Parks of Downtown East


                                                                                                       
       Lower East Side

 

East River Park

Nearby Zip Codes: 10002, 10009, 10010, 10003

Nearby Neighborhoods: Lower East Side, Stuyvesant Town, and Alphabet City

Montgomery Street to East 12th Street, FDR (East River) Drive

The East River Park runs alongside the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Drive and the East River from Montgomery Street to East 12th Street. It was conceived in the early 1930s when Robert Moses (1888-1981) was designing the FDR (also known as East River) Drive. Moses knew that the expressway would pass through the Lower East Side, a neighborhood sorely in need of parkland. He was determined not to let the land between the expressway and the river go to waste. Moses envisioned a tree-shaded esplanade with abundant recreational facilities and windswept views of the East River and beyond.

Moses soon faced a problem: the acquisition of enough land for a park in this densely populated area. Condemnation, the process by which the City normally acquired land, was prohibitively expensive and fraught with legal difficulties, especially along this heavily industrialized waterfront. Moses arrived at an imaginative solution. To provide more parkland, he built a 10-foot wide concrete extension to Manhattan’s eastern shoreline spanning 20 blocks. The combination of the added platform and Moses’s energetic legal wrangling was enough to secure the needed land, and in 1939, East River Park, the Lower East Side’s largest open space, opened alongside the FDR Drive.

East River Park has undergone a great many changes since then. In 1949, when the FDR Drive was widened, a portion of the park between Montgomery and Jackson Streets was eliminated. South Street was extended in 1963, protruding onto another 30-foot section of the park. In 1951, Parks built the 10th Street pedestrian overpass above the FDR Drive, connecting the park with East Village residents, especially allowing easy access to residents of the neighboring Lillian Wald Houses.

An amphitheater was built in the park in 1941, along with an adjacent limestone recreational building, as part of an urban renewal project for the Lower East Side. Joseph Papp (1921-1991), founder of Shakespeare in the Park and the Public Theater, staged Julius Caesar there in 1956. During much of that decade, the amphitheater was the site of free Evening-in-the-Park concerts. Local schools held their graduation ceremonies there, and the Group of Ancient Drama performed free productions of Greek classics. In 1973, however, the amphitheater closed due to a budget shortage. Vandals attacked the neglected theater and by 1980 it was unusable.

The East River waterfront has played a crucial role in the development of New York City. Before the arrival of Dutch colonists in the 17th century, it was home to the Nechtanc, a subgroup of the Lenapes, Native Americans who once inhabited much of the New York area. After European settlers colonized the area, it formed a vital link in trade with Europe and the West Indies. By 1825, the area was marked by an active shipbuilding industry, boisterous masses of sailors, and a number of active municipal waterfront markets. In the mid-19th century, as sea trade moved to the deeper channels of the Hudson River, docks gave way to factories, and then, in the late 19th century, to tenements. By the time Moses developed his plan for the park, the southern East River waterfront was dotted with slaughterhouses, glass factories, power stations, and railroad yards.

In recent years, the park has been the site of extensive renovations, including 1994 improvements to the basketball court, playground, and picnic area, and seawall. Renovation continued in 1996, when Parks celebrated the opening of the 10th Street comfort station, funded through the efforts of City Council Members Antonio Pagan and Kathryn Freed, with a First Flush ceremony. Commissioner Stern performed a ceremonial flush of the men’s room toilet and cut an inaugural toilet paper ribbon. In 2000, ballfield lighting improvements were completed with funding provided by City Council Member Margarita Lopez. A bikeway was completed in 2001 with funding from Mayor Giuliani and Borough President C. Virginia Fields.

The park is a popular recreation area. In addition to its views of the East River, it boasts basketball, tennis, and handball courts; playgrounds; a picnic area; softball, football, baseball and track fields; a river promenade; and a footbridge. The Brian Watkins Tennis Club, which opened in 1991, is named for a 22-year old Utah tourist who was slain while attempting to protect his parents from a subway mugger. The tennis club honors Watkins’s avid interest in tennis, offering free tennis lessons six months a year.

East River Park Anchor

Pulled from the East River, the origins of this anchor are unclear. When it was placed on the site in 1970, the accompanying plaque stated that the piece was donated by the F&M Schaefer Brewing Co. in memory of the William H. Brown shipyard. The Brown shipyard was famous for building the schooner yacht America, which was launched on May 3, 1851. The international yachting race known as the America’s Cup was named after this schooner.

 

Sara Delano Roosevelt Park

Sara D. Roosevelt Park

Nearby Zip Code: 10002

Nearby Neighborhoods: Lower East Side, Nolita, Noho, and the East Village

When this park was named in 1934 after Sara Delano Roosevelt (1854 -1941), mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), she held the distinction of being the only Presidential mother, after Mary Washington, to live until her son took office.

Sara Delano married James Roosevelt (1828-1900) in 1880 at her family’s home in Newburgh, New York. The couple then resided at his Springwood estate, designed by Central Park architect Calvert Vaux, in nearby Hyde Park. Her philanthropic activities included serving on the board of the Gallaudet home for the deaf, teaching sewing classes to girls and volunteering at the Laura Delano Free Hospital for Children of New York City, founded by the Roosevelt family in 1885 in memory of her sister Laura. Mrs. Roosevelt wrote about her only child’s early years in her 1933 memoir: My Boy Franklin.

The parkland was acquired by the City in 1929 for the purpose of widening Chrystie and Forsythe Streets and building low-cost housing but was later set aside for “playgrounds and resting places for mothers and children.” The construction of the park in 1934 was the largest park project on the Lower East Side since the acquisition of Tompkins Square Park a century earlier. Parts of four streets were closed (Hester, Broome, Rivington, and Stanton) to accommodate seven distinct play areas with separate playgrounds for boys and girls, as well as two wading pools, a roller skating rink and a perimeter of benches and shade trees.

The dedication ceremonies on September 14, 1934 demonstrated the Lower East Side’s reverence for Mrs. Roosevelt and its jubilant reception of “America’s finest playground.” A cannon salute and a performance by the Parks Department Orchestra, paying tribute to the patriotism and ethnic diversity of the largely immigrant patrons, were broadcast on radio stations from Maine to Virginia. In his opening address, Harry H. Schlacht, founder of the East Side Home News, proclaimed the day to be “the birth of a new Lower East Side.”

