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Morningside Park
Morningside Park.jpg
Type Public
Location 110th to 123rd streets in Manhattan, New York City
Area 30 acres (12 ha)
Created 1895
Operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Open Year-round
Public transit access Subway: "B" train"C" train to Cathedral Parkway–110th Street or 116th Street
Bus: M3, M4, M7, M10, M11, M116

Morningside Park is a 30-acre (12-hectare) public park in Upper Manhattan, New York City. The park is bounded by 110th Street to the south, 123rd Street to the north, Morningside Avenue to the east, and Morningside Drive to the west. It forms the border between the neighborhoods of Harlem to the east and Morningside Heights to the west. Much of the park is adjacent to Columbia University, located on the western border.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation operates Morningside Park. Its natural geography contains a cliff of Manhattan schist rock that separates the high terrain of Morningside Heights and the low terrain of Harlem. Several rock outcroppings and a man-made ornamental pond and waterfall are located within the park. There are also three sculptures, as well as several athletic fields, playgrounds, and an arboretum.

The area near Morningside Park was originally known as "Muscota" by the Lenape Native Americans. The park was first proposed by the Central Park commissioners in 1867, and the city commissioned Central Park's designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to produce a design for the park in 1873. Though Jacob Wrey Mould was hired to design new plans in 1880, little progress occurred until Olmsted and Vaux were asked to modify the plans following Mould's death in 1886; construction was completed in 1895. Monuments were installed between 1900 and 1914, followed by softball diamonds, basketball courts, and playgrounds between the 1930s and 1950s. After Columbia proposed building a gym in the park in 1963, major student protests arose in 1968, resulting in the eventual abandonment of the plan. In the late 20th century, Morningside Park gained a reputation for high crime rates, and various groups made plans to renovate the park. The proposed site of the Columbia gym was turned into a waterfall and pond in 1990, and the arboretum was added to the park in 1998.


Morningside Park Willow Tree
Morningside Park's distinctive cliff of Manhattan schist. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is located atop the cliff, and the park's pond is located at left.


Morningside Park straddles the more-than-100-foot (30 m) cliff between the high terrain of Morningside Heights to the west and the lowlands of Harlem to the east. The cliff was created through fault movement and smoothed during glacial periods. Manhattan was settled initially by the Lenape Native Americans, who referred to the area nearby as "Muscota" or "Muscoota", meaning "place of rushes".

Dutch settlers occupied Manhattan in the early 17th century and called the area around Morningside Park, Vredendal, meaning "peaceful dale". The lowlands to the east were called Flacken by the Dutch and later translated to "Flats" in English. The land to the east was not settled initially because of its marshy topography. It became known as Montagne's (or Montayne's) Flat after Johannes de la Montagne, who was among the first settlers of New Harlem in 1658; he owned about 200 acres (81 ha) between 109th and 124th Street. The western boundary of the area was the cliff, while the eastern boundary was a creek that emptied east into the East River. (Part of this creek in modern Central Park, Montayne's Rivulet, was also named after de la Montagne and still exists today.) Montagne's Flat was subdivided into lots in 1662, and four years later a new charter for New Harlem was given to the British who occupied British New York. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, the cliff formed a geopolitical boundary between Harlem to the east and the heights to the west.

The western boundary of New Harlem was drawn through the present-day Morningside Park in 1666, running from 74th Street at the East River to 124th Street at the North River (now the Hudson River). To the west of the line were the common lands of British-occupied New York, which were sold to Jacob De Key in 1701. Following Harman Vandewater's acquisition of part of the De Key farm by 1735,} it was called Vandewater Heights by 1738. Vandewater Heights would then be sold by 1785 to James W. De Peyster. There were several disputes over the De Key farm throughout the 18th century, disputes which eventually resulted in the cliffside's being named as the farm's eastern boundary. Meanwhile, Montagne's Flat was owned by several families in the 17th and 18th centuries, several of whom also owned slaves, according to censuses taken in 1790, 1800, and 1810. Colonial forces used a road on the farm to retreat during the September 16, 1776, Battle of Harlem Heights, one of the battles of the American Revolutionary War.

