Using special radar and other instruments to peer under Central Park, a team of researchers and students will search for the remains of Seneca Village — one of the earliest settlements in New York City of African Americans and Irish immigrants that may have been an early center of political activism. The remote sensing testing will start as early as this week and will continue for a period of two to three weeks.
From 1825-57, Seneca Village was one of the first significant communities of African-American property owners, and included several hundred residents living in simple houses, three churches and a school.
Approximately two-thirds of those who lived there were of African descent, while the remainder were Europeans, mostly Irish who had emigrated to escape the Famine.
The houses in the Village were purchased and demolished by the City of New York under eminent domain laws in order to permit the building of Central Park.
At the time, newspapers described the houses as "shanties," but they were, in fact, homes built in one of the few places African Americans were permitted to buy land. Since the right to vote was only permitted to property owners, the landowners may have bought the land in order to vote. The prospect of better understanding life at Seneca Village interests the research team.
The team is headed by Cynthia Copeland, intermediate and high school programs coordinator for the New-York Historical Society, Nan Rothschild, professor of anthropology at Barnard College, and Diana Wall, professor of anthropology at The City College of New York.
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In preparation for the survey, the team has been examining hundreds of tax records, death records, deeds and old newspapers, to map out precisely where they expect the foundations to be — in the area of 82nd Street to 87th Street on the west side of the park. The team also hopes to document the location of several cemeteries, though not to dig them up but to commemorate them.