Recent additions to the park include the Golden Age Center for senior citizens, a vendors market, and the Wah-Mei Bird Garden. Park facilities and security were greatly improved in 1996 with the completion of a 2.7 million dollar capital project which elevated the sunken park to street level and provided a new playground, basketball courts and sidewalks.

M’Finda Kalunga Garden

The M’Finda Kalunga Garden is named in memory of an African-American burial ground that was located on nearby Chrystie Street between Rivington and Stanton Streets.

Dutch colonists brought the first Africans to the New Amsterdam colony in the late 1500s. By 1748, African-Americans, slave and free, made up 20% of the city’s population. In addition to being banned from membership in churches, at best relegated to balconies and back pews, New York’s black residents endured curfews, meeting prohibitions, and burial restrictions.

In 1794, the African burial ground near City Hall was closed, and by October of that year, the Common Council of New York City received a “petition from the Sunday Black men of this City praying the aid of this board in purchasing a piece of ground for the internment of their dead.” By April, the land was granted in what was deemed “a proper place,” near the dilapidated ruin of James Delancey’s mansion. The land purchase was bounded to the east by First Street (now Chrystie) and to the north and south by Stanton and Rivington Streets. By the late 1700s, the growing population of the city forced northern expansion. The burial ground began to deteriorate, and in 1853, it closed forever. The human remains were disinterred, and the site was soon built over. The M’Finda Kalunga Garden, just a few hundred yards away, memorializes this moment in history. M’Finda Kalunga means “Garden at the Edge of the Other Side of the World” in the Kikongo language.

The garden was founded in 1983, as a project of the Roosevelt Park Community Coalition. This coalition, formed in 1982 in response to an overwhelming drug problem in the park, created several committees to assess and to solve the variety of problems facing the neighborhood. The original aims of the garden were more social than horticultural. The organizers viewed their work as a beachhead from which to launch initiatives that would make the community a better place to live. In the following years, more gardeners joined the project, and the garden began to take shape.

About 20 regular gardeners now maintain individual beds, and contribute to the upkeep of communal areas, such as the shrubbery and bulb plantings. The garden’s mailing list is nearly double this number. Keys and individual plots are earned on an apprenticeship basis, when would-be members work with current members on shared plots, and demonstrate their commitment to maintaining the garden. Community business is handled in a democratic fashion at monthly meetings. Scheduled events include Clean-Up Day, Kids Day, senior center hours, and fundraisers.

 

                                                                           Flatiron/Gramercy-Stuyvesant-Union Square/East Village

Tompkins Square Park

 

Nearby Zip Codes: 10009, 10003, 10002

Nearby Neighborhoods: Lower Manhattan, East Village, Alphabet City

Avenues A to B, between East 7th and East 10th Streets

This park honors Daniel D. Tompkins (1774–1825), who served as Governor of New York from 1807 to 1817 and as Vice President of the United States under James Monroe (1758-1831) from 1817 to 1825. Peter Stuyvesant (1610–1672), director general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, owned this property during the 17th century. Tompkins later acquired it, and by the 19th century, it was marked for development as a public square.

The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 proposed a large market on this land stretching from First Avenue to the East River, but plans for the market never materialized. Bordered today by Avenues A and B, and 7th and 10th Streets, Tompkins Square Park was acquired by the City in 1834. Originally swampland, this site was graded and landscaped between 1835 and 1850. In 1866, the New York State Legislature ordered the City to remove a number of trees that had been planted at the time of the park’s creation to allow for an open parade ground for the Seventh Regiment of New York. A few Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) trees were spared, and of those, three survived to the present day. Believed to be the oldest trees in the park, two of the Sycamores can be found along 10th Street and the other is located on Avenue A at 9th Street.

The New York State Legislature, bowing to pressure from city residents, redesignated the square as a public park in 1878, and it was redesigned the following year. Approximately 450 trees were planted and many of those remain in the park today. Species include Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), American elm (Ulmus americana), and Oriental plane (Platanus orientalis).

The park is home to several monuments, including the Temperance Memorial Fountain (1888), the Samuel S. Cox monument (1891), the Slocum Memorial Fountain (1906), several memorial plaques, and the Ukrainian-American Flagstaff (1942), which was donated by the Ukrainian Production Unit of the American Red Cross. A playground for girls was built in 1904, and in 1911, 10,000 people came here to witness the City’s first inter-park athletic championships. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981) expanded recreation opportunities in the park in the 1930s, adding handball courts and swing sets. A bandshell was completed in 1966 in time for frequent concerts and rallies, which characterized that period in history.

Since its beginnings in the 19th century, Tompkins Square Park has served as a place to voice dissent. Demonstrations in 1857 and 1875 about the lack of jobs and the poor economy gave way to local residents’ protests about gentrification in the 1980s and 1990s. In the late 1980s, police and East Village residents clashed after Parks began enforcing the park’s closing hours, in effect barring homeless from camping in the park. In 1991 the park was closed and dozens of homeless people who had been living in the park were relocated.

The park was reconstructed and reopened in the summer of 1992. During this renovation, the bandshell was removed, a state-of-the-art dog run and new playgrounds were built, several monuments conserved, and the turf and sidewalks replaced. Today Tompkins Square Park continues to serve a diverse community, providing a peaceful, meditative environment within the bustle of city life.

Hare Krishna Tree

One of Tompkins Square Park’s most prominent features is its collection of venerable American elm (Ulmus americana) trees. One elm in particular, located next to the semi-circular arrangement of benches in the park’s center, is important to adherents of the Hare Krishna religion. After coming to the United States in September, 1965, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896–1977), the Indian spiritual leader, founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in New York. He worked from a storefront on nearby Second Avenue that he used as the Society’s American headquarters. Prabhupada and his disciples gathered in Tompkins Square Park in the fall of 1966 to introduce the East Village to the group’s distinctive 16-word mantra:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare

On October 9, 1966, Prabhupada and his followers sat beneath this tree and held the first outdoor chanting session outside of India. Participants chanted for two hours as they danced and played cymbals, tambourines, and other percussive instruments; the event is recognized as the founding of the Hare Krishna religion in the United States. Prabhupada’s diverse group that day included Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997). Krishna adherents continue to return to the tree to acknowledge its significance.

