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.