The Ramble and Lake

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The Lake and the towers of the Beresford as seen from the Ramble
Map of notable buildings and structures at Central Park (note: not all entrances shown). Pan and zoom the map and click on points for more details.

The Ramble and Lake are two geographical features of Central Park in Manhattan, New York City. Part of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's 1857 Greensward Plan for Central Park, the features are located on the west side of the park between the 66th and 79th Street transverses,

The 38-acre (150,000 m2) Ramble, located on the north shore of the Lake, was intended as a woodland walk through highly varied topography, a "wild garden" away from carriage drives and bridle paths, to be wandered in, or to be viewed as a "natural" landscape. The Ramble includes several winding paths and rustic bridges, and formerly contained a small cave. Historically, it has been frequented for both birdwatching and private homosexual encounters.

The serpentine 20-acre (81,000 m2) Lake offers dense naturalistic planting, rocky outcrops of glacially scarred Manhattan bedrock, small open glades, and an artificial stream (The Gill) that empties through the Azalea Pond, then down a cascade into the Lake. Its ground rises northwest toward Vista Rock, crowned by Belvedere Castle, a lookout and folly. The western shore includes the Ladies' Shelter, while the southern shore contains a waterfront lookout called Bethesda Terrace, and the eastern shore contains the Loeb Boathouse.

Geography[edit]

Ramble[edit]

The Ramble is one of three main woodlands in Central Park,[1][2][3]:44–45 the others being North Woods and Hallett Nature Sanctuary.[3]:2–3 The Ramble covers 36 to 38 acres (14.6 to 15.4 ha) and contains a series of winding paths, as well as outcrops, rustic structures, and several bridges.[2][4][5]:131

During construction, the park's most varied and intricately planted landscape was planted with native trees such as tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica); American sycamore; white, red, black, scarlet, and willow oaks; Hackberry; and Liriodendron.[6] These trees were arranged to create a colorful tropical effect.[5]:131 These coexisted with some American trees never native to the area, such as Kentucky coffee tree, yellowwood, and cucumber magnolia, and a few exotics, such as Phellodendron and Sophora. Smaller natives include sassafras. Aggressively self-seeding black cherry and black locust later came to dominate the Ramble.[6] A 1979 census of The Ramble's trees, taken by Bruce Kelly, Philip Winslow, and James Marston Fitch, found 6,000 trees, including 60 specimen trees of landscape value.[7]

Lake and watercourses[edit]

The 20-acre (81,000 m2) Lake[8] unified what Calvert Vaux called the "irregular disconnected featureless conglomeration of ground".[9] It was excavated, entirely by hand, from unprepossessing swampy ground transected by drainage ditches and ramshackle stone walls.[10] The Lake is connected to two additional watercourses. The Gill, adapted from the Scottish word for "stream", starts from a water pipe in the middle of the Ramble and flows southeast into Azalea Pond,[11][12][13] a collecting pond adjacent to the Lake frequented by birdwatchers.[13][11] In addition, an inlet called Bank Rock Bay extends off the extreme north end of the Lake.[12]

The Ladies’ Skating Pond once abutted the western side of the Lake. It was partially infilled due to malaria concerns in 1888,[14] and it was completely drained by 1936.[15][12] Today, the site of the Ladies' Pond is occupied by a lawn and dog walk that is much lower than the surrounding topography.[16][12]

Notable features[edit]

From Bethesda Fountain. The Lake forms the foreground to The Ramble beyond.