In the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, which laid out a grid system for Manhattan island, little regard was given to the topography of the area. Shortly afterward, during the War of 1812, several blockhouse fortifications were built in the area. The first such fort was built in what is now Central Park, and three other blockhouses numbered 2, 3, and 4 were erected within present-day Morningside Park. The blockhouses at Morningside Park were located along the cliff and were numbered from north to south: No. 2 at 113th–114th Streets, No. 3 at 121st Street, and No. 4 at 123rd Street. However, these would not be used in battle and were left to deteriorate. Morningside Heights would remain sparsely developed for the next half-century except for the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum and the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum.

Design and construction

Initial plans

116 morningside ave
Morningside Avenue runs along the edge of the park in Harlem

By 1866, the state legislature had given the Central Park commissioners the authority to construct streets on Manhattan's west side from 67th to 155th Streets. In 1867, lead Central Park commissioner Andrew Haswell Green proposed that a park be built in Morningside Heights to avoid the expense of expanding the Manhattan street grid across extremely steep terrain. Green enclosed a map by John J. Serrell that modified the Commissioners' Plan to this extent. The Central Park commissioners passed an act on March 26, 1868, allowing the acquisition of lands for parks, under which 31.238 acres (12.642 ha) was acquired for Morningside Park and 0.018 acres (73 m2) were condemned at a cost of $1.33 million.

In April 1870, the Central Park commission was dissolved and the City of New York obtained jurisdiction over the property. That September, Department of Public Parks (DPP) chief engineer Montgomery A. Kellogg was asked to create a plan for Morningside Park. Over the next year, the city would spend $5,500 to conduct surveys of the proposed parkland. Kellogg presented a design for the park in October 1871. The New York Times said that the park's name was apt for it would "[possess] a sunny exposure in the early morning hours," and described the planned park as having "handsome walks, flower-beds, jetting fountains, [and] a play-ground" among other things. The Times predicted that the planned Morningside Park "will doubtless be a favorite resort for children and invalids." However, Kellogg's plan was rejected by the Board of Commissioners for Public Parks.

In April 1872, the DPP created a committee to discuss possible upgrades to the street to the park's west side, and Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who had designed Central Park's Greensward Plan, were commissioned to produce a design for the park. In a September 1872 article, the Times predicted that the construction of Morningside Park and its proximity to Broadway and Central Park would raise property values nearby. Talk of a preliminary study and map began circulating in March 1873. By that September, Olmsted was assigned to work exclusively on Morningside Park, and to that extent, he was dropped from his position as superintendent of other parks. Olmsted and Vaux's plan, called "A Preliminary Report on the Improvement of Morningside Park", was presented to the DPP on October 11, 1873. Because of the limitations of the terrain, the proposed Morningside Park would be designed to emphasize scenery and its proximity to Central Park, and would contain several features including balconies, a planted lagoon, a lawn at the north end of the park and a retaining wall with stairways. The work would cost about $816,000. Five days after the plan was presented, the DPP approved it "in principle".

Beginning of construction

Morningside Park 01
Morningside Park's play fields

Because of various factors, including work stoppages following the economic depression after the Panic of 1873, construction on Morningside Park stagnated for 14 years. Nevertheless, work began in 1873. According to an annual report published later that year, the walks were being constructed, a sewer and the lagoon were nearly complete, and stonecutters were busy carving the stone for the park's perimeter walls. A Times article in April 1875 noted that the city's Department of Public Works was laying roads and sidewalks to the west and east of the park. Olmsted reported in July that when work had been halted the previous October, various parts of the park were under construction such as the sewer, pond, walks, and embankments. Little work would be performed in the following five years, except for the construction of roads. On June 16, 1880, the Legislature passed a law allowing the city's Department of Public Works to finish the roads, sidewalks, and retaining walls near Morningside Park. In addition, in September, the Legislature appointed Jacob Wrey Mould as the new architect of Morningside Park; he had previously worked with Olmsted and Vaux in Central Park. Mould submitted a plan for the streets in April 1881, which was projected to cost $234,000. It called for eleven entrances, with two main entrances at each of the separate portions of 116th Street; granite stairs; a retaining wall at Morningside Drive, the western border, consisting of gneiss and ashlar; overlook bays; and railings of granite and cast-and wrought-iron. The plans were approved in August 1881. Mould's final plans for the western side of the park were submitted in September 1882, and the next month, plans for the northern, eastern, and southern sides of the park were approved.

