As far back as 1850, New Yorkers were talking about the idea of a great park in the middle of Manhattan. Some saw it as a way to create jobs and boost the economy. Others saw it as a way to slow commercial development. Some thought it would improve public health and wellbeing.

Central Park emerged as a defining feature of New York City. These photos show its evolution over the years.

Illustration, ca. 1860

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

This print of a wood engraving depicts New Yorkers leisurely riding in carriages or on horseback through the park. By 1863, drives and walks below 102nd Street were open to the public

Illustrated Map, ca. 1873

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

This illustrated map shows a bird’s-eye view of New York City with Central Park in the foreground. Easily visible are Bethesda Fountain and Conservatory Pond.

59th Street Bridge and Boat House Lake, ca. 1895 and 1896

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

It was common to see paddle boats in addition to rowboats from the 59th Street Bridge. The Loeb Boathouse Lake is the second-largest body of water in Manhattan. Today there are 100 boats.

Snow scene, ca. 1906

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

This 1906 winter scene is simply labeled “NY, NYC Parks.” Those architectural features still exist today.

Hippopotamus at the Zoo, ca. 1904

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

The Central Park Zoo originated from a menagerie, which began in the 1860s–evolving into a proper zoo over time. By 1902, annual attendance at the zoo was reported at 3 million

Terrace View, ca. 1941

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

The Great Depression actually proved to bolster the park. In the 1930s, public funds were devoted to developing the park through the Emergency Work Bureau, creating many of the structures and paths that visitors enjoy today.

Bridge Rehabilitation, ca. 1968

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

Park Commissioner Thomas P. F. Hoving was considered Central Park’s “greatest promoter.” He documented and publicized park construction and oversaw the rise of large-scale park events, like Barbra Streisand’s 1968 “A Happening in Central Park,” which drew 135,000 people. 

Aerial View, ca. 1990s

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

By the 1990s, The Central Park Conservancy developed, a collection of well-organized advocates working to administer the park from the private sector. They completed a master-planned restoration. The park became much cleaner and friendlier,  with the addition of Sheep Meadow, new fences, paths, rules, and regulations.

Aerial, ca. 2001

Central Park Photo: Library of Congress

This final aerial shot depicts the stark contrast of greenery in the Park to the bustling city that sprouted up around it. Central Park has stood for more than 150 years, and it looks like it will stay that way.

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