By Marc Peoples
When you visit Central Park do you ever wonder about the history behind it?
What was it before it became a park or who named it? Historian, Sara Cedar Miller has the details in her book, Before Central Park. She goes all the way back to the 1600s and up to the late 1800s, telling the stories of the first settlers (the de Forest/ de la Montagne family), the dividing of Harlem, the designing and expansion of the park, etc.
The park has been through it all, including wars, epidemics, slavery, trickery in politics, cons, and scams. After you finish, you’ll agree with her that it’s “America’s Park”.
Miller starts the first part by mentioning Haarlem and the Haarlemmermeer (No, those are not typos). Haarlem is a city and municipality in the Netherlands and is the predecessor of Harlem.
The man-made lake, the Harlem Meer in the northeast corner of Central Park is named after the Haarlemmermeer, the municipality on the west side of the Netherlands. The name means Haarlem’s Lake due to the region’s body of water.
Few Harlem residents who are unfamiliar with the history will find that interesting. Other parts that piqued my interest were the War at McGowan’s Pass chapter, where she talks about a top-secret mission involving George Washington and his twelve generals, the first black man to own property, a chapter about dividing Harlem and the rise of the Harlem Canal Company that took place in the mid-1800s, and finally, she talks about the schemes by so-called “Founder of Central Park”, Daniel Sickles.
I don’t have any gripes with the book except that this is not for those who are not interested in Central Park’s past or just history in general.
Still, for those who are history buffs and want knowledge about “America’s Park”, I strongly recommend this book. It’s filled with a great deal of info and many more stories that I haven’t mentioned.
Lastly, Miller continues her research on www.beforecentralpark.com and the website has summaries for each chapter in her book.
Sara Cedar Miller
Sara Cedar Miller is the historian emerita of the Central Park Conservancy, which she first joined as a photographer in 1984.
Her books include Central Park: An American Masterpiece (2003), Strawberry Fields: Central Park’s Memorial to John Lennon (2011), and Seeing Central Park: The Official Guide (updated and expanded edition, 2020).
Marc Peoples is a writer, film, and game enthusiast with a full range of electronic or digital games experience, who lives on the west coast in Los Angeles, CA. He graduated with honors from the Los Angeles Film School (LAFS), where he studied film and screenwriting. https://www.linkedin.com/in/marc-peoples-207514218/, https://www.instagram.com/themvpeoples/
Price: $30 (Harlem bound)
Photo credit: 1) Wikipedia. 2) Strawberry Fields.