In 1686, when the area was still a wilderness, New York’s colonial governor, Thomas Dongan, designated the area now known as Bryant Park as a public space. George Washington’s troops crossed the area while retreating from the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Beginning in 1823, Bryant Park was designated a potter’s field (a graveyard for the poor) and remained so until 1840, when thousands of bodies were moved to Wards Island.
The first park at this site opened in 1847 as Reservoir Square. It was named after its neighbor, the Croton Distributing Reservoir. In 1853, the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations with the New York Crystal Palace, featuring thousands of exhibitors, took place in the park.
The square was used for military drills during the American Civil War, and was the site of some of the New York Draft Riots of July 1863, when the Colored Orphan Asylum at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street was burned down.
In 1884, Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park, to honor the New York Evening Post editor and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. In 1899, the Reservoir building was removed and construction of the New York Public Library building began. Terraces, public facilities, and kiosks were added to the park. This photograph was taken in 2009.
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