American elm trees are known for their towering canopies, which provide abundant shade through spring, summer, and fall. It is rare today to find such a collection of American elms, since many of the mature elms planted across the country have been killed by Dutch Elm Disease. This incurable disease, a fungus carried by bark beetles ( Coleoptera Scolytidae) which colonize on the branches of the elm tree, swept across the United States in the 1930s and remains a threat to the park’s collection of elms. Despite having lost at least 34 of the trees, Tompkins Square Park still hosts a large assemblage of elms, which continue to this day to enchant park patrons. The East Village Parks Conservancy, a volunteer group, raises significant private funds for the ongoing care and maintenance of the American elms and other historic trees in Tompkins Square Park.

Samuel Sullivan Cox

Samuel Sullivan “Sunset” Cox (1824–1889) was born in Zanesville, Ohio, and served his home state as a Democratic Congressional representative from 1857 to 1865 before being unseated. After moving to New York in 1866, Cox served again in Congress for several terms from 1869 until 1889.

Although Cox once publicly declared that his most satisfying contribution to public service was championing the Life Saving Service—founded in the 1840s to patrol the coasts and save imperiled boaters during bad weather, the group was absorbed into the Coast Guard in 1915—this statue is sponsored by U.S. Postal Service workers because of Cox’s support for their quality-of-life issues. Known as the “letter-carriers’ friend,” Cox spearheaded legislation that led to paid benefits and a 40-hour workweek for postal employees. Mail carriers from the 188 cities named on the monument contributed $10,000 for the statue in a campaign that began soon after Cox’s death.

Sculptor Louise Lawson’s statue of Cox, unveiled in 1891, depicts him orating before Congress. Lawson (186?–1899) came from a prominent Ohio family. She and her brother, U.S. Representative W. D. Lawson, both attended Cox’s 1889 funeral at which President Grover Cleveland and General William Sherman served as honorary pallbearers. One might interpret the statue’s somewhat stiff quality as representative of Cox’s steadfast stance on issues for which he advocated.

After the statue’s unveiling on Independence Day 1891, the New York Tribune noted, somewhat less charitably, that Cox’s “usually genial countenance is strained” and “out of harmony” with the Congressman’s natural demeanor. “The likeness is not a good one, and the facial resemblance is hardly suggestive,” the article added. A New York Times account of the ceremony questioned whether the statue “will ever be greatly admired as a work of art.” Nevertheless, a reported 2,500 letter carriers came from as far away as New Orleans and Memphis to participate in the moving ceremony to honor Cox at the statue’s unveiling.

The statue originally stood near Cox’s home on East 12th Street at the intersection of Lafayette Street, Fourth Avenue, and Astor Place. In November 1924, due to a street-widening project in the vicinity of Astor Place, it was moved to its current location at the southwest corner of Tompkins Square Park.

In 1998, the monument was conserved by the City Parks Foundation Monuments Conservation Program. The treatment included cleaning, repainting, and applying a protective coating to the bronze sculpture and plaques. The pedestal was also cleaned and the lettering was remolded on the front side of the base. The program was funded in part by the American Express Company, the Florence Gould Foundation, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Slocum Memorial Fountain

Dedicated in 1906, this fountain serves as a reminder of those who died aboard the excursion steamer General Slocum on June 15, 1904. Prior to September 11, 2001, the burning of the General Slocum had the highest death toll of any disaster in New York City history. The incident claimed an irreplaceable part of the Lower East Side community once known as Little Germany and remains the worst inland-waters, peacetime tragedy in the nation’s history.

The Slocum was a triple-decker wooden ship built in 1891, named after General Henry Warner Slocum (1827-1894) who commanded the extreme right line of the Union Army at Gettysburg and represented the City of Brooklyn in Congress for three terms. It was one of nearly a dozen excursion steamers that traveled around New York waterways, enabling working class people to escape the city even if just for a few hours. On its final voyage, the Slocum was to vary its normal two trips to the Rockaways in order to bring a large party to Locust Grove on Long Island.

The approximately 1,300 passengers and 35 member crew included the congregation of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, located on 6th Street near 2nd Avenue, who were en route to their seventeenth annual picnic. As it was a weekday, the majority of the German immigrants and people of German descent who comprised the group were women and children. This was also true for the other passengers who hailed from all over the New York area.

Twenty minutes after the ship departed the Third Street pier on the East River, it entered the ever treacherous junction of the East River, New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. There it was overtaken not by the current but by flames and Captain William Van Schaik docked, shortly after 10AM, at North Brother Island, near Riker’s Island. Of the more than 1,000 people who died, many were buried in the Lutheran cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, where a monument was erected in 1905 to honor the unidentified dead. The disaster was the fatal end of a ship with a history of accidents and was attributed to inadequate safety precautions and the negligence of the Captain.

The Slocum Memorial Fountain by sculptor Bruno Louis Zimm was donated by the Sympathy Society of German Ladies and installed in Tompkins Square Park, a central feature of the neighborhood. The nine foot upright stele is made of pink Tennessee marble with a low relief of two children looking seaward as well as a lion head spout. Zimm, who was a member of the Woodstock Artists Colony, also designed a similar fountain, the Women’s Health Protective Monument, located at 116th Street and Riverside Drive, and the frieze on the pediment of the Fine Arts building in San Francisco.

Temperance Fountain

Dating to 1888, this neo-classical fountain was the gift of the wealthy San Francisco dentist, businessman, and temperance crusader Henry D. Cogswell (1820–1900).

Cogswell was born in Tolland, Connecticut in 1820, the son of an architect and builder. His mother died when he was young, and the family relocated to Orwell, New York. At age nine Cogswell returned alone to Connecticut, and endured “eight years of labor in southern Connecticut and Rhode Island cotton mills, itinerant wanderings, and incarceration in a poorhouse.” Managing to transcend these ordeals, and largely self-taught, Cogswell served as principal of Orwell High School, studied medicine, and became a dentist.