In January 1883, Julius Munckwitz was asked to create plans for Morningside Park; Mould was named as his assistant. After Munckwitz's plans were submitted that March, Montgomery A. Kellogg—the DPP chief engineer who had been promoted to engineer of construction—worked on completing the measurements. Contracts for the foundations were awarded in April, while contracts for the western side's entrances and overlooks were awarded to Charles Jones that July. Jones began work on the western border in November 1883 and completed his contract nearly a year later. Meanwhile, in January 1884, Munckwitz began preparing plans for the western steps and entrances, which were approved that October. The Times reported in December 1884 that over $71,000 was needed for the park. Though Munckwitz quit the DPP in mid-1885, he continued working with the project as a consultant.

By February 1885, the stairways on the western border at 110th, 116th, and 120th Streets were being built. That May, Michael McGrath won a contract to build granite steps, brick arches, and other ornamentation at the 110th and 116th Street entrances on the western border and at four intermediate overlook bays. The park was still in a rural state, as indicated that same year: according to a Times article, police captured 16 cows illegally grazing in the park, and local dairymen were fined for pasturing their herds there. Following this, the DPP ordered that all signs and other "defacements" be removed from the park site. By mid-1886, several local entities were expressing frustration at the lack of progress at Morningside Park. For instance, in May 1886 and January 1887, the Morningside Park Association formally requested that action be taken to complete the park. After Mould died in 1886, the DPP needed to hire a new architect for Morningside Park. Kellogg submitted new plans for $250,000 worth of park improvements in February 1887, at which point the Times reported that only the 116th Street staircase and part of the retaining wall had been completed over the previous fourteen years. These plans were ultimately approved.

Final plans and completion

In June 1887, the DPP asked Olmsted to create informal plans for Central, Morningside, and Riverside Parks. In response, Olmsted said he would do so only if Vaux was also hired. Ultimately, Olmsted's proposal was voted down, and Kellogg and city parks superintendent Samuel Parsons were asked to report on Olmsted and Vaux's original plan instead. In July, a group of Civil War veterans stayed in the park during the Independence Day weekend, firing cannons and pretending to storm the blockhouse walls. Though Parsons and Kellogg presented their proposed changes in August 1887, which they believed were feasible with the available $250,000 appropriation, local property owners asked that the original plan be used instead. Later that month, the board voted to let Olmsted and Vaux work on the plan.

The plan was modified to accommodate changed conditions, like the construction of an elevated railway station at 116th Street and Eighth Avenue. Among other changes, the modified design included a broad path and a thin path traversing the lower portion of the park. Initially, Olmsted and Vaux had proposed a southeastern entrance plaza, a lagoon, and an exhibition hall; however, the modified design eliminated these, while adding a lawn and a "Restawhile" recreation structure. Olmsted and Vaux had differing visions for Morningside Park: Olmsted believed the area should be kept naturalistic, and advocated the removal of all except one east–west path, while Vaux did not believe that paths would negatively affect the park's purpose. The "General Plan for the Improvement of Morningside Park" was approved by the DPP in October 1887, and a request for $250,000 in bonds was approved by the Board of Estimate the following month.

Morningside Park, NYC (2014) - 2
Path in Morningside Park

In mid-1888, contracts were awarded for earth and rock filling, and for the construction of basins, walls, and stairs in the southern portion of the park. Vaux suggested widening the roadbed and narrowing the eastern sidewalk of Morningside Drive, on the western side of the park. Further appropriations of $50,000 each were requested in September 1888 and March 1889. Subsequently, Vaux's suggestion to modify Morningside Drive was approved in July 1889, as was Kellogg's request for asphalt, concrete, and gravel for pavings. That September, the DPP voted to proceed with the completion of stairs and overlooks at Morningside Avenue north of 117th Street, in the same design as those built previously. Stairs and walls were finished that December. Further plans, approved in early 1890, called for the completion of the western entrances and overlooks, and the installation of railings and ornamentation. By December 1890, the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide reported that the work was almost done. The Guide said of the park, "It is not very wide, but it is some three-quarters of a mile in length. It has hills and dales and green swards, which, with its imposing terraces, make it peculiarly attractive." Morningside Park was even considered briefly for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, though this did not come to pass.

