at the center of the island. Though the media of the time painted the region as a largely empty save for some poor squatters, Seneca Village fell right inside its bounds.
Read the full story at Fast Company: https://www.fastcompany.com/90530939/what-if-central-park-was-home-to-a-massive-urban-farm