News of the California Gold Rush of 1849 lured Cogswell to San Francisco. There his prosperous dental practice and real estate investments permitted him to retire in 1856 with a fortune estimated at $2,000,000. He engaged himself in public philanthropy, founding the Cogswell Polytechnic Institute, and helping to advance the anti-alcohol or “temperance” movement. Often, his charitable acts were tinged with self-promotion, and in an effort to embellish his humble origins, he adopted the coat of arms of Humphrey Cogswell, a 15th-century English lord, from whom Henry falsely claimed his lineage.

Cogswell’s most lasting legacy was the 50 monuments he sponsored nationwide between 1878 and the 1890s. Most were versions of the temperance fountain. Several of the fountains, such as those in Washington, D. C., Boston Common, and in Tompkins Square Park, were covered by a stone canopy or baldachin supported by four Doric columns. As can be seen here, the four stone entablatures were emblazoned with the words Faith, Hope, Charity, and Temperance.

The erection of the Temperance Fountain in Tompkins Square Park resulted from Cogswell’s affiliation with the Moderation Society, which was formed in 1877 to address health conditions on the Lower East Side, and to distribute free ice-water fountains to encourage citizens to drink water instead of alcoholic beverages. Cogswell served as the group’s honorary president in 1890, and the collaboration produced another temperance fountain at the New York City main post office at 34th Street and Eighth Avenue. The figure of Hebe, the mythical water carrier, atop the pyramidal stone pediment was originally fabricated in zinc by the J. L. Mott Iron Works in Mott Haven in the Bronx. The classically-styled figure is based on a marble statue made circa 1816 by the renowned Danish sculptor Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen (c.1770–1844). Thorvaldsen’s 1839 marble self-portrait stands in Central Park at East 97th Street. Though the four ornamental luminaires with red, white and blue tinted glass, which once flanked the fountain, long ago vanished, this monument has withstood the vagaries of time better than most. In 1992, the fountain underwent extensive restoration, and the Hebe statue was replaced with a more durable bronze replica.

 

Union Square

 

Downtown Parks, Union Square Park

Nearby Zip Codes: 10003, 10011, 10012

Nearby Neighborhoods: Greenwich Village, Gramercy Park, Flatiron District, and the East Village

Broadway to Fourth Avenue, between East 14th and East 17th Streets

For nearly 170 years Union Square has been a gathering place—for commerce, for entertainment, for labor and political events, and for recreation. The park owes its name to its location at the intersection—or union—of two major roads in New York City, Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) and Bowery Road (now Fourth Avenue). When the Commissioner’s Plan, the famous gridiron of Manhattan streets and avenues, was projected in 1807, the former potter’s field at this intersection was designated as Union Place. The site was authorized by the State Legislature as a public place in 1831 and acquired by the City of New York in 1833.

On July 19, 1839 Union Square opened to the public. Its paths, situated among lushly planted grounds, were inspired by the fashionable residential squares of London. The design emphasized the park’s oval shape (enclosed by an iron picket fence) and focused on a large central fountain, which was installed for the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842. As New York City’s downtown expanded northward, Union Square became an important commercial and residential center. Around its borders sprang up houses, hotels, stores, banks, offices, manufacturing establishments, Tammany Hall, and a variety of cultural facilities, including music auditoria, theatres, and lecture halls. The grounds of Union Square have frequently served as a choice location for public meetings, including parades, labor protests, political rallies, and official celebrations such as the Great Metropolitan Fair of the U.S. Sanitary Commission in 1864.

In 1871 Parks Engineer in Chief M.A. Kellogg and Acting Landscape Gardener E.A. Pollard collaborated on a new plan for Union Square. A year later the park was redesigned by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. They removed the enclosing fence and hedge, planted a variety of hardy trees, widened the sidewalks, and created a muster ground and reviewing stand “to meet the public requirement of mass-meetings.”

Ten years later, Union Square played a central role in the first Labor Day celebration. On September 5, 1882, a crowd of at least 10,000 workers paraded up Broadway and filed past the reviewing stand at Union Square. As the procession passed the stand, Robert Price of Lonaconing, Maryland said to Richard Griffiths, the General Worthy Foreman of the Knights of Labor, “This is Labor Day in earnest, Uncle Dick.” On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the legislation which made Labor Day a national holiday.

In 1928-29 Union Square was completely demolished to accommodate a new underground concourse for the subway. Alterations made in the 1920s and 1930s included the straightening of park paths, the construction of a colonnaded pavilion, and the dedication of the Independence (Charles F. Murphy Memorial) Flagstaff (1926, sculpted by Anthony de Francisci). Earlier monuments in the park include George Washington (1856, Henry Kirke Brown), Abraham Lincoln (1868, also Brown), Marquis de Lafayette (1873, by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi), and the James Fountain (1881, by Karl Adolph Donndorf). Since 1976 the Union Square Greenmarket has served as a local landmark, offering a cornucopia of fresh food and plants on the north side of the park, where a flower market flourished over a century ago.

Threatened by general misuse, deterioration, and the presence of drug dealers in the 1970s, Union Square has recently undergone a dramatic transformation. In 1985 major renovations under Mayor Edward I. Koch included creating a new plaza at the south end of the park, relocating paths to make the park more accessible, planting a central lawn, and installing new lighting and two subway kiosks. In 1986 a monument to Indian political leader and social reformer Mohandas Gandhi (1986, by Kantilal B. Patel) was dedicated on a traffic island southwest of the main park. Two new playgrounds were constructed in 1993-94, and a restaurant opened in the sunken courtyard outside the pavilion in 1994.

In 1997 the United States Department of the Interior designated Union Square Park as a National Historic Landmark because of its significance in American labor history. Plans are underway to extend the park line south 14th Street, and to incorporate in the park the traffic island on which the Gandhi statue now stands.

Abraham Lincoln Statue

One of three sculptural renditions of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) in New York City’s parks, this larger-than-life bronze by Henry Kirke Brown (1814–1886) stands vigil on a busy crossroads at the north end of Union Square Park.

Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Hardin County (now Larue County), Kentucky, and was mostly self-educated. He settled in New Salem, Illinois, in 1831 and worked as a storekeeper, surveyor, and postmaster while studying law. In 1834, Lincoln was elected to the state legislature and served four terms, and was elected to Congress on the Whig ticket and served from 1847 to 1849. After this single term, he left politics and dedicated himself to a successful legal practice; it was not until the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 threatened to expand the practice of slavery in the West did Lincoln rejoin the national arena. He lost two bids for the Senate in 1856 and 1858, but made an impression on his state and the nation over the course of seven debates with Democratic opponent Stephen A. Douglas.

