Walking Tour to Bowling Green New York City – Bowling Green was officially established as New York City’s first park in 1733, however, this space was a center of significant activity long before that. Its earliest origins date back to a period between 1638 and 1647 when it was used as a cattle market. In 1733 the land was leased by the city to three prominent landowners for the price of one peppercorn per year. The only stipulations attached to the city’s leasing were that the newly created park must add to the “beauty and ornament” of the city and include for “the delight of the Inhabitants of the city” a bowling green to allow Colonists to play a popular game at the time referred to as 9 pins.
In 1770 a statue of King George III was erected in the center of the green in honor of his decision to repeal the Stamp Act. The statue showed George in elegant Roman style robes in the vein of Marcus Aurelius astride his horse complete with laurel wreath atop his head. Further British symbolism was added to this park space in 1771 when it was bordered by a black cast iron fence with decorative crowns atop it.
These symbols honoring the British monarchy, however, were not to be tolerated as tensions arose surrounding the Revolutionary War. On July 9, 1766 following a reading of the recently signed Declaration of Independence near City Hall, the Sons of Liberty led a group of Colonists to the park to topple and destroy the statue of King George. Ropes were said to be attached to the statue to pull it to the ground whereby it was then literally hacked into pieces. The head of the statue was even reportedly attached to horse back and paraded through the city. The pieces of the statue were subsequently provided to the wife of the governor of Connecticut who proceeded to melt the statue into ammunition. Someone even had the presence to count the number of musket balls made from this statue which apparently numbered 42,088. Six pieces of the statue were preserved and may be viewed at the New York Historical Society.
The King George statue was not the only victim this day as Colonists further proceeded to hack off the tops of fence posts with the royal crowns atop them. Unfortunately, no one has a clear picture of what these finials looked like, but if you carefully inspect any one of the posts of the fence you can clearly see where the tops were removed.
Following the Revolution, there were numerous town houses build around the outskirts of Bowling Green. It remained largely residential until approximately 1850 when many of the residences began to be converted into commercial structures. In 1914 the landscape of the Green was significantly altered with the addition of a subway station. It was during this time that the bowling greens for which this space was initially designed were moved to Central Park. These greens are now located just north the Sheep Meadow near the West 69th entrance to the park.
The city finally removed the subway entrance from this site in 1978 and began a renovation of the space. This renovation included the addition of the fountain in the center, which was dedicated by philanthropist George Delacorte.
Address: Bowling Green, New York City, NY