Plans for walls and railings at 110th Street (the southern border) and Morningside Drive (the western border) were approved in October 1890, followed by the awarding of a contract for them in February 1892. Because of delays in constructing the steps, two time extensions were awarded in August and October 1891. Meanwhile, pavings were completed in May 1891 and the parapets were finished the following December. By June 1894, parks superintendent Parsons had noted that parts of the park were nearly completed. That October, contracts were awarded for the paving of sidewalks. The park's construction was completed in 1895. Vaux, who had remained with the project throughout that time as a consultant, drowned that year in Gravesend Bay. Parsons later wrote that "...perhaps Morningside Park was the most consummate piece of art that [Vaux] had ever created."

The completion of Morningside Park was concurrent with the development of nearby Morningside Heights; the park's construction had necessarily resulted in the creation of the neighborhood's street grid, and several institutions relocated to the area. The first of these included the Cathedral of St. John the Divine whose construction began in 1892 on the site of the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum. The Bloomingside Asylum moved out of the area in 1888 after protests over the asylum's presence, and three colleges moved to the site: Columbia College (now part of Columbia University), Teachers College, and Barnard College. Other institutions that moved to Morningside Heights following the park's completion included: St. Luke's Hospital, the former Home for Old Men and Aged Couples; St. Luke's Home for Indigent Christian Females; the former Woman's Hospital; Union Theological Seminary; and the Church of Notre Dame (L'Eglise de Notre Dame).

Early and mid-20th centuries

Morningside Park, New York, N. Y (NYPL b12647398-69897)f
Early 20th century

Morningside Park had a number of sculptures and structures installed after it was completed. In 1900, the statue Lafayette and Washington by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was installed at the park's eastern border, within the triangle bounded by Manhattan Avenue, Morningside Avenue and 114th Street. At the time, only one structure had been built in the park, a wooden shanty for tool storage. In 1901, a "women's cottage and refreshment room" was approved along with a $8,250 appropriation for it, and the following year Barney and Chapman proposed an ornate outhouse in the French Gothic style containing a tower with space for tool storage. Ultimately, a simpler one-story restroom structure was erected in 1904, at a site on 114th Street that had been the original location proposed for the "Restawhile". Many residents and neighborhood organizations strongly opposed an oval stadium, proposed between 118th and 120th Streets in 1909, and the idea was eventually scrapped. In 1913, Carl Schurz Memorial by Karl Bitter and Henry Bacon was placed in the park, followed the next year by Edgar Walter's Seligman (Bear and Faun) Fountain.

Morningside Park quickly began to deteriorate, and complaints of vandalism were recorded as early as 1905. The sidewalks around the park were paved in 1911. When the city proposed to "popularize" Central Park in 1911, local residents complained that Morningside Park had been neglected, was crime-ridden, and had declined because of its use as a playground as opposed to a passive-recreation space. New York City parks commissioner Charles B. Stover stated that the park's issues, which included hillside erosion and lawn damage, were because the southern area had not been outfitted with proper drainage. Other issues were caused by a large Independence Day celebration in 1912, the erosion of the cliff near Blockhouse No. 4 in 1913 and the destruction of part of the overhanging cliff rock in 1915. A request for $94,500 toward Morningside Park's renovation was made in 1914, and by 1916, protests had resulted in the reported completion of the renovation. Also in 1914, a fence was installed around part of the park.

Further controversy developed in the mid-1910s because of the proposed construction of a Catskill Aqueduct pumping station within the park. While a temporary structure had existed in the park since at least the early 1910s, the New York Board of Water Supply began construction of a steel-frame pumping station in January 1916. The plans were not public, and had not been authorized by either the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the New York City Board of Aldermen, or the Municipal Art Commission. Once the public learned of plans for the structure, several civil engineers and associations organized opposition to the project. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, filed a lawsuit to stop construction of the pump building that February. Shortly afterward, New York Supreme Court justice Edward R. Finch issued an injunction to stop the project temporarily, citing the project's status as an "illegal encroachment". Ultimately, the Board of Water Supply applied for a permanent pumping station, though in July 1916 the Board of Aldermen voted instead to build an underground pump structure.

