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Christopher Park: A Small Space with a Long History

George Segal’s statue “Gay Liberation” marks the importance Christopher Park holds in LGBTQ+ history.

In the early 1800s, the area around modern-day Christopher Street was suffering from overcrowding, following the migration of residents from lower Manhattan after the yellow fever outbreak of 1822 that helped to create Greenwich Village. A devastating fire in 1835 led to residents calling for open space, and on April 5, 1837, they got their wish, as the city condemned the triangular area bounded by Christopher, Grove, and West 4th Streets. This space became Christopher Park, today one of the city’s oldest parks.

So who was Christopher, the park’s namesake? The answer dates back to well before Christopher Park existed, when the environs of Greenwich Village were a tobacco farm owned by Wouter Van Twiller, from 1633 to 1638 the fifth director-general of New Netherland. After Van Twiller died in 1654, his land was split into three farms — two to the south owned by Trinity Church and Elbert Herring, and one to the north by Admiral Sir Peter Warren, all divided by Skinner Road. In 1799, Warren’s land was acquired by a trustee of that estate, Richard Amos, who eventually passed it on to a relative, Charles Christopher Amos.

The latter Amos rechristened Skinner Road as Christopher Street, making that one of the community’s oldest streets; Christopher Park, Charles Street, and Charles Lane are also named after him. Another road, Amos Street, was named for either Charles or Richard, but that became West 10th Street in 1857. (Our Greenwich Village Historic District Then & Now Map offers a fascinating look at this and other origins of local street names, among other maps and tours.)

Christopher Park is near the center of this 1916 map that shows the park’s relationship to Sheridan Square.

Over time, the park became a center of civic life within the community. In the mid-1880s, Central Park architect Calvert Vaux and landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. further developed the setting by planting hedges and arranging benches along the walk. The 1930s saw the addition of a statue of Civil War General Philip Sheridan — hence the frequent misidentification of Christopher Park as Sheridan Square, which is actually around the corner of Grove Street at Washington Place and West 4th Street — and a flagpole to commemorate the Civil War unit known as the Fire Zouaves. 

The park entered national history in 1969 as a key site for the Stonewall Rebellion. Prior to the uprising, this space across the street from the Stonewall Inn was a refuge for gay street youth. When police raided the Inn the night of June 27, angry protesters filled Christopher Street and the surrounding roads; police pursued the demonstrators through local streets that first night but not into Christopher Park. In recognition of its role in the uprising as a key gathering site, the park was included with the Stonewall Inn and surrounding streets in the New York State Register of Historic Places and the National Register in 1999 (Village Preservation was a co-applicant for that listing), and as part of the 7.7-acre Stonewall National Monument in 2016. 

Christopher Park is also home to George Segal’s statue “Gay Liberation,” honoring the gay rights movement that began at Stonewall. The work took 10 years to get installed, receiving all of its community and design approvals by 1982, yet not put in place until 1992 due to public opposition and a planned renovation of the park.

Even with all of its 180-year-plus history, the park has at times been neglected. The community has often rallied around efforts to keep this historic space clean and beautiful. In 2012, residents formed the Christopher Park Alliance, which revitalized the park and helped make it a centerpiece for the national monument. For its efforts, the Alliance was named a 2019 recipient of Village Preservation’s Village Awards.

2 responses to “Christopher Park: A Small Space with a Long History

  1. No mention of General Sheridan whose statue is in the park. Having an illustrious career in the civil war Sheridan was appointed General of the army i.e. secretary of war by President Grant and assigned the duty of confining the planes tribes in concentration camps called “reservations” or exterminating them. They should put a plaque up on the fence in front of his statue with a quote of his infamous statement made at a treaty conference. A Indigenous man put out his hand for the general to shake saying in broken English “Me good Indian”, where upon Sheridan answered “The only good Indian I ever met was a dead Indian”. This statues days should be numbered, removed. And if it were necessary to have any statue there at tall perhaps Bella Abzug or Alex Haley who lived right across the street. Then there is Thomas Payne whose writings inspired the revolution and whose house was on nearby Bleeker St., or a first statue to a female poet Edna Saint Vincent Millay. Anyone but this genocidal racist Sheridan.

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