History Of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park

History Of Brooklyn's Prospect Park

Feature Photo: littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock

Prospect Park encompasses 526 acres. That makes it the second biggest park in Brooklyn, behind Marine Park at 798 acres but before Shirley Chisholm State Park at 407 acres. Interested individuals should know Prospect Park isn’t the same as the much smaller Mount Prospect Park. Still, there is something of a connection because the same string of hills runs through both of them. With that said, Prospect Park has been a much-beloved part of Brooklyn since the mid-19th century, not least because of the many attractions situated in the area.

Before The Establishment of Prospect Park

Once upon a time, the area was heavily-forested. That changed because of extensive human settlement, which did what it tends to do to untouched wilderness. Small stands of trees survived long enough to be incorporated into Prospect Park. In particular, there is the Ravine, which is now home to Brooklyn’s last forest.

Said forest is a fascinating reminder of the area’s past. However, its continuing existence is very much reliant on the park authorities’ heroic efforts to maintain it. After all, Brooklyn’s last forest is still under threat. One example would be invasive species such as English ivy and Japanese honeysuckle. Another example would be human indifference, which is combated through education and enforcement. The park authorities have been known to use some novel tools in their work, as shown by the deployment of a goat herd to devour invasive plants that had managed to gain a foothold after Hurricane Sandy damaged and destroyed more than 500 trees.

Besides this, the area is known for being one of the places where the Continental Army attempted to defend New York City from the British Army during the American Revolution. Specifically, Prospect Pass is home to Battle Pass where 5,000 Hessians ousted 1,300 Americans in a morning skirmish on August 27, 1776. This was one of the moments that convinced George Washington to withdraw to Manhattan rather than stand siege at Brooklyn Heights. On the whole, the Battle of Brooklyn wasn’t the height of glory for American arms during the American Revolution. Still, the Continental Army emerged bloodied but intact. Survival can be considered a victory of sorts, if only because outlasting the opponent is as valid a path to winning a war as anything else. In any case, the preservation of the battlefield was one of the reasons for founding Prospect Park, meaning there is a direct connection there.

The Origins Of Prospect Park

Of course, there were more forces behind the founding of Prospect Park than just the preservation of the battlefield. For context, Brooklyn experienced explosive growth in the early 19th century. It had been a village in the 18th century. In 1814, a ferry service connected it to New York City. By 1834, Brooklyn had become the third-largest city in the United States. Unsurprisingly, that produced very crowded and very unpleasant conditions, thus generating demand for better urban planning.

This was around the same time the United States was seeing a surge of interest in urban parks. Simply put, people wanted to play around in places that fell in-between urban civilization and true wilderness. Over time, they built up enough momentum to make urban parks happen. Manhattan’s Central Park was completed in 1858. Subsequently, there was a surge of interest in seeing Brooklyn receive an urban park of its own.

The New York State Legislature empowered a commission to come up with a plan for a Brooklyn-based urban park in 1859. Their progress wasn’t 100 percent smooth and uncomplicated. After all, the American Civil War started in 1861 and continued until 1865, which disrupted the commission’s planning for very understandable reasons. Still, they were able to get construction started in 1866, which wasn’t bad considering the circumstances. Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux oversaw the construction of Prospect Park. They were the same duo who had overseen the construction of Central Park. Something particularly notable because Olmstead and Vaux are known to have become fed-up with the politicking surrounding their previous project. As it turned out, the chance to work on uninterrupted landscapes rather than keep them confined to a rigid rectangle was just too good for them to pass up.

With that said, a lot of people have left their marks on Prospect Park for better and for worse. Some of them have tried to remain within Olmstead and Vaux’s vision. Others have been much more willing to go their own way. Unfortunately, it wasn’t conflicting visions that did the greatest damage to Prospect Park. Instead, that would be a long period of neglect caused by budget cuts in the 20th century. At one point, the problem was so bad that the locals saw Prospect Park as a bane rather than a boon. Thankfully, the Prospect Park Alliance formed in 1987 before proceeding to provide much-required repairs. It is thanks to their efforts that Prospect Park is now in a much better condition than before.

Today’s Prospect Park

Nowadays, Prospect Park is in good condition. As a result, it is worthwhile for interested individuals to just spend some time wandering through its 526 acres. Besides that, Prospect Park can support everything from running and bicycling to fishing to boating, fishing, and even horseback riding. Interested individuals might also want to check out some of the attractions situated in the urban park and close to the urban park. For instance, there is the Prospect Park Zoo for animal lovers plus the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for plant lovers. Similarly, the Brooklyn Museum occupies a spot close to Prospect Park. This institution is by no means limited to the borough. Instead, it boasts one of the biggest collections in New York City as a whole. Whatever people’s interests might be, chances are good they can find something suitable for them in Prospect Park.

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