Improvements to Morningside Park were also conducted from the 1920s through the 1960s. In its annual report of 1929, NYC Parks reported that much of the vegetation had to be replanted because of neglect or vandalism. By the mid-20th century, Morningside Park was perceived as dangerous, though because of its proximity to Harlem, crime in the park was perceived as signs of a racial problem. In 1935 The New York Times reported that Teachers College of Columbia University had posted a sign in a dormitory informing students "it is not safe to enter Morningside Park at any time of the day or night." The Times also reported residents were concerned that "unemployed destitute" individuals posed a danger to the park's safety.

A playground and comfort station was added between 113th and 114th Streets on the east side of Morningside Park in November 1935; another proposed polygonal comfort station was not built, and the 113th–114th Streets comfort station was replaced by 1945. A playground at the northeastern corner of Morningside Park was also constructed in 1935; it was expanded with extra equipment in 1941, including numerous athletic courts, a wading pool, exercise structure, swings, slides, and a children's play area. Also, by 1941, rock outcroppings on the south lawn were removed to make way for softball fields. During this era, a proposal to rename Morningside Park to "Franz Boas Park" was rejected by parks commissioner Robert Moses. The 1904 restroom structure was demolished in 1952, except for its western wall, at which point jagged-topped stone barriers were erected next to paths in the park. Two years later, the bronze railings on the western and southern borders were replaced with iron picket fences. A playground on Morningside Avenue between 116th and 119th Streets was finished in 1956, while sandboxes were installed on the Morningside Drive overlook balconies the next year. The wrought-iron fence on the eastern border was replaced, and the park's hillside restored, in 1962.

Elementary school

South end of Morningside Park 2017 Feb jeh
The south end of the park

At the same time as the Columbia controversy, another dispute arose after the New York State Legislature designated the northwestern corner of Morningside Park as the site of a public elementary school in 1963. Both Mayor Wagner and borough president Edward R. Dudley supported this initiative; Dudley said the site was "rubbish-strewn and a danger spot for children", even though the Municipal Art Commission argued it was located atop the ruins of Blockhouse No. 4.

After the City Planning Commission proposed another site several blocks to the east, neighborhood groups alleged the plan would further segregation since the mostly minority population of Harlem would be unable to reach the school. Other neighborhood groups opposed the use of Morningside Park for anything other than recreational use. The City Planning Commission's chairman recommended that the proposed school site at Morningside Park be disapproved, but in February 1964, the Board of Estimate approved the plan anyway and rezoned 1.35 acres (0.55 ha) from parkland to educational use. Frederick G. Frost, Jr. & Associates designed the structure, known as PS 36 Margaret Douglas Elementary School, as a concrete-and-brick educational complex atop a stone base and rock outcroppings. The school was built between 1965 and 1966 and was the first in the city designed solely for early elementary grades, serving kindergarten through second grade.

Cleanup and 21st century

Morningside Park - panoramio
Park entrance

Even by the 1960s, Morningside Park had a reputation for being unsafe and unsanitary. The state's department of parks was in talks with Bond, Ryder and Associates for a “redevelopment design” of Morningside Park by 1978 with the West Harlem Community Organization and Morningside Park Coalition participating in the redesign process. In 1981, as part of the "Olmsted Project", the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission held two shows that depicted Morningside Park, including a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit. At that time, Morningside Park was being considered by the LPC for "scenic landmark" status, but this was opposed by residents and activists wanted to redesign the park. The same year, Thomas Kiel and other Columbia undergraduates founded the Friends of Morningside Park, which supported returning the park to its original design.

