The Central Park Conservancy launched its first major interpretive signage initiative in Central Park to commemorate Seneca Village, a predominantly African American community that existed before the City of New York created Central Park. The interpretive signs build on decades of research, including the work of the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History (IESVH) — a group of scholars and archeologists who have been studying Seneca Village — as well as the Conservancy’s deep knowledge of the history of Central Park and long involvement in the study of Seneca Village.
The interpretive signs provide an opportunity for exploration of this history at the site where Seneca Village existed. Some of the signs mark the locations of historic features such as the Village’s churches, individual houses, and natural features. Others provide more general information about the village, covering topics such as housing, gardens, and geology. The Central Park Conservancy developed the interpretative signage program with additional research and content development by historical resource consultants, Hunter Research, Inc.
“The Conservancy’s role as a steward of Central Park also extends to studying and sharing the rich history that existed before it came to be. Our first outdoor exhibit pays homage to the special Seneca Village community and presents an opportunity for the world to explore its existence,” said Elizabeth Smith, President and CEO, Central Park Conservancy. “We’re proud to be able to promote a broader public understanding of Seneca Village and its importance in New York City’s history.”
Explore the history, community, and landscape of Seneca Village in a series of interpretive signs installed inside Central Park near the West 80s. Begin at the kiosk located near the Park entrance at Central Park West and 85th Street. Then visit the 16 signs installed throughout the area, in the order suggested.
The IESVH took shape in 1998, when Cynthia Copeland, Nan Rothschild, and Diana Wall formed the Seneca Village Project. The group aimed to conduct historic and documentary research about the Village and advocate for archeological excavation and commemoration. Together, along with Herbert Seignoret and Meredith Linn, they assembled an Advisory Committee made up of scholars and community members interested in Seneca Village. In 2011 they organized an archeological excavation of Seneca Village that uncovered thousands of artifacts. They are currently working on additional research, including locating the descendants of those who lived in Seneca Village. More information about IESVH’s work can be found here.
The Seneca Village interpretive signs and a highlight video are available for download.
Check out NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission online exhibit and collection of artifacts from Seneca Village.
(Above YouTube) Visit ‘Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room Virtual Opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2021).