When we think of New York, the first things that come to mind are certainly its skyscrapers, which form one of the most photographed skylines in the world, its museums that attract millions of art lovers every year and perhaps, perhaps only thanks to Central Park, ultimately a person might think about his parks.
Despite this, the green areas of New York are many and practically all of them have something special to offer even to those who just want to grant a little peace and rest on their itinerary in the Big Apple. The Washington Square Park in particular, already from its location within the historic district of Greenwich Village, it offers an original slice of New York life to be discovered.
- How to get to Washington Square Park
- Washington Square Park: between history and legends
- What to see in Washington Square Park
- Curiosity about Washington Square Park
- Where to sleep in the area
How to get to Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park, as mentioned, is located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood in the southwestern part of the island of Manhattan. The closest metro stop is the West 4th Street – Washington Square Station for lines A, B, C, D, E, F, M. Exiting the subway take West 3rd Street then turn left to reach 4th Street and Washington Square South. The distance is about 4 minutes on foot.
The park is almost 10 acres (39.500 square meters) and has a rectangular shape. It is therefore enclosed by four streets: Washington Square North, Washington Square East, Washington Square South and Washington Square West. Many of the buildings overlooking the park belong to the New York University NYU, whose headquarters are in fact located in this area.
Washington Square Park: between history and legends
Today a park full of life and a meeting place for artists from all over the world, Washington Square Park has had various souls: it was a swamp, un settlement of ex-slaves, un cemetery, for an place of hangings, for an military training camp.
In the seventeenth century the area where the park stands today was one marshy area crossed by the river Minetta Creek. After the reclamation, the Dutch gave these lands to a group of slaves, giving them their freedom but forcing them to pay part of the profits from the harvest to the Dutch government. Assigning that area, later called the Land of the Black, to ex-slaves was also a way to create a settlement loyal to the government to protect against possible attacks by Native Americans who lived a short distance outside the border.
In 1797 the New York government purchased the land east of Minetta Creek to create a cemetery where to bury poor people. With the arrival of Yellow Fever at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, this area became the ideal place to bury the dead of the epidemic as it was quite far from the inhabited center not yet part of the city of New York.
According to legends (and various tourist guides of the city), the large elm that is located in the northern part of the park was in the past the tree on which they were hanged the evildoers of the city. For this reason it is called Hangman's Elm, or Elm of the hanged man. Truth or legend, what is certain is that it is estimated that under Washington Square Park there are remains of about 10.000 men.
In 1826 the city government also bought the land west of Minetta Creek and turned this area into a military training camp. A few years later, in the mid-nineteenth century, the area officially became a park and several wealthy inhabitants decided to move to this area and built their houses in the neoclassical style: some examples of this architecture are still present in the north side of the park.
What to see in Washington Square Park
In reality, what makes this park one of the most visited in Manhattan is not what it shows (monuments, trees, gardens, etc ...) but the feeling you get when crossing it and the presence of talented artists at every corner. Don't be surprised if you hear a pianist playing seated in front of a grand piano in one of the park paths or if you find a juggler or banjo player with a folk singer or actor completely immersed in his part playing for anyone who wants to hear him: the magic of Washington Square Park is given by the people who meet there!
Having said that, I cannot fail to mention the splendid Washington Square Arch, the monumental 23-meter-high marble arch that welcomes visitors to the park who come from Fifth Avenue. It was built in 1892 to celebrate George Washington's centennial as president of the United States. Stanford White's design was inspired by the Arc de Triomphe. Two marble statues depicting George Washington in wartime and George Washington in peacetime were later sculpted on the arch and are the work of the Piccirilli Brothers, an Italian-American family originally from Massa di Carrara.
The importance of the Italian community in New York is also manifested by the presence of another artistic work in the park: the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi. This was built in 1888 by Giovanni Turini at the request of Carlo Barsotti. Also worth seeing is the bronze statue of Alexander Lyman Holley, one of the most important engineers of the late nineteenth century.
If you like to play chess, Washington Square Park offers several tables for playing chess made available to park visitors. A separate mention goes to the large central circular fountain, which is the epicenter of this splendid park full of life.
Curiosity about Washington Square Park
- Henry James Washington Square's novel is set in this part of the city;
- human remains, a coffin and a tomb from 1803 were found during the construction of the Washington Square Arch;
- Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson met in 1888 in this park;
- Stanley Kubrick often played chess in Washington Square Park;
- the bohemians, the Beat Generation and the hippies of the fifties and sixties used the park as a meeting place;
- among the films shot in this park are The Music of the Heart with Robin Williams, I Am Legend with Will Smith, Barefoot in the Park with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.
- in about 8 minutes on foot you will reach both Friends' apartment at 90 Bedford Street and Carrie Bradshow's apartment of Sex and the city at 64 Perry Street (we talked about it, along with the other New York film locations, in our free ebook).
Stroll through the Greenwich Village it's like stepping back in time and, on some streets, it doesn't even feel like you're in Manhattan. The neighborhood and its park are areas of New York that will remain in your heart… absolutely not to be missed.
Where to sleep in the area
If you want to look for a hotel solution in the characteristic Washington Square Park area, I suggest you take a look at our article on where to sleep in New York and in particular the section dedicated to accommodation in Greenwich Village. For more general advice on staying overnight in the city, I refer you to our dedicated page:
Our tips on accommodation in New York