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Pond at the site of the unbuilt Columbia recreation facility

NYC Parks drew up plans for a $12-million restoration of the park between 1987 and 1989. At that point, Columbia had given $250,000 toward the renovation, half of what it had pledged toward the restoration of the site. A $5 million first phase began in early 1989 and was conducted by a partnership of Quennell Rothschild Associates and Bond Ryder James. It entailed converting the excavated crater left by the abandoned gymnasium project into a waterfall and ornamental pond, which was the first part of the renovation to be completed in 1989. The pond, part of Olmsted and Vaux's original plan, cost $950,000, about three times as much as "standard landscaping". Contractors installed wells to feed the waterfall and the pond. The reconstruction, which focused on the park between 110th and 114th Streets, also included installing new playground equipment, planting trees, creating a picnic area and renovating the sports fields. The 1957 fieldhouse was also redesigned, and a new entrance was installed at 113th Street and Morningside Drive. This renovation was completed in 1993. There was little funding to perform further renovations at the northern part of Morningside Park then, and there was just one maintenance worker for the entire park.

NYC Parks began a renovation of the 116th Street stairs in July 1996 completing it two years later at a cost of $650,000. After the statues were refurbished, the bluestone steps at 116th Street were renovated in 1998. The same year, construction began on the Dr. Thomas Kiel Arboretum in the northern part of the park, named after a founder and former chairman of the Friends of Morningside Park who died in 1996. In 1998 and 1999, a group named the Morningside Area Alliance (MAA) received $35,000 in grant funding from the Kaplan Foundation to work on the park. A portion was used to assess what the park needed done most urgently, while a second portion went to reorganize the largely dismantled Friends volunteer group. The resulting "revitalization plan" suggested additional maintenance and capital improvements and enhancements to its character and appearance. The study also found there was still a widespread perception of danger, and that the park needed additional security measures and better management. By 2001, Morningside Park's condition had improved somewhat because of various ongoing reconstruction projects, and it was no longer considered as dangerous an area as it had been in the 1970s.

Several stairs and entrances were rebuilt, including at or near 114th, 116th, 120th, and 122nd Streets, and playgrounds to the south of the ball fields and at the park's northeast corner were renovated. The ball fields and northern section's scenery were restored in 2006, and construction began on a playground north of 116th Street in 2007. This playground was completed in September 2008. Morningside Park was designated a New York City landmark in 2008, decades after similar statuses had been conferred upon Central and Riverside Parks. Since then, additional improvements have taken place within the park. Additional trees were planted in the park in 2009, including a sequoia tree. Two years later, NYC Parks presented a plan to restore the northern section and add a playground there. The area around Morningside Park, once a desolate area with a reputation for being crime ridden, had become gentrified by the 2010s.


The park is one of several promoted by Andrew Haswell Green, and owes much of its design to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Additions in the 20th century include playgrounds, basketball courts, and softball diamonds.

Recreational features

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The playground at 116th Street, seen from a nearby path

Morningside Park contains several sporting fields. Two baseball fields and a basketball court are at the southern end of the park. Three additional basketball courts are near the central portion of Morningside Park. To the north are two basketball courts and four handball courts. There are also children's play structures at 110th, 113th, 116th, and 118th Streets at the bottom of the cliff, and a restroom at 123rd Street.

Morningside Dog Run is an enclosed space for dog owners to bring their dogs to play. Consisting primarily of wood chips over dirt, there are two fenced-in areas. The larger section has multiple levels, separated by a step. The dog run is most easily accessible from the east at 114th Street and from the west at either 114th or 116th Streets. There is also a barbecue area at 121st Street.

The Kiel Arboretum is located in the northern section of the park from 116th to 121st Streets. The design of the arboretum was based on original plans for Central Park sketched by Olmsted and Vaux in 1858. While later abandoned, these arboretum plans involved paths leading through several hundred species of trees and shrubs. The plans re-emerged when the Kiel Arboretum was built in 1998. Plantings of trees from the Magnoliaceae (magnolia) family and shrubs from the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) and Berberidaceae (barberry) families were used to start the tree collection.

Over the years, several playgrounds have been constructed at Morningside Park; as of 2019 there are four playgrounds within the park. The first one, located at the bottom of the stairs at 114th Street, was built in 1903–1904 and destroyed in 1952. A playground in the northeast corner was constructed in 1935 and renovated in 1941; it was restored several more times, including in 1992 and 2000. Another playground, built in 1955–1956 at Morningside Avenue between 116th and 119th Streets, contains numerous facilities, such as shuffleboard and basketball courts, and a playground with a wading pool, swings, slides, and a sandbox. A third play area at 113th Street contains play equipment, while a fourth facility is located at 110th Street. In 2008, a new playground opened, replacing part of the play area between 116th and 119th Streets.