Bethesda Fountain and Terrace[edit]

Bethesda Terrace and Fountain are located at the southeastern end of the Lake.[17][18] They form the northern end of the Central Park Mall, the only formal feature in the park's original blueprint, the Greensward Plan.[19] The terrace is composed of two levels, the lower of which houses the fountain.[20][18] The center of the fountain contains the sculpture Angel of the Waters (1873) by Emma Stebbins, the first large public sculpture commission for an American woman.[21]

Bridges[edit]

Bow Bridge lit on a winter night

There are multiple bridges in the Ramble, including one across the Lake. Bow Bridge connects the Lake's southern shore with the Ramble, on the northern shore of the Lake.[17] The span is notable for its intricate cast iron design. Its 87-foot-long (27 m) span is the longest of any bridge in the park, though the balustrade is 142 feet (43 m) long.[22][23][24] Bow Bridge was restored in 1974.[23][24]

The northern end of the Lake is spanned by a small bridge called Oak Bridge or Cabinet Bridge.[25] It crosses Bank Rock Bay and for this reason is also called Bank Rock Bridge.[26] The original structure was a wooden trestle made of yellow pine upon stone abutments. After a period of decline, the bridge was completely replaced in 1935,[26] and again in 1982[27] and 2009.[28] The abutments are the only holdovers from the original span.[26][27] The railings of the current span are made of cast-iron panels between wooden posts.[27]

There are also three smaller spans in the Ramble. One of them, the Ramble Arch, is a stone arch that carries one pedestrian walkway over another, and is made of rockface ashlar.[29][30][31][32] Additionally, the Gill Bridge, a wooden bridge, crosses the Gill at its mouth.[33][34] Another, unnamed wooden bridge is located further upstream of the Gill.[34]

Cave[edit]

A cave was originally located inside the Ramble, adjacent to Ramble Arch.[30][31] It was not originally part of the Greensward Plan, but rather, was originally a narrow cavity uncovered after a deposit of fertile soil was excavated at the site. Olmsted and Vaux lined the entrance of the cavity with boulders and created a stone staircase down to the Cave.[35][36]

The Ramble Cave, also known as Indian Cave, was a popular attraction.[35] It was characterized as a romantic spot[37][38] and as a play area for kids.[39] A teenage runaway may have lived in the Cave for a month in the late 1890s.[40] However, by the early 20th century, the Cave had become associated with crime.[12] For instance, a suicide in the Cave occurred in 1904,[36] and an alleged attempted robbery occurred in 1922.[41] The largest of these crimes occurred in 1929 when 335 men, some of whom were found in the Cave, were arrested for "annoying women" .[42][36] By 1934, it was sealed off because of numerous reports of suicides, crimes, and homeless people.[12]

Hernshead and Ladies' Pavilion[edit]

Ladies' Pavilion

The western shore of the Lake, between 75th and 77th Streets, contains a rocky promontory that Olmsted called the Hernshead.[17] Translated to "heron's head", it is named because the outcrop is shaped roughly like a heron's head. The outcrop was restored in 1987.[43] The Ladies Cottage was once located at the Hernshead.[44] It was so named because it abutted the Ladies’ Skating Pond, and might have been used as a gender-separated locker room for female skaters[44] as early as 1860.[45]

Today, the Ladies' Pavilion, a wrought iron shelter in a playful Gothic style, stands atop the Hernshead. The Ladies' Pavilion was built in 1871 by Jacob Wrey Mould to shelter people waiting to change streetcars at Columbus Circle in the southwest corner of the park.[44][46][47] Though no drawings remain of the original Ladies' Pavilion, Mould designed a similar shelter at the southeast corner, on Fifth Avenue, between 1871 and 1872.[44]

When the USS Maine Monument was installed on its site, the cast-iron elements were disassembled and stored, to be re-erected on the Hernshead.[46] The exact date of the pavilion's relocation is unclear: some accounts give a date of 1904,[44][47] while others cite the 1930s.[44] The Ladies' Pavilion declined over time due to rust and vandalism, and though individuals and groups advocated for the restoration of the Ladies' Pavilion, vandals destroyed the structure in 1971.[44][48] The pavilion was partially rebuilt with some of its overhead panels in 1973, though the city deemed a full renovation to be too expensive, as it would have cost $95,000.[47] Six years later, it was completely restored in a project funded with a $7,000 grant from the Arthur Ross Foundation.[49][44]

Loeb Boathouse[edit]

