Washington Square Park
is located in the heart of Greenwich Village. It
is a popular area, containing the "Washington Centennial Arch". Although
today most of the grass in the park is dead and trampled (or replaced
with concrete), this area was once (and to a certain extent, still is)
the home of prominent upper class New Yorkers.
Washington Square was built in 1826. The area had a somewhat grim beginning. It was once used as a place for public executions, and a public gallows. Also, the area was originally a pauper's cemetary, with an estimated 500 burial sites of nameless immigrants, all with unknown stories.
By 1840, the north side of the square was filled with prestigious red brick houses, and was referred to as "The Row". These houses were in Greek revival style, with entrances flanked by marble columns. By 1900 the North park area was populated by leading citizens, whereas the south park area continued to consist of mostly immigrant tenement houses.
Washington Square's "Arch", built for the centennial of George Washington's presidency, is the dominant feature of the park. This arch, originally made of wood, now is a marble 80 foot sculpture. Until 1971, cars were allowed to drive through the arch. After that time, the square was rennovated, including addition of a concrete barrier and walkways.
Little remains of the original character of Washington Square at the time James Henry penned his famous novel. Standing in the square, it is hard to envision the bleakness that must have existed during the mid 19th century. One can vaguely imagine the mud rodes, horse drawn carriages, and gas lamps that existed during that period. Situated close to Broadway, the place must have been permeated by noise, bad smells, and disease. At the north end of the square, several brick houses still exist that came from that time, but these houses show their age poorly, and are dominated by a few high end apartment buildings.
Standing in the square, visible through the few trees (added during the 1970's) you can clearly see the impressive skyline of Manhattan. You can only wonder what a 19th century New Yorker would think if they wer to visit the square today. Except for the impressive Washington Arch, would any part of the square be recognizable?
Copyright (c) 2005, CC Charles. All rights reserved.