Geology and topography

Morningside Park from Carl Schurz Monument looking south
Seen from atop the cliff

Morningside Park's distinctive natural geography is a rugged cliff of Manhattan schist rock. The geology is similar to that of Central Park and contains, from top to bottom: Manhattan schist, metamorphosed sedimentary rock; Lowerre quartzite, a metamorphosed rock; Inwood marble, metamorphosed limestone which overlays the gneiss; and Fordham gneiss, an older deeper layer. A large rock formation of Manhattan schist in the park is a visible sign of the bedrock below much of lower and northern Manhattan. Rock outcroppings are prevalent in Morningside Park and nearby Central Park, Marcus Garvey Park, and Riverside Park. Besides the cliff, one large geological feature remains is a glacial groove located at 121st Street, which had been noted as early as 1916. The western border of the park between 122nd and 123rd Streets is taken up by PS 36, located on a rock drop off; this occupies the former site of the ruins of Blockhouse No. 4, which was used as a source of stone until the park's creation. A tablet was placed on the site by the Women's Auxiliary of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society in 1904; part of the cliff was destroyed in 1915.

A plateau, located on the eastern side of the park, was mostly demolished during the failed Columbia University gym construction project. Today, the site includes a waterfall and a pond, built between 1989 and 1993. The waterfall is artificial and uses water pumped using motors from the city's water system. Residents and visitors to the pond include great blue herons, night herons, red-winged blackbirds, painted turtles, and mallard ducks.

The park also contained several meadows in its early years. These were at the south end from 110th to 114th Streets; in the central section from 116th to 120th Streets; and at the northeast corner. They were developed as playgrounds and playing fields in the mid-20th century, and the rock outcroppings were destroyed. Today, playgrounds are located on the central and northern meadows, while the southern meadow is home to sports fields.

Paths and plantings

Morningside Park was designed with numerous paths and plantings. The paths usually followed the topography, though there are several locations where stone steps connect paths at different locations. There are stone stairs connecting the two portions of 120th Street, and between 116th Street on the west side of the park and 114th Street on the east side. The paths were made originally of gravel, concrete, and asphalt, while the stairs were made of bluestone with rockwork edging on the outer portions. Benches, lights, railings, fences, and stone walls were added over the years; the rockwork edging was replaced. In addition, the northern meadow's paths were rebuilt in 1940–1941, while the paths around PS 36 and the unbuilt Columbia gym were reconfigured or removed in the late 1960s. As part of the waterfall's construction, the paths at the unbuilt gym site were rebuilt from 1989 to 1993. In addition, some of the stairs have been renovated over the years.

The plantings in Morningside Park were designed at various stages of the park's development. Accounts vary on whether plantings were present before the park was built; in 1871, park engineer Montgomery A. Kellogg called the area a "barren piece of ground", Landscape architect Samuel Parsons described the site as having "a considerable amount of native growth", albeit limited mainly to vines, herbs, and shrubs. Parsons also stated that because of the poor soil in the original plan of the park, "fine trees" could not grow there. By the 1910s, vandalism, erosion, and crowds had caused damage to many of the plantings already. Major landscaping projects took place in 1929, 1941, 1962, and 2006.


The Lafayette and Washington statue
The Carl Schurz Monument
The Seligman Fountain

There are three sculptures located in Morningside Park. The first is the Lafayette and Washington statue (1900) by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, located at the triangle between Manhattan Avenue, Morningside Avenue and 114th Street. Though dedicated in 1890, it was not brought to the triangle until 1900. The statue commemorates the alliance between the U.S. and France during the American Revolutionary War and consists of a bronze sculptural group depicting General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, both in uniform and holding hands. The group is atop a white marble pedestal and contains an associated bronze plaque on a gray granite base. It is an exact replica of a statue in the Place des États-Unis, Paris.

