The pleasure gardens of Lower Manhattan

Ephemeral New York

Pleasure gardens: The term sounds dreamy and enchanting.

And for 18th and 19th century city residents, these gardens definitely were: recreational spaces open day and night that featured landscaped grounds, lights, music, theater, fountains, and grottos.

Kind of a cross between a botanical garden, country club, and the Playboy mansion, pleasure gardens offered a coed social scene plus the latest fancy refreshments—the alcoholic kind as well as the new craze: ice cream.

New York Vauxhall Gardens, opened in 1767 on Greenwich Street by the Hudson River, was one of the first. Vauxhall eventually relocated between Broadway and the Bowery (practically the countryside at the time) in 1805.

Exclusive Niblo’s Garden (at left) soon became hugely popular, taking over an older pleasure garden at Broadway and Prince Street in 1825 and expanding it with a theater and open-air saloon.

Contoit’s Garden, close to Niblo’s on Broadway, was an elegant rival. And…

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