parks earl history is an interesting vignette of mid-19th-century New
York business and politics, surprisingly similar to our own day. The initial plans were
ambitious: the park was to be "fenced in the manner of Union Square, and planted like
Washington Square." It was to be built and paid for and maintained thereafter
by the city.
Entirely surrounding the park was land that Stuyvesant
owned and intended to develop; Second avenue had been graded and opened in 1816, and
elegant houses were advanced north from Houston Street. Moreover, in the practice of the
time, the park would not be available to the general public. It would be reserved for the
use of those who took up residence on its borders.
Regardless of the motive, the gift of the new parkland was
a rare opportunity, or should have been: the city refused to honor its commitment. There
ensued 14 years of litigation to force the city to live up to its bargain.
Hamilton Fish, Stuyvesants nephew and lawyer, sued
for damages, filed appeals, and demanded various other benefits for his client
while the park site deteriorated. The city was accused of permitting squatters to build
shanties and pigpens, presumably a problem even worse than those trouble city parks today.
In 1849, the issue was resolved, and, luckily for all, the
city was ordered to finish the work. The fine cast-iron fence ad been installed in 1846;
at last the fountains and landscaping were completed in 1851. Stuyvesant, who had fought
so long for his vision, did not live to see its completion. He drowned at the Niagara
Falls in 1847. But Stuyvesant Square and "upper" Second Avenue quickly became
one of the fashionable neighborhoods of New York, then a metropolis of more than 500,000.
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