Central Park Mall History

by Conor Sinnott

The Central Park Mall in New York City was originally designed in the 1850s as a place for upper class society to stroll through Central Park and to socialize. Park architects Calvert Vaux and Fredrick Law Olmsted made it the only straight path in the park and in the park’s early years, it would have been a common sight to see notable aristocrats, wealthy bankers, and pioneers of industry boarding and disembarking carriages or walking together during good weather. Over time, it has transformed into a gathering place for visitors and working artists, who congregate on the Mall to play music, make sketches and caricatures for tourists or sell their paintings, prints, and handmade jewelry.

At the south end of the Mall is the Literary Walk and five statues. Four statues are of great writers: William Shakespeare, Fitz-Green Halleck, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. The fifth statue is of Christopher Columbus. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was the first statue erected on the Literary Walk in 1872 by a committee of actors and theater managers, among them the largely popular Shakespearean actor, Edwin Booth. Fitz-Green Halleck (1790-1877) was a prominent American writer famous in his time for his social commentaries, and his statue was dedicated in the summer of 1877. In attendance at the unveiling ceremony, was not only President Rutherford B. Hayes and his entire cabinet but a throng of ten thousand people. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is a Scottish novelist most famous for writing about the histories and traditions of his native country. Prominent Scottish citizens in America commissioned the statue on the centennial of his birth. Sitting across from Scott is Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scotland’s national poet of the time, whose statue includes a scroll at his feet with a poem written to his lover. For those strolling and working on the Mall today, these statues serve as a reminder of the success of past creatives, and of how New York can be a hub for artists and an engine for their success.

Learn more about Central Park in Treasures of New York: City Parks