Lincoln successfully ran for president as a Republican in 1860. While campaigning, he made his first visit to New York City in February 1860, and delivered a famous speech in Cooper Union’s Great Hall. By Inauguration Day in March 1861, seven southern states had seceded from the Union, and four more would follow in April. As the nation plunged into Civil War, Lincoln proved a skillful and thoughtful leader and orator. In 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves and delivered the Gettysburg Address that eloquently memorialized fallen soldiers.

Lincoln won re-election in 1864 against George McClellan. Five days after Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. He died the next morning. Lincoln’s funeral cortege traveled to all the principal cities in the United States, and arrived in New York City on April 24. His body lay in state at City Hall. Lincoln is buried at Oak Ridge, Illinois, near Springfield.

Not long after Lincoln’s death, the statue of Lincoln was sponsored by the Union League Club, a Republican organization, which retained the services of the noted sculptor Henry Kirke Brown. Though Brown, like many of his generation, made an obligatory visit to Italy to study, he was part of a group of sculptors attempting to establish a truly American sculptural idiom. In his statue of Lincoln, cast in 1868, and dedicated September 16, 1870, he combines a classically styled pose with a perceptive naturalism, uniting realistic detail with an idealistic stance. Brown also created a similar portrait of Lincoln in Prospect Park (1869), and his nephew and pupil Henry Kirke Bush-Brown (1857-1935) crafted the bronze bust for Gettysburg’s Lincoln Memorial.

The sculpture originally stood in the street bed at the southwest corner of Union Square, at the location today occupied by the statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948). In 1875, Abraham Lincoln was protected by the installation of an elaborate stone and bronze rail fence, into which were inscribed from his second inaugural address, “…with malice toward none; charity toward all.” Union Square Park was completely redesigned in 1930 to accommodate new subway construction, and the statue, minus its fence, was relocated to its current position in axial alignment with the Independence Flagpole (1930) and Henry Kirke Brown’s striking equestrian George Washington (1856) located at the park’s southern plaza. Abraham Lincoln was conserved in 1992.

George Washington Statue

This impressive bronze equestrian portrait of George Washington (1732–1799), the first president of the United States, is the oldest sculpture in the New York City Parks collection.  It was modeled by Henry Kirke Brown (1814–1886) and dedicated in 1865.

George Washington was born into a prosperous family on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia.  He was privately educated and gained experience as a land surveyor, before joining the militia.  He served as an officer in the French and Indian Wars from 1755-1758.  After rising to the rank of colonel, he resigned his post and married Martha Dandridge (1731–1802), returning as a gentleman farmer to the family plantation at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

He soon reentered public life, and served in succession as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses (1759-74), and as a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses (1774-75).  Upon the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, Washington was made Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.  His military prowess and inspirational leadership held the colonial armies together against overwhelming odds, and secured the evacuation and defeat of the British in 1783.

Washington again retired to Mount Vernon, but his dissatisfaction with the new provisional government caused him to resume an active role, and in 1787, he presided over the second federal constitutional convention in Philadelphia.  He was then unanimously chosen first president of the United States, and was inaugurated at Federal Hall in New York City on April 30, 1789.  Washington was reelected to a second term in 1793, declined a third term, and retired from political life in 1797.  Often referred to as “the father of our country,” Washington is universally regarded as having been instrumental in winning the American Revolution and in establishing the new nation.

In 1851, a committee of concerned citizens interested in erecting a monument to Washington in New York approached sculptor Horatio Greenough (1805–1852), known for his huge classical marble portrait of Washington.  Simultaneously, the committee also invited Henry Kirke Brown to submit a design, though it was unclear whether he was to assist Greenough or compete with him for artistic selection.  Any prospect of collaboration evaporated with Greenough’s premature death in December 1852.

Though Brown, like many of his generation, made an obligatory visit to Italy to study, he was part of a group of sculptors attempting to establish a truly American sculptural idiom.  His first major public commission was a statue of De Witt Clinton (1769–1828) which he completed for Greenwood Cemetery in 1852.  Working at a specially equipped studio in Brooklyn, and assisted extensively by John Quincy Adams Ward (1830–1910), who himself would attain renown as a sculptor, Brown spent 18 months modeling the horse and rider.

The moment Brown depicts is that of Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783, when Washington reclaimed the city from the British.  With outstretched hand, he signals to the troops in a gesture of benediction, a sculptural motif indebted to precedents from antiquity, most notably the Marcus Aurelius statue on Rome’s Capitaline Hill.  The resulting statue depicts a uniting of classical gesture and pose with a simple and direct naturalism.  The piece was cast at the Ames foundry in Chicopee, Massachusetts, one of the first foundries in the United States capable of such large-scale quality work.  The names of the donors are inscribed on the skyward face of the bronze sub-base.  Brown also sculpted the statue of Abraham Lincoln on the north side of park.

On June 5, 1856, the Washington statue was installed on a simple granite base designed by Richard Upjohn.  The event drew thousands of spectators.  One month later, on July 4, the statue was formally conveyed to the custody of the City of New York.  At that time the sculpture stood in a fenced enclosure in the middle of the street, at the southeast corner of the square.  In 1930, following overall improvements to the park, and to better protect it from vehicular traffic and pollution, the statue was moved its position of centrality on the south side of the park.  In 1989, the sculpture was conserved, and the missing sword and bridle strap recreated through the Adopt-A-Monument Program, a joint venture of Parks, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York City Art Commission.

In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the George Washington sculpture served as a touchstone for collective grieving and public expression, and became the central focus of a massive around-the-clock community vigil and a provisional shrine.  These events reaffirmed the symbolic power of New York City’s most venerable outdoor work of art.

Independence Flagstaff

Although this flagstaff commemorates the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it is also known as the Charles F. Murphy Memorial Flagpole. The intricate bas-reliefs and plaques were completed in 1926 by sculptor Anthony De Francisci (1887–1964), and feature a procession of allegorical figures representing democracy and tyranny, the text of the Declaration of Independence, and emblems from the original 13 colonies. The enormous flagpole, said to be one of the largest in New York State, is capped with a gilded sunburst.

