Seven secrets of Central Park that you don’t know about

The lampposts hold a hidden message.

Written by
John Marshall
Photograph: Shutterstock

Sure, you know that Central Park is the biggest park in Manhattan, but you don’t know all the lesser-known spots hidden in its winding paths and mysterious forests. There are secret gardens, relics from the 1800s and tricks to help you not get lost while trying to walk crosstown. After stopping by the secret section that just opened after 82 years, go on a scavenger hunt to find these seven things.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Central Park, New York

1. There’s an artifact from 1811
There’s a rock in Central Park with a large metal bolt protruding from it. The story? It’s believed that this is one of the original survey bolts from the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, when the New York City grid was first mapped out. There are none anywhere else in the entire city, as these bolts marked where two streets would intersect. But because Central Park was added to the plan later, the bolt remains (so the legend goes).

2. You can orient yourself with the lampposts
Here’s what you do: On each light post in Central Park, there are four numbers. The first two indicate the nearest cross street, and the second set tells you if you’re on the east or west side—odd means west, even means east. Easy!

3. There are the decayed ruins of an old tavern
Behind the Conservatory Garden at 105th Street, there are the dilapidated remnants of a century-old stone structure. Today, these ruins are called McGown’s Pass, named for McGown’s Pass Tavern, which closed in 1915. Before that, there was the Academy of St. Vincent, which was built in 1845, then occupied by a hotel, a restaurant and a museum (not at the same time), before the original structure was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1881. The Central Park Conservatory now uses it as a compost pile.

4. Everything in the Shakespeare garden is in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Garden, on the west side of the park near 79th Street, is a four-acre patch of pretty plants to visit after you miss out on getting Shakespeare in the Park tickets. But everything cultivated within it is mentioned in one of Shakespeare’s works, and most are labeled with the quotation—so you can find a rose by exactly its name.

5. The roads are curved to prevent horse and carriage races
While horse-drawn carriages have become a controversial topic in New York, in the 19th century they were the only way to get around. Back during the 1850s, the pathways through Central Park were designed with deliberate curves in order to prevent horse-drawn carriage racing. If ever there was a worthwhile idea for a movie starring Vin Diesel, it’s one where he drag races with a horse and buggy.

6. The Ramble Cave was real and seriously sketchy
Back in the early days of the 20th century when Central Park was first being constructed, workers discovered a naturally formed cave near the Ramble. As you would predict, the cave became a magnet for shady, underground activity (both literally and figuratively). Eventually, the city filled it with asphalt at both ends.

7. There was once a Central Park Casino
On the east side of the park near the intersection of 5th Avenue and 72nd Street, there’s a children’s playground where there was once the Central Park Casino—but “casino” is borrowed from the Italian world for “little house” and doesn’t describe a gambling business. It was originally designated as the Ladies’ Refreshment Salon, and given what the Ramble Cave was like, the desire for such a venue is understandable. Then Prohibition came and the Casino became a beloved speakeasy and fancy-ass nightclub that served both men and women. When the Depression hit, the joint caught a lot of flack for being too expensive, so Robert Moses demolished it in 1936, as was his style.

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