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Envisioning Seneca Village

A project by Gergely Baics, Meredith Linn, Leah Meisterlin, Myles Zhang

In collaboration with the Central Park Conservancy and the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History

 

Email project authors here if you have questions.

 

Envisioning Seneca Village is a project depicting what this significant nineteenth-century village might have looked like in the summer of 1855, about two years before it was destroyed by the City of New York to build Central Park. It features an interactive 3D model, a non-interactive tour through the 3D model (A Tour through Seneca Village), and supplementary materials. The project is anchored in extensive scholarship and aims to make the village’s history visible to a wide audience. The project is also a work in progress with updates, additions, and new features planned soon.
Seneca Village was a community established by African Americans in 1825, two years before emancipation was completed in New York State. By the mid-nineteenth century, the village was the home of at least 50 families—about ⅔ Black and ⅓ white, mostly Irish. It was situated on an approximately four-block area east of present-day Central Park West between 82nd and 86th Streets, which was then a few miles north of the city’s urban core and between the villages of Bloomingdale to the west and Yorkville to the east. This location offered a safer, freer environment to live than downtown. Villagers built a thriving, complex, and heterogeneous community with core institutions including three churches and a school. Seneca Village’s destruction by the City in 1857 abruptly ended 30 years of successful efforts to nurture families, sustain livelihoods, and create community. It was also the first instance in a long history of the City’s abuse of eminent domain to sacrifice Black neighborhoods for urban development projects—in this case, to build a world-famous park.

 

3D Model References and Methodology. See also: Tips for Navigating the Model.

As residents scattered to different parts of New York and the Northeast, the Park construction crew buried building debris, covering it with landscaped lawns, hills, and paths. The community’s memory faded for a century and a half. Yet the lives the villagers made there left both an archival paper trail and extensive material traces underground. Since the 1990s historians, archeologists, educators, descendants, and artists have mined the fragmentary sources, excavated the site, and sought new ways to recover the village’s history and memory.
Despite all of the information that researchers have unearthed, there is a lot that is still unknown about the village and its community members. It is hard to imagine what it was like to live there. No photos or drawings survive, the present-day Central Park site is devoid of above-ground traces of Seneca Village’s built environment, and this region of New York City was quite different in the nineteenth century than today. Envisioning Seneca Village addresses these blindspots by creating a visual interpretation of the village that integrates social historical, archival, and archeological evidence into digital cartographic and architectural reconstruction. Through this model we seek to amplify existing scholarship, help visitors to learn more about the village’s history, catalyze new research with the questions the model raises, and above all, keep the memory and spirit of this past community alive in the present.
Further Reading on Seneca Village
Envisioning Seneca Village is a collaborative project between Gergely Baics, Meredith Linn, Leah Meisterlin, and Myles Zhang that integrates our expertise in archaeology, social history, historical geographic information systems (GIS), and digital architectural reconstruction. The project has been aided by research assistants, additional support from the Central Park Conservancy, and generous guidance from a diverse group of Seneca Village advisors and stakeholders. Learn more about the project and team.
Project Table of Contents (site map)

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