Springtime in Prospect Park, 1890
Regardless of what you think of when you think of Brooklyn, it was a decidedly different place in the 1890s. It was its own city, distinct from the City of New York, which was – prior to the 1898 consolidation of the five boroughs – considered Brooklyn’s twin city across the East River. Many of today’s neighborhoods originated as independent towns and villages. During the early part of the decade, Prospect Park was located at the city’s outer limits; the town of Flatbush was annexed by Brooklyn, along with much of the surrounding towns, in 1894. During its completion in the 1860s, Prospect Park was constructed on the site of former farmland and was the city of Brooklyn's final frontier.
Beginning in 1890, getting to Prospect Park was made easier for many Brooklynites when a borough-wide trolley system opened in phases to the public. Park goers would hop off the street car at Grand Army Plaza, and just like many visitors by subway today, stroll into Prospect Park—although vehicular traffic at that time was limited to horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. By the 1920s, street cars nationwide began experiencing extreme opposition from car manufacturing lobbies, and by the mid-1950s the last of the street cars were retired in Brooklyn. (Note: image depicts a street car in 1930.)
On a sunny spring afternoon, upon entering the Park from the still bustling Grand Army Plaza entrance, the view wouldn’t be all that different. Loungers would still occupy grassy patches of the Long Meadow, and bicyclists could still be seen circling the Park Drive.
The Long Meadow was also dotted with sheep in the 1890s – their presence was both utilitarian and aesthetic in choice; they kept the lawn trimmed, and the Park’s designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux sought to emulate the look of an English countryside.
Should your 1890 Park visit coincide with May Day – a now largely obsolete holiday celebrating the arrival of spring – on the first of May, you could find yourself literally wrapped up in a Maypole on the Long Meadow. Maypole dancing involves a group of people circling the Maypole, each one holding a colorful streamer which eventually wraps the pole in colored stripes.
After a long day spent at the Long Meadow enjoying the beautiful spring weather, rather than venturing to Smorgasburg, Bluestone Cafe or Tip of the Tongue for a drink or snack, Park goers in 1890 head to the Dairy, a shady spot of where patrons could sip fresh milk from one of the Park’s dairy cows.
Of course things have changed. Brooklyn now boasts over two million residents, and the Park receives over 10 million visits annually. But there’s still no better way to spend a spring weekend afternoon than in Prospect Park. Check out upcoming events in the Park and come celebrate spring in Brooklyn’s Backyard!