The Independence Flagstaff was a gift of the Tammany Society, and replaced a flagstaff built during the tenure of Tammany president Charles F. Murphy (1858–1924), a boss in the infamous political machine. After Murphy’s death, Tammany supporters wanted to dedicate this bigger and better flagstaff to Murphy. Public sentiment prevented honoring a symbol of Tammany corruption in a manner commensurate with Lincoln and Washington at Union Square Park, and by the time the Murphy Flagpole was dedicated on July 4, 1930, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, it was referred to as the Independence Flagstaff. The flagstaff has been restored extensively through the years, most recently in 1987 when the stone pedestal was renovated and the flagpole reinstalled.

James Fountain

Also known as the Union Square Drinking Fountain, this ornate piece by German sculptor Karl Adolph Donndorf (1835–1916) was donated by philanthropist Daniel Willis James (1832–1907) to promote the virtue of charity to 19th century New Yorkers. One of a few public drinking fountains of this type left, the figural group contains a mother holding a baby with an infant at her left side. The fountain’s figures were modeled on the artist’s family and the granite is from Sweden. The lion’s heads on the fountain’s four sides dispense water; the fountain originally featured tin cups chained to the piece to allow passersby to quench their thirst.

The piece, located in an alcove on the west side of the park, was dedicated October 25, 1881. A civic patron, James intended his gift to function not only as a decorative work of art but also to propagate a lesson about kindness and charity. After visiting the artist in his native Germany and procuring a model of the fountain, James commissioned Donndorf to execute the piece. The fountain was most recently renovated as part of the reconstruction of Union Square, scheduled for completion in 2002.

Marquis De Lafayette

This bronze sculpture depicts the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), the French-born general who fought on behalf of American rebels during the American Revolution. Cast in 1873 and dedicated in 1876, the piece is a token of appreciation from the French government for aid New York provided Paris during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) — thus the inscription “in remembrance of sympathy in times of trial.”

French statesman and military leader Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Montier Lafayette is best remembered for his role in the Revolutionary War. Sympathetic to the American cause, he aided the colonists through the provision of experienced military leadership. The Frenchman quickly became a favorite of General George Washington, who appointed him Major General in the Continental Army during 1777. The next year, Lafayette returned to France following the formal agreement of the France/United States alliance against Great Britain. Once in France, he actively lobbied for the allotment of increased military and financial aid for the Colonies. In 1780, Marquis de Lafayette returned to America and served valorously in the Virginia campaign, which forced the surrender of Lord Charles Cornwallis in 1781.

As a true proponent of democracy, Lafayette assumed a leading role in the French Revolution of 1789. He became a member of the National Assembly, from which position he prepared the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a bill of rights based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights (also a major source for the American Declaration of Independence). He commanded the French National Guard and joined the Feuillants, a moderate political party that advocated a constitutional monarchy. He gained leadership of a French division in 1792 in the war against Austria. Chastised by the Jacobins within his unit (who were far more radical than the Feuillants) Lafayette fled to Flanders where Austrian authorities imprisoned him for five years. Upon his return to France, he avoided the dictatorial politics of Napoleon Bonaparte. Following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, Lafayette resumed his political career by serving as a member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1815 and from 1818 to 1824. He toured the United States in 1824 during which time Congress voted him a gift of $200,000 and a large tract of land. Marquis de Lafayette, the statesman and general, maintained the convictions of democracy, social equality, and religious freedom throughout the remainder of his life.

The larger-than-life-sized figure was sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904), who also designed the Statue of Liberty (1886), another gift from the French government that figures prominently in New York Harbor. The granite pedestal designed by H.W. DeStuckle was donated by French citizens living in New York. Lafayette appears in another Bartholdi sculpture at Lafayette Square in Upper Manhattan that depicts him shaking General George Washington’s hand. Lafayette is also honored in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with a bas-relief on a stele by Daniel Chester French, who designed the figure of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

In 1991 the monument was conserved through the Adopt-A-Monument Program, a joint venture of the Municipal Art Society, Parks and the New York City Art Commission.

Mohandas Gandhi

This bronze sculpture depicting Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) was sculpted by Kantilal B. Patel (born 1925).  After its dedication on October 2, 1986, the 117th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth, the sculpture joined monuments to Washington, Lafayette, and Lincoln in Union Square Park as a quartet of works devoted to defenders of freedom.  Noted civil rights leader Bayard Rustin (1912–1987) was the keynote speaker at the dedication.

The monument, donated by the Gandhi Memorial International Foundation and underwritten by Mohan B. Murjani of Murjani International, Ltd., was installed at Union Square because of the tradition of protest associated with the park.  The champion of nonviolent protest and Indian independence from Britain, arguably one of the most important figures of the 20th century, is seen here grasping a staff in his right hand, looking towards a point on the horizon, and walking forward.  Clad in sandals and a cotton dhoti, Gandhi’s dress illustrates his Hindu asceticism as well as his support for Indian industries.  After its installation the monument became an instant pilgrimage site, with an annual ceremony taking place on Gandhi’s birthday, October 2.

In 2001, Parks conserved the statue after it had been removed temporarily to facilitate the construction of a water main beneath the site. In 2002, the piece was reset on a more naturalistic stone base and the landscaped area around the monument, known as Gandhi Gardens, was expanded and improved.

 

Madison Square Park

Downtown Parks, Madison Square Park

Nearby Zip Codes: 10010, 10011, 10003, 10001

Nearby Neighborhoods: Flatiron District, Chelsea, Gramercy Park, and Rose Bay

Broadway to Madison Avenue, East 23rd to East 26th Streets

Madison Square Park is named for James Madison (1751-1836), a Virginian who was the fourth President of the United States (1809-17). Madison earned the title “father of the Constitution,” from his peers in the Constitutional Convention. He also co-authored The Federalist Papers (1787-88) with New Yorkers Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. Madison was Secretary of State from 1801-09, serving through both of President Thomas Jefferson’s terms. As President, he was Commander-in-Chief during the War of 1812 with the British. Madison was the rector of the University of Virginia from 1827 until he died in 1836.

