A playground filled with rollicking children, picnic tables crammed with iPod-equipped NYU students gazing into laptop screens, benches lined with business people gobbling sandwiches and yammering into cell phones, and a smattering of chess tables complete with the regular pros – it's a typical day at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. But history reveals a more somber scene.
Before becoming a public park in 1827, the land had been used as a public execution site and a common burial ground for half a century. An estimated 200,000 remains lie underneath today's flowers, grass, trees, fountains, statues, and pavement. The land had also been used as a training ground for volunteer militia.
Once achieving park status, the area surrounding the square saw rapid development by well-to-do families who built elaborate Greek Revival mansions, some of which still line Fifth Avenue today. A large wooden arch was erected at the north end of the park in 1889 to honor the centennial of George Washington's presidential inauguration in New York City. An unmistakable 77-foot marble arch, designed by architect Stanford White, replaced the first in 1893 and has since become the park's trademark.
Street performers, bands, and jamming musicians often take stage at the square, sending melodies rippling across the green. Demonstrations and rallies, movie sets and more also ignite this otherwise normal park to remind visitors and locals that Washington Square's history is still in the making.
- At the foot of 5th Avenue, bounded by Washington Square East, North, South, and West
- Subway Stop:
- A, C, E, B, D, F, V trains to West Fourth Street-Washington Square Station