Loeb Boathouse Cafe

The Loeb Boathouse, on the eastern shore of the Lake,[17] is one of several boat landings that have existed on the Lake throughout its history. Boating concessions were granted in the early 1860s, and rowboating on the Lake soon became popular.[50] Six docks on the Lake were built by 1865, although the boats were stored near Bethesda Terrace.[51] In 1870, Olmsted and Vaux suggested the construction of a permanent boathouse to launch and store the boats, and the Victorian style boathouse was finished by 1873 or 1874. However, it fell into disrepair in the mid-20th century and was destroyed by 1950.[51][52]

A new boathouse, financed by a $305,000 donation from businessman Carl M. Loeb and another $110,000 from NYC Parks, was completed in 1954.[53][51][52] In 1983, the boathouse was renovated for $750,000, and a 40-seat restaurant opened within the boathouse.[54] Today, the Loeb Boathouse contains a formal dining room, dining terraces, and concession stands.[51][52]

Other nearby structures[edit]

Vista Rock is located on the northwest corner of the Lake, just above the 79th Street transverse road.[17] With a height of 130 feet (40 m), it is the second-highest point in Central Park.[55] Atop the rock is Belvedere Castle, a folly built in 1869-1871.[55][56]:60 Though it originally had no doors or windows, these furnishings were installed when the castle was used as a weather station from 1919 to 1960.[5]:162 Today, Belvedere Castle serves as a visitors' center.[57]

The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre is located just northwest of the Lake and west of Vista Rock.[17] Originally prefabricated in Sweden and formerly known as the Swedish Schoolhouse, it was shipped to the U.S. for the 1876 Centennial Exposition before being relocated to Central Park.[58][59] A 200-book nature library was opened in the structure in 1901.[60] Since 1947, it has housed one of the nation's last marionette companies.[58]

Strawberry Fields, a 2.5-acre (1.0 ha) landscaped memorial, is located to the southwest of the Lake.[17] It is dedicated to the memory of former Beatles member John Lennon, who was murdered outside his nearby home, the Dakota.[61] The memorial was dedicated in his honor in 1981[62] and rebuilt completely in 1985.[63] Its most notable feature is the "Imagine" memorial mosaic in the center.[61]

History[edit]

Construction and opening[edit]

The Ramble and Lake were two of the first features to be built in Central Park. Together they formed the northern end of the Central Park Mall, the only formal feature in the Greensward Plan. The Lake was formed from part of the Sawkill Creek, a natural creek which flowed near the American Museum of Natural History.[19] The creek ran through the park site, south of Seneca Village, originally exiting the park under Fifth Avenue near East 74th Street, where Conservatory Water lies today, before emptying in the East River.[64] To create the Lake the outlet was dammed with a broad, curving earth dam, which carries the East Carriage Drive past the Kerbs Boathouse (1954), at the end of the Lake's eastern arm, so subtly that few visitors are aware of the landform's function.[65]

In late August 1857, after Central Park's construction was approved, workers began building fences, clearing vegetation, draining the land, and leveling uneven terrain.[66]:PDF pp. 31–35[67] The Lake was among the first features to be completed,[68][69] partially due to the fact that it was being filled from eater that was drained from the adjacent Ramble.[65] It opened to the public as an ice skating ground that December.[69] The Lake's center was seven feet deep, with terraced shorelines to lower levels for skaters' safety.[65] The Ramble, the second section of the park to be completed, formally opened in June 1859.[70][71]:10 (PDF p. 11) The Ramble and Lake soon gained popularity: while 15,000 people visited the Ramble daily in July 1859, this number grew to 20,000 by late August, 40,000 by mid-October, and 50,000 by Christmas that same year.[72]

The Greensward Plan, was required to include a musical venue, and the original plan was for a music stand to be placed at the Rumsey Playfield, above the Mall and just south of the Lake.[5]:160 The first concert in Central Park occurred in the Ramble on July 6, 1859, and later on, concerts also occurred in the Lake.[5]:160[73][74] However, concerts in the Ramble were a short-lived phenomenon.[74] A concert pavilion in the Mall, at the top of Bethesda Terrace, was approved in 1862,[5]:160 and by the pavilion's completion three years later, most of the concerts had shifted to the Mall.[74]