The largest parcel of this land was first designated as public property when Royal Governor Thomas Dongan revised the City Charter in 1686. Since then, this area has been used for a variety of public purposes. A potter’s field was established here in 1794, and then was moved in 1797 to Washington Square. By 1811 the land was home to a United States Army Arsenal (1806) and laid out as part of a military parade ground (named for Madison in 1814), bounded by 3rd and 7th Avenues and 23rd and 34th Streets. The arsenal fell out of military use, and served as a “House of Refuge” for juvenile delinquents from 1825 until 1839, when it was destroyed by fire.

After being leveled, sodded, and enclosed, Madison Square Park opened to the public on May 10, 1847, with boundaries of Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenues and 23rd and 26th Streets. Citizens quickly claimed the public park as their own. Their protests against plans to erect the Crystal Palace here in 1853 resulted in its relocation to Bryant Park. Nevertheless, the park has been host to grand celebrations, replete with temporary decorative arches, to commemorate historic occasions and anniversaries such as the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1876 and the triumphant return of Admiral Dewey from the Spanish American War in 1899.

The original Madison Square Garden was located adjacent to the park at Madison Avenue and 26th Street. It was owned by William Vanderbilt, and opened in 1879. The building was razed in 1899 and replaced with a Moorish style building designed by Stanford White. The second Madison Square Garden stood until 1925 when it was demolished and replaced by the headquarters of the New York Life Insurance Company. Promoter Tex Rickard built the third Garden that same year at 8th Avenue and 50th Street.

Soon after the creation of the Department of Public Parks in 1870, the square was relandscaped by Ignatz Pilat, Chief Landscape Architect, and William Grant. The new design brought in the sculptures that now highlight the park. One of the works capturing a politician in bronze is Randolph Ranger’s statue of William H. Seward (1876), the Secretary of State who purchased Alaska in 1867. He was the first New Yorker to have a monument erected in his honor. Others include J.Q.A. Ward’s sculpture of Roscoe Conkling (1893), a reconstructionist politician; and George Edwin Bissell’s monument to Chester Alan Arthur (1898), the 21st American President. War heroes are represented by James Goodwin Batterson’s monument to General Worth (1854-1857), the Mexican War veteran who is buried just west of Madison Square, and the Admiral Farragut monument, Augustus St. Gaudens’ first major work that was dedicated in 1881 to the Civil War naval officer. Other features are the ornamental fountain (1867) and the Eternal Light Flagpole (1923).

Chester Alan Arthur Statue

Dedicated on June 13, 1899, this monumental bronze portrait of Chester Alan Arthur (1830-1886), the 21st United States President, is by sculptor George Edwin Bissell (1839-1920).

Arthur was born in Fairfield, Vermont on October 5, 1830, the son of Reverend William Arthur and Malvina Stone. After college he studied law briefly, and then served in 1851 as principal of an academy at North Pownal, Vermont (where James Garfield, the 20th president taught penmanship the following year).

In 1853, Arthur moved to New York City, and practiced law. A staunch abolitionist, Arthur gained recognition for taking on civil rights cases, including one which paved the way for integration in the City’s passenger railroads. At this time, he became active in the newly formed Republican Party. During the Civil War, he served the Union as inspector-general and then quartermaster, in charge of providing equipment, clothing, and supplies to those troops in New York.

In 1871, Arthur was appointed customs collector of the Port of New York, a position of enormous influence. However, faced with corruption charges, he left office in 1878, under pressure from President Rutherford B. Hayes, an action which angered New York state Republicans led by Senator Roscoe Conkling. They were mollified by the selection of Arthur as the vice-presidential candidate on the successful ticket with James A. Garfield in 1880. Upon Garfield’s assassination in 1881, Arthur assumed the presidency, and was the first president since George Washington to take the oath of office in New York City. Arthur’s administration was considered to be honest and efficient. He successfully supported the Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, and vetoed legislation limiting the immigration Chinese laborers. Failing in 1884 to be renominated, Arthur returned to New York City, and died on November 18, 1886.

This statue was commissioned by the friends of Arthur at a cost of $25,000. The ornamental base of polished black Barre granite was designed by James Brown Lord. The sculpture depicts Arthur standing in a frock coat before an armchair, draped with a rug, and embossed on the back with the presidential seal. Bissell, who studied art in Paris, Rome and Florence, was a prolific sculptor, and operated a marble business in Poughkeepsie, New York. He also sculpted the portrait of mayor Abraham de Peyster, formerly in Bowling Green Park, and now in Hanover Square in lower Manhattan. The Arthur sculpture was repatined by the city monuments crew in 1968, and was conserved again in 1986-87. Sculptures of Arthur’s contemporaries, Roscoe Conkling (1893) and Secretary of State William Seward (1876) may be found at the southeast and southwest corners respectively of Madison Square Park, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ fine effigy of Admiral Farragut (1881) stands vigilant on the northern side of the park’s central axis.

Eternal Light Flagstaff

This monumental flagstaff honors those victorious forces of the United States Army and Navy who were officially received at this site following the armistice and the conclusion of World War I. The monument was commissioned by Rodman Wanamaker at a cost of $25,000.

The massive stepped ornamental pedestal, made of Milford pink granite, is inscribed with dedicatory tributes to those who served their country in World War I, and lists also the names of significant battle sites. It was designed by Thomas Hastings (1860-1929), whose architectural firm Carrere and Hastings were responsible for many notable buildings, including the New York Public Library. The lavish decorative bronze cap at the base of the flagstaff includes garlands and rams heads, and was sculpted by Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865-1925). The monument supports a star-shaped luminaire at the top of the pole, which is intended to be lit at all times as an eternal tribute to those who paid the supreme sacrifice.

The monument was dedicated on Armistice Day, November 11, 1923, and each year is the site where the annual Veterans Day parade concludes, and official ceremonies are conducted.

Roscoe Conkling Statue

Located at the southeast corner of Madison Square Park this forthright, bronze full-standing statue of political figure Roscoe Conkling (1829-1888) is by the distinguished artist John Quincy Adams Ward (1840-1910), and dates to 1893.

Conkling was born in Albany, New York on October 30, 1829. He studied law with his father Alfred Conkling (1789-1874), a jurist, and entered the law practice of Francis Kernan (later a colleague in the Senate) in 1846. In 1850 he became district attorney for Oneida County, and was admitted to the bar in that year. His political career was launched when he was elected in 1858 Mayor of Utica, New York. He then served as a United States congressman (1859-1863, 1865-67) and senator (1867-1881).

