The Ramble and Lake

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The Lake and the towers of the Beresford as seen from the Ramble

The Ramble and Lake is a main feature of Central Park in New York City. Part of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's 1857 Greensward Plan for Central Park, The Ramble was intended as a woodland walk through highly varied topography, a "wild garden" away from carriage drives and bridle paths, to be wandered in, or to be viewed as a "natural" landscape from the formal lakefront setting of Bethesda Terrace or from rented rowboats on the Lake.

The 38-acre (150,000 m2) Ramble embraces the deep coves of the north shore of the Lake, excavated between bands of bedrock; it offers dense naturalistic planting, rocky outcrops of glacially scarred Manhattan bedrock, small open glades, and an artificial stream (The Gill) that empties through the Azalea Pond, then down a cascade into the Lake. Its ground rises northwards towards Vista Rock, crowned by Belvedere Castle, a lookout and eye-catching folly.[1][2]


The Park's most varied and intricately planted landscape was planted with native trees— tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica); American sycamore; white, red, black, scarlet, and willow oaks; Hackberry; and Liriodendron – together with some American trees never native to the area, such as Kentucky coffee tree, yellowwood, and cucumber magnolia, and a few exotics, such as Phellodendron and Sophora. Smaller natives include sassafras. Aggressively self-seeding black cherry and black locust have come to dominate the Ramble.[3] A 1979 census of The Rambles' trees, taken by Bruce Kelly, Philip Winslow, and James Marston Fitch, found 6000 trees, including 60 specimen trees of landscape value.[4]

The 20-acre (81,000 m2) Lake unified what Calvert Vaux called the "irregular disconnected featureless conglomeration of ground".[5] It was excavated, entirely by hand, from unprepossessing swampy ground transected by drainage ditches and ramshackle stone walls.[6] A cave was originally located on the north end of the Lake. The Ramble Cave was sealed off in the 1930s due to inappropriate behavior by users.[7]

Notable features

From Bethesda Fountain. The Lake forms the foreground to The Ramble beyond.

Bethesda Fountain and Terrace

Bethesda Terrace and Fountain are located at the southeastern end of the Lake.[8][9] They form the northern end of the Central Park Mall, the only formal feature in the park's original blueprint, the Greensward Plan.[10] The terrace is composed of two levels, the lower of which houses the fountain.[11][9] The center of the fountain contains the sculpture Angel of the Waters (1873) by Emma Stebbins, the first large public sculpture commission for an American woman.[12]

Bow Bridge

Bow Bridge lit on a winter night

Bow Bridge connects the Lake's southern shore with the Ramble, on the northern shore of the Lake.[8] The span is notable for its intricate cast iron design. Its 87-foot-long (27 m) span is the longest of any bridge in the park, though the balustrade is 142 feet (43 m) long.[13][14]

Ladies' Pavilion

Ladies' Pavilion

Overlooking the Lake at the rocky promontory that Olmsted called The Hernshead (translation: heron's head) stands the Ladies' Pavilion, a wrought iron shelter in a playful gothic style. It provides a classic atmospheric view, changing with light and weather, of Midtown skyscrapers rising from a belt of trees, with the Lake as foreground. The Ladies' Pavilion was built, probably to designs of Calvert Vaux, to shelter ladies waiting to change streetcars at the Columbus Circle corner of the park. When the Maine Monument was installed on its site, the cast-iron elements were disassembled and stored, to be re-erected on the Hernshead in the 1950s. The Ladies' Pavilion was almost lost to rust and vandalism when it was restored in 1979 as a project funded by Arthur Ross,[note 1] one of the first projects in the restoration of Central Park.

