National Geographic : 1993 May
The peopling of the park When its grounds opened in 1858, Central Park was any thing but central to the life of New York. Ninety percent of the city lived more than 20 blocks south of the park, and for the first decade most visitors arrived by horse and carriage. Envisioned as a resource "in the open air ... for the benefit of all," Central Park at first resembled a private estate, a stage for high-society carriage parades. Strict rules-no gambling, no speeches, no music on Sunday-kept many New Yorkers away. By the late 1800s, however, as the city grew northward and new attractions-two museums and a carousel-were added, the park began to reflect the variety and energy of the sur rounding streets. Sunday taboos were lifted; "Keep off the grass" signs disappeared. People of all classes came to play or stroll in a park that, as Henry James noted in 1905, has "something for everyone." Yearly visitation, by one account, had surged to 15 million, the equal of today's attendance.