Following my recent post on The Loch in Central Park, park goer Steve Weintraub of the Blockhouse Run Club asked about a forgotten water feature at the park’s northern end that appears as a former stream on the 1994 Greensward Foundation map of Central Park. It was known as The Lily Pond, the smallest of Central Park’s original water features.
Descending from the Great Hill alongside The Cliff, it terminated by East Drive just shy of Central Park North. Steve wanted to know whether there are any photos of this truly hidden waterway.
Where it Was
The most recent map that I found containing The Lily Pond is the extremely detailed 1934 topographical survey of Central Park from the NYPL Digital Collections, which marks every outcropping, two-foot contour lines, trees, structures, and waterways. I outlined The Lily Pond above, where it descended nearly 45 feet down a cleft in the cliff towards a small pond. On the left above is the Blockhouse that Weintraub’s running club is named after.
Going further back in time to the 1875 Hinrich’s map of Central Park, we see a stream flowing between The Cliff and The Briars. The Blockhouse is identified as a fort dating to the War of 1812. At the time, New Yorkers feared a second British invasion and taking no chances, the federal government built forts at the maritime approaches to the city and on hilltops in what is now northern Central Park. Not counting the imported Egyptian obelisk, The Blockhouse is the oldest standing structure in the park and one of just two inside the park that predates its creation. The Arsenal on 64th Street and Fifth Avenue is the other one. It’s where I work.
The Great Hill once provided views of the Hudson River and the Palisades cliffs but as trees in the park grew taller and the Upper West Side became more developed, this hill does not appear so “great.”
Lily Pond In Pictures
As Central Park has places titled The Pond and The Pool, I had to search for it either by these two names in the hope of finding the appropriate photo, or by its actual name, The Lily Pond. Recognizing the proximity of the blockhouse to Lily Pond, I narrowed my search only to those images of ponds in the park that had the Blockhouse in them.
This took me back to 1863, when T. C. Roche took two photos of The Lily Pond for E. & H.T. Anthony, manufacturer of stereoscopic souvenir photos. Buyers would attach the photos to a binocular-like viewer and see the same shot with each individual eye.
The Lily Pond today
The former pond appears fenced off along a jogging path that follows East Drive between Malcolm X Boulevard (Lenox Avenue) and Frederick Douglass Boulevard (Seventh Avenue).
Learn more about Central Park’s great north
I could not find information on when the Lily Pond had run dry nor am I aware of any plans to restore this truly most hidden of Central Park’s hidden water features.
The section of Central Park that was secured by Andrew Haswell Green is the least visited but at the same time, the most topographically challenging, filled with natural and historical sites. In contrast to the park’s southern end, you won’t see selfie sticks or street performers here. While here, here are two more hidden streams, Sabrina’s Pool and The Loch.
On Sunday July 10, my friend and fellow author Kevin Walsh will be leading a Forgotten-NY walking/hiking tour of this section of the park. Reserve your place on this informative experience.
Sergey – Thanks so much for this investigation! This morning on my run I detoured to really explore the Lily Pond area. Below are a few photographs with explanations, so other readers can get a better sense of this structure. I wish I could attach the images, so I’ll just link to them with caption (feel free to embed if you wish).
Judging by the stereogram, the Lilly Pond main basin was originally larger than the maps would indicate. It’s hard to gauge exactly where is where from the photo, as the hill behind looks grassy and gently sloping; with some rock(?) formation at the base. Also, there is no sign of the cascade structures, which doesn’t surprise me, as they seem to be a much later addition (they feel 1930s to me, but that’s just a wild guess).
1. No sign of basin remains, but the central portion, per the article photo above, remains wettish, the plants appear to be “marsh type” (I’m not very knowledgable about this!). Note, it is significantly overgrown since the article photo was taken (my shot is from the other angle):
2. The gully up the hill is comprised of this stepped cascade structure of stone and concrete, with connector pipes discretely hidden within.
3. Despite being a “ruin”, the wall structure appears to be very intact and stable. The central portions are dirt and silt, and some parts still very soft from water collection.
4. This is the largest pool of the cascade. It must have been very pretty when active.
5. The cascade starts from under this “bridge”, disappearing into the hillside. Various stone steps from here lead further up into the North Woods and Blockhouse area.
Overall, the cascade structure seems to be in very good condition despite being left to the elements. It wouldn’t surprise me if the water was turned back on, it would come back to life with minimal leakage. Of course I don’t see that ever happening, I’m sure the environmental impact studies and repair/maintenance required to do that would be prohibitive. Shame, as this gentle cascade would be a really nice restoration to the North Woods.
Update from Lane Addonizio at Central Park Conservancy: The lily pond became silted-in around the middle of the 20th century. We will be investigating further as part of our analysis and planning process for future phases of our ongoing restoration of the North Woods. (Currently we are in the process of restoring the Ravine and the Loch. Work on the landscape north and west of the Ravine, which encompasses the Blockhouse and the lily pond site, is a few years out).
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Thanks for the follow up. I’m definitely keeping on tabs on the ravine work (I run through there every week), and will be interested to see what, if anything, happens in the north west!
Sergey – something about those stereograms have bothered me for a while; namely that the topography doesn’t match a view looking south from the north drive. Where there is grass and a sloping path should be the gully and large exposed rock faces, if that was the Lily Pond. Also, the pond appears way too large.
I now realize we’re looking west across the Meer up at the Blockhouse. And that sloping path is still there–I run down it all the time! The search for Lily Pond/cascade photos goes on…
If this site is familiar please let me know….
Been trying to locate a particular site in Central Park (from many maps) I came across in the 1970s while in the park cycling. Basically it was a small pond, about 40 feet off a walking path (path on north of pond), pond was approximately 100 feet across, seemed to be about 2-300 feet wide, and to left end of the pond (west side), on a small hill was a small stone building (maybe hill was 30 feet high). There was a walkway to the stone structure, curved , originally it was cobble stone, which was paved over in asphalt, with holes in the paving revealing the cobble stones. There were old street lights going up the path, I believe they were gas lights originally. The incline to the structure was approximately 15 degrees, and was on the outside of the building (on the pond side), I do not remember any steps, just a sloping walkway, approx. 4 feet wide .
I remember I was on the Mall that day, I think it was near the beginning of the Mall (south end), but not sure. From the main path to the pond was grass, I thought the small structure was used as a weather station, but it is NOT Belvedere Castle, as the walk way ended at the stone building, the building was maybe 12 feet higher than the walkway, and there were no support rocks showing that I remember; compared to Belvedere castle this site is very tiny. There were no other attached structures to the building that I could see. A rather small structure but from the walkway a few people could go into it at the same time . From the walkway at the top, there was a good view of the small pond below.
So interesting! I saw your presentation for Landmark West. I manage volunteers for the Central Park Conservancy and I’m always looking for guest lecturers. If you’re interested, I would love to offer this to our volunteers. Feel free to contact me: email@example.com