Loeb Boathouse

Loeb Boathouse Cafe

The Lake has had several boat landings throughout its history. Boating concessions were granted in the early 1860s, and rowboating on the Lake soon became popular.[15] Six docks on the Lake were built by 1865, although the boats were stored near Bethesda Terrace.[16] In 1870, Olmsted and Vaux suggested the construction of a permanent boathouse to launch and store the boats, and the Victorian style boathouse was finished by 1873 or 1874. However, it fell into disrepair in the mid-20th century and was destroyed by 1950.[16][17]

A new boathouse, financed by a $305,000 donation from businessman Carl M. Loeb and another $110,000 from NYC Parks, was completed in 1954.[18][16][17] In 1983, the boathouse was renovated for $750,000, and a 40-seat restaurant opened within the boathouse.[19] Today, the Loeb Boathouse contains a formal dining room, dining terraces, and concession stands.[16][17]



The Ramble and Lake were two of the first features to be built in Central Park. Together they formed the northern end of the Central Park Mall, the only formal feature in the park's original blueprint, the Greensward Plan. The Lake was formed from part of the Sawkill Creek, a natural creek which flowed near the American Museum of Natural History.[10] The creek ran through the park sitek south of Seneca Village, originally exiting the park under Fifth Avenue near East 74th Street, where Conservatory Water lies today, before emptying in the East River.[20][21] To create the Lake the outlet was dammed with a broad, curving earth dam, which carries the East Carriage Drive past the Kerbs Boathouse (1954), at the end of the Lake's eastern arm, so subtly that few visitors are aware of the landform's function.[22]

In late August 1857, after Central Park's construction was approved, workers began building fences, clearing vegetation, draining the land, and leveling uneven terrain.[23]:PDF pp. 31–35[24] The Lake was among the first features to be completed,[25][26] partially due to the fact that it was being filled from eater that was drained from the adjacent Ramble.[22] It opened to the public as an ice skating ground that December.[26] The Lake's center was seven feet deep, with terraced shorelines to lower levels for skaters' safety.[22] The Ramble, the second section of the park to be completed, formally opened in June 1859.[27][28]:10 (PDF p. 11)


Oak Bridge spanning Bank Rock Bay was replaced in 2009 following Calvert Vaux's original design of 1860

The Lake was renovated in the late 2000s by the Central Park Conservancy in a project to enhance both its ecological and scenic aspects. In the summer of 2007, the first phase of a restoration of the Lake and its shoreline plantings commenced, with replanting using native shrubs and understory trees around the northern end of the Lake, from Bank Rock Bay—a narrow cove in the northwest corner that had become a silted-up algae-covered stand of aggressively invasive phragmites reeds—to Bow Bridge, which received replicas of its four original Italianate cast-iron vases, overspilling with annuals. In the earliest stages, invasive non-native plants like Japanese knotweed were eradicated, the slopes were regraded with added humus and protected with landscaping burlap to stabilize the slopes while root systems became established and leaf litter developed.[citation needed]

Bank Rock Bridge (also called Cabinet or Oak Bridge), which spans the mouth of the cove, was recreated in its original materials following Calvert Vaux's original design of 1859–60.[29] The original bridge of white oak with decorative openwork panels of cast iron, has been recreated in steel clad in ornamental cast iron facings, with a wooden deck.[30]

The cascade, where the Gill empties into the lake, was reconstructed to approximate its dramatic original form, inspired by paintings of Asher B. Durand. Sections of the Lake were dredged of accumulated silt—topsoil that had washed off the surrounding slopes—and the island formerly in the lake, which gradually eroded below water level, was reconstructed in the summer of 2007 with rugged boulders along its shoreline, graded wetland areas, and submerged planting shelves for water-loving native plants, like pickerel weed.[31] The first renovated sections were opened to visitors in April 2008.

As attraction

Bird-watching in the Ramble

The Ramble is one of the major centers of bird watching in Central Park: 230 species of birds have been spotted over the years, including more than 20 species of warblers that pass through during spring and fall migration in April and October.[32] A misguided sense that The Ramble's plantings were progressing in some way towards a "climax forest" and should be left alone, coupled with heavy urban use, has degraded the landscape, which has been partially renovated more than once. The current, ongoing renovation of The Ramble and the shorelines of the Lake began again in 2006. The present goal of the woodland restoration and management program is gradually to restore the undergrowth of a healthy forest floor and to control off-path trampling and bike riding.