A member of the House ways and means committee and of a special committee on post-war reconstruction, his first major speech was in support of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution which established equal protection of the laws for all citizens. In the senate Conkling was an ardent supporter of the Grant administration, served on the judiciary committee, helped support passage of a civil rights bill, and played a prominent role in framing the electoral-commission bill of 1877. In 1876 Conkling had garnered 93 votes for the Republican nomination for president at the convention in Cincinnati.

Conkling’s active government role made him the undisputed leader of the Republican party in New York State, and a power-broker who controlled federal patronage. Though married, this charismatic figure was romantically linked to several other women. In 1881 a dispute with President James Garfield (1831-1881) over patronage dispensation and federal appointments caused Conkling to resign from the Senate. Withdrawing in large part from politics, Conkling dedicated the remainder of his life to a successful law practice.

On March 12, 1888, while on his way to the New York Club at 25th Street, Conkling suffered severe exposure in Union Square, during the famous blizzard which gripped the city on that day. As a result his health rapidly declined, and he died on April 18th, 1888. Five years later friends of Conkling petitioned the Mayor and Park Board to erect a sculpture of him in Union Square. Park officials believed Conkling not of a stature to warrant placement of this work alongside existing sculptures in the park of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the Marquis de Lafayette, but granted permission at the present location of the work.

Later referred to as “the Dean of American Sculptors,” Ward contributed nine sculptures to the parks of New York, among them Horace Greeley (1890) now in City Hall Park, Alexander Holley (1888) in Washington Square Park, William Earl Dodge (1885), now in Bryant Park, Henry Ward Beecher (1891) in Columbus Park, Brooklyn, and The Indian Hunter (1869), William Shakespeare (1872), The Pilgrim (1885), and the Seventh Regiment Memorial (1874) in Central Park. Ward’s depiction of Conkling is a sensitive and vigorous portrait of him posed, as Conkling’s wife requested, while delivering a speech before the United States Senate. In early December 1893, the eight-foot high, 1,200 pound statue was hoisted onto its granite pedestal, and installed—in deference to the Conkling’s heirs—and installed without any formal ceremony. In the summer of 2000 as part of the redesign and renovation of Madison Square Park the sculpture was relocated 20 feet to a landscaped area, and in 2001 the sculpture was conserved by the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program.

William Seward Statue

This imposing bronze statue of statesman William Seward (1801–1872) was created by the artist Randolph Rogers (1825–1892). The sculpture was dedicated in 1876, and Seward is said to be the first New Yorker to be honored with a monument in the city.

William Seward was born in Florida, New York, on May 16, 1801. An avid scholar, Seward studied at Farmers’ Hall Academy in Goshen, New York, and in 1816 enrolled at Union College, graduating in 1820. Seward was admitted to the bar at Utica in 1822, and partnered in Auburn, New York, with Elijah Miller. Active in local and national politics, Seward was elected in 1830 as an anti-Masonic candidate to the state senate. Defeated for governor by William L. Macy in 1834, Seward was elected to that position in 1838 as a leader of the anti-slavery wing of the Whig party, and served as governor for two terms, from 1839 to 1843. Afterwards Seward specialized in patent law, and was in great demand too as an attorney in criminal cases. In 1845, he argued in defense of freedom of the press in a libel suit brought by J. Fennimore Cooper (1789-1851) against newspaper publisher Horace Greeley (1811-1872) in 1845. Four years later, Seward was elected United States Senator (1849-1861).

In 1858, he delivered a famous address in Rochester, New York, in which he articulated the “irrepressible conflict” caused by the scourge of slavery in the United States. His prominent position within the Republican Party won Seward the most votes on the first ballot for the presidential nomination in 1860, but the party chose Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), to represent their interests. Shortly after Lincoln’s inauguration, several southern states withdrew from the union, initiating the bloodiest conflict in American history, the Civil War (1861-1865). Valuing Seward’s powers of persuasion, political acumen and unswerving fealty to the Abolitionist cause, Lincoln appointed him to the position of Secretary of State in 1861 (a position Seward held until 1869).

As Secretary of State, Seward worked to block European recognition of the Confederacy, negotiated the anti-slave trade Seward-Lyon treaty with Great Britain, and brokered the purchase of the Alaska territory from Russia in 1867, often referred to as “Seward’s Folly.” On the night of April 14, 1865 as John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) assassinated President Lincoln, Seward was attacked by Booth conspirator Lewis Powell (Paine), suffered severe wounds, but survived the encounter. Under President Andrew Johnson, Seward supported reconstruction policies, enduring considerable objections from many within his own party. Retiring from public life, Seward died on October 10, 1872, in Auburn.

In 1873, Randolph Rogers (1825-1892) was asked to create the portrait sculpture of Seward. Rogers was born in Waterloo, New York, and spent much of his childhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Moving to New York City in 1847, he began drawing and modeling. His employers, owners of a dry-goods firm, were so impressed with his artistic promise, that they financed his travel abroad. Rogers studied in Florence and Rome, Italy. The experience so transformed him, that though he received numerous public and private commissions in the United States, much of his professional career was spent making art as an expatriate in Italy.

An oft told tale, which Rogers did little to dispel, was that his statue of Seward was nothing more than a new head added to a copy of a sculpture of Lincoln he had made, installed a few years earlier at Fairmont Park in Philadelphia. While the two works do bear striking similarities, the size of Seward’s body appears too large, and though the proportion of the head to body seem at odds, the works are by no means identical. Seward is depicted seated, cross-legged in a large armchair, books stacked beneath, with pen and parchment at hand. The statue is situated on a large pedestal of variegated Italian marble. More than 250 subscribers, among them General Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) and Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1843–1899), contributed to the monument’s $25,000 cost.

The sculpture, placed on a diagonal facing the intersection of Broadway and 23rd Street at the southwest corner of Madison Square Park, was dedicated on September 27, 1876. Numerous dignitaries, including future president Chester A. Arthur (1829–1886) and General Winfield S. Hancock (1824–1886) attended the proceedings, which were reported to be “fittingly done” without extravagant pageantry, but told “the story of [Seward’s] life, of the perils he encountered and the triumphs he achieved.” In 1995, the sculpture was conserved.