Spring is here, and people are gaping at the blossoms and stopping for selfies in front of the dogwood and magnolias and tulips. In our city, green space is precious and rare, and we need every bit of it, new or old. One of the local favorites is an oldy but goody –Abingdon Square.
This lovely public space at West 12th and Hudson Streets and 8th Avenue is a great place to sit, breathe and take in the well maintained and curated beauty of the park. And of course there is the Greenmarket every Saturday. This June the Greenmarket will celebrate it’s 25th Birthday. Look out for the Village Preservation table in the market then.
The park is cared for by the Abingdon Square Conservancy which was founded in 2000. And you can show your support for their stewardship by attending their 7th Annual Tulip Celebration on May 7th. (Just 2 days after our annual Spring House Tour Benefit.)
The history of the “square” (which is really a triangle) is unique. In 1794 the City Council changed the designation of streets and places with British names in order to reflect American independence. Nonetheless, the name Abingdon Square was preserved, because the Earl of Abingdon and his wife had sympathized with the Americans and he had argued in Parliament against British policy in the colonies.
Original Landscape Design of the Square
About 1886, New York City Mayor Abram S. Hewitt promoted a citywide effort to improve public access to green spaces. Central Park architect Calvert Vaux and landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. collaborated on the landscape design for Abingdon Square. “Abingdon Square has been so long crowded with fine trees that a winding walk ending in a little plaza, and bordered by a few shrubs and little bedding was all that could be satisfactorily done,” wrote Parsons in 1892, “Shrubs and flowers would not thrive in such deep shade.” The Square’s most recent renovation in 2003-2004 was very much in keeping with the design of Vaux and Parsons.
The Square’s Design Heritage: A Picturesque English Style Garden
The landscape design of Abingdon Square is based on the picturesque English style garden, which became popular in England in the 1700s. The picturesque landscape is characterized by variation and irregularity. It employs more natural use of trees, shrubs and extensive lawns. In America in the latter half of the 19th Century, when the first formal design of Abingdon Square was executed, being modern meant one had an English style garden and a lawn.
Reconstruction of the Square in 2003-2004
The Square was reconstructed and renovated in 2003-2004 to preserve, restore and reconstruct a setting that emphasized the square’s 19th century heritage and its landscape design legacy as a picturesque English style garden. Graceful sweeping pathways and a central contoured lawn were developed as prominent features of a design intended to recreate an idyllic pastoral landscape on a small scale. In 2005 the restoration was recognized with one of our annual Village Awards (see this year’s awardees at our Annual Meeting on June 12).
The design preserved most of the 1836 perimeter cast iron fence and the granite curb. The renovation includes other historic 19th-century park features such as the 1850’s-style benches, post and chain fencing, and bluestone walkways edged with bluestone curbs. Cast iron light poles that replicate New York City’s gas poles further recall the square’s historic conditions. The World War I Memorial Doughboy statue was relocated to the southern end of the Square and has become the beacon to the park. Ornamental plantings were placed throughout the park, making the square a destination for West Villagers and all New Yorkers. The reconstruction was also designed to contribute to the special architectural and historic character of the Greenwich Village Historic District, celebrating it’s 50th anniversary in 2019 with a series of events.