The second is the Carl Schurz Monument (1913), with a statue by Karl Bitter and setting by architect Henry Bacon. It stands on a brick plaza at Morningside Drive and West 116th Street, overlooking the park from the west, though it is officially part of the park. The statue consists of a bronze depiction of politician Carl Schurz, standing in the middle of an exedra (or semicircular recess) made of granite. The "arms" of the exedra contain reliefs depicting Schurz's stature as a person who fought against slavery and for better treatment of Native Americans. Carved stone reliefs are located below him and are flanked by bronze luminaires. The monument's side and central relief carvings, made in stone, may have been created by Bitter's associates and assistants, while the low granite relief carvings may have been made by the Piccirilli Brothers. The sculpture combines elements of the Archaic Greek and Austrian/Viennese Secessionist styles. The monument was unveiled to the city in 1913 and restored in the 1930s.

The third is the Seligman (Bear and Faun) fountain (1914) by Edgar Walter. It was dedicated in memory of Alfred L. Seligman, the National Highways Protective Association's vice president. Plans for the fountain's dedication in Morningside Park were revealed in 1911, predating Seligman's death in a traffic accident in 1912. The 7-foot-tall (2.1 m) fountain contains a depiction of a grotto, above which a bear hangs. Below the grotto, a faun is depicted playing the pipes. The fountain includes a drinking fountain and a dogs' drinking basin. It was restored in 1997.

Bordering streets

Morningside Drive retaining wall
View of the retaining wall

Morningside Park is mostly rectangular in shape, though the northern portion of the park curves westward. All of the sidewalks were asphalt until 1911, but today they consist of Belgian blocks and concrete and contain trees.

The Park's western border is formed by Morningside Drive, which is on top of a large retaining wall that drops sharply to the east. The retaining wall contains gneiss piers topped with granite, and as a parapet fence consisting of granite posts and an iron picket fence. Originally, this section also contained bronze railings, though these were replaced in 1954. At each of the intersections with Morningside Drive, except for those at 113th and 114th Streets, there are "overlook bays"—balconies that slightly overhang the park below. The bays at 111th and 119th Street contain openings, originally used as rain shelters. All the bays are polygonal shaped, except for the one at 116th Street, which is round and contains the Carl Schurz Monument. From this side, there are entrances at 112th, 113th, 114th, 116th, 118th, 120th, and 122nd Streets, with granite and gneiss stairways leading from the bays at the 116th through 120th Street entrances. A security booth at the 116th Street entrance was installed in 2006.

The southern border of the park is formed by West 110th Street, also known as Cathedral Parkway. There is an entrance to the park from the intersection of 110th Street and Morningside Drive, within an overlook bay that contains asphalt paving; this leads to a stone stairway. Another entrance exists at the intersection with Manhattan Avenue, on the east made of Belgian blocks and hexagonal asphalt tiles.

The eastern border of the park is formed by Manhattan Avenue between 110th and 113th Streets, and by Morningside Avenue between 113th and 123rd Streets. On the western sidewalk is a wrought-iron picket fence with stone piers, which was originally installed in 1915 and replaced in 1962. A group of seventeen London plane trees are located next to the Lafayette and Washington statue.

The northern border of the park is formed by West 123rd Street. On the southern sidewalk is a wrought-iron picket fence with stone piers, which was originally installed in 1915 and replaced in 1962.


Morningside Park is owned, operated, and managed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Friends of Morningside Park, a nonprofit organization founded in 1981 to support returning the park to its original design, is the park's primary advocacy and community stewardship organization. Since its founding, the group has rehabilitated the park through volunteer work, as well as donations for staffing and equipment. The organization fell apart between 1996 and 1998 following the death of founder Thomas Kiel. In 2001, around fourteen major public events were organized by volunteers in the park, including festivals, concerts, and various holiday celebrations. By 2005, Friends of Morningside Park had approximately 1,000 volunteers. The organization receives a moderate amount of money compared to similar nonprofits that maintain New York City public parks. As of 2013, it received about $50,000 a year in private donations, and the largest-ever single donation was $10,000.

The Central Park Conservancy, which maintains nearby Central Park, also provides maintenance support and staff training programs for other public parks in New York City, including Morningside Park. In 2005, the Conservancy created the Historic Harlem Parks initiative, providing horticultural and maintenance support and mentoring in Morningside Park, St. Nicholas Park, Jackie Robinson Park, and Marcus Garvey Park.

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