Decline[edit]

The maintenance effort of the Ramble and Lake, as did the rest of the park, declined slightly in the early and mid-20th century.[75] In 1927, mayor Jimmy Walker commissioned Herman W. Merkel, a landscape designer, to survey the park and create a plan for improvement.[76] Merkel's report noted that while the condition of the Ramble was "disreputable" with its many dead plants and trees, Central Park's overall condition was "fairly good".[75]

Some structures were closed or demolished in the mid-20th century. The Cave was closed by 1934 due to crime.[12] The deteriorating boathouse on the Lake was closed in 1950 and replaced in 1954.[51][52] By 1971, the Ladies' Pavilion had also been destroyed by vandals, though it was replaced two years later.[44]

Restoration[edit]

Oak Bridge spanning Bank Rock Bay was replaced in 2009 following Calvert Vaux's original design of 1860

The Ramble was partially restored in the late 20th century.[77] These renovations started with the Ladies' Pavilion, which was restored to its original design in 1979.[44] In early 1981, the Central Park Conservancy cleared trees in the Ramble to allow more sunlight to reach the Ramble. However, this decision was criticized by birders, who said that the destruction of trees would remove shelter places for birds.[77][78][79] The restoration of the Gill was subsequently approved in 1982.[80] A path in the Ramble, Iphigene's Walk, was dedicated in 1987 to one of the key backers of the Ramble's 1980s renovation.[81]

The Central Park Conservancy renovated the Lake's shoreline starting in 2006, in a project to enhance both its ecological and scenic aspects.[8] In mid-2007, the first phase of a restoration of the Lake and its shoreline plantings commenced, with replanting using native shrubs and understory trees around the northern end of the Lake. In the earliest stages, invasive non-native plants like Japanese knotweed were eradicated, the slopes were regraded with added humus and protected with landscaping burlap to stabilize the slopes while root systems became established and leaf litter developed.[82]

Bank Rock Bridge was recreated in its original materials following Calvert Vaux's original design of 1859–60.[83] The replacement bridge was made of steel, clad in ornamental cast iron facings, with a wooden deck.[26] The new bridge was rededicated in September 2009.[28]

The cascade, where the Gill empties into the lake, was reconstructed to approximate its dramatic original form, inspired by paintings of Asher B. Durand. Sections of the Lake were dredged of accumulated silt—topsoil that had washed off the surrounding slopes—and the island formerly in the lake, which gradually eroded below water level, was reconstructed in mid-2007 with rugged boulders along its shoreline, graded wetland areas, and submerged planting shelves for water-loving native plants, like pickerel weed.[82]

As attraction[edit]

Bird-watching in the Ramble

The Ramble is one of the major centers of bird watching in Central Park.[84] At least 250 species of birds have been spotted over the years, including more than 20 species of warblers that pass through during spring and fall migration in April and October.[85][2] One of the most popular birding spots is Azalea Pond, along the waterfront.[13]

Since at least the early 20th century, the seclusion of the Ramble has been used for private homosexual encounters.[84] In the 1920s, the lawn at the north end was referred to as the "fruited plain", and in the 1950s and 1960s, The Ramble was feared by many as a haven for "anti-social persons".[86] In the early 1960s, under Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., the parks department proposed building a senior center in the Ramble with the hope of curbing gay encounters and anti-gay assaults.[87] In 1980, an ad was placed in The Village Voice looking for gay men interested in playing soccer in the Ramble, giving rise to the New York Ramblers, among the world's first openly-gay soccer clubs.[88] Today, the Ramble's strong reputation for cruising for sex has given way somewhat to nature walks and environmentalism. However, some in the gay community still consider The Ramble to be "ground zero for outdoor gay sex", enjoying the "retro feel" of sneaking off into the woods.[89]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

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Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°46′35″N 73°58′16″W / 40.77628°N 73.97118°W / 40.77628; -73.97118