Since at least the early 20th century, the seclusion of The Ramble has been used for private homosexual encounters. In the 1920s, the lawn at the north end was referred to as the "fruited plain", and in the 1950s and 1960s, The Ramble was feared by many as a haven for "anti-social persons".[33] In the early 1960s, under Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., the parks department proposed building a senior center in the Ramble with the hope of curbing gay encounters and anti-gay assaults.[34] Today, The Ramble's strong reputation for cruising for sex has given way somewhat to nature walks and environmentalism. However, some in the gay community still consider The Ramble to be "ground zero for outdoor gay sex", enjoying the "retro feel" of sneaking off into the woods.[35] As a tradition much older than Christopher Street and Fire Island, The Ramble continues to be a gay icon even in the more open environment of modern New York.[citation needed]



  1. ^ The Arthur Ross Pinetum stands northwest of the Great Lawn's oval.


  1. ^ Central Park Conservancy. "The Ramble".
  2. ^ Central Park Conservancy. "The Lake". Archived from the original on May 18, 2008.
  3. ^ Barnard, Edward Sibley (2002). New York City Trees: A Field Guide for the Metropolitan Area. p. 34.
  4. ^ Rogers, Elizabeth Barlow et al. (1987). Rebuilding Central Park: A Management and Restoration Plan. MIT Press for the Central Park Conservancy. p. 119. Explicit use of et al. in: |authors= (help)CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ Quoted in Rosenzweig & Blackmar 1992, p. 132
  6. ^ Rosenzweig & Blackmar 1992, p. 134 (Photograph)
  7. ^ "The Ramble Cave". Atlast Obscura. David Plotz. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Central Park Map" (PDF). Central Park Conservancy. 2014. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
  9. ^ a b "Bethesda Terrace". Your Complete Guide to New York City's Central Park. October 14, 2017. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Kinkead 1990, pp. 36–37
  11. ^ "18. Terrace Arch". Greensward Foundation. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  12. ^ "Bethesda Fountain : NYC Parks". Central Park Monuments. June 26, 1939. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  13. ^ "Bow Bridge". The Official Website of Central Park NYC. Central Park Conservancy. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  14. ^ "19. Bow Bridge". Greensward Foundation. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  15. ^ "A Row on the Lake at Central Park The Pleasure-Boats and their Management". The New York Times. July 18, 1862. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  16. ^ a b c d "Central Park Highlights". Loeb Boat House : NYC Parks. June 26, 1939. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  17. ^ a b c "Loeb Boathouse". The Official Website of Central Park NYC. Central Park Conservancy. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  18. ^ "New $305,000 Boathouse at Central Park Lake Will Be Opened Today". The New York Times. March 12, 1954. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  19. ^ Carmody, Deirdre (January 9, 1983). "40-SEAT RESTAURANT TO OPEN IN LOEB BOATHOUSE". The New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  20. ^ Viele, Egbert (1856). The survey forms the Pre_Park Site, 1857 map.
  21. ^ Rogers, Elizabeth Barlow et al. (1987). Rebuilding Central Park: A Management and Restoration Plan. MIT Press for the Central Park Conservancy. pp. 14–15. Explicit use of et al. in: |authors= (help)CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link) (Egbert Viele's 1856 survey forms the "Pre_Park Site, 1857" map)
  22. ^ a b c Rosenzweig & Blackmar 1992, pp. 163–165
  23. ^ "1858 Central Park Commissioners Annual Report" (PDF). New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. 1858. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  24. ^ Rosenzweig & Blackmar 1992, pp. 161–162
  25. ^ "THE CENTRAL PARK.; Progress of the Work--Its Present Condition, and the Prospects of its being Opened to the Public--The New Reservoir. Progress of the Work--Its Present Condition, and the Prospects of its being Opened to the Public--The New Reservoir". The New York Times. November 11, 1858. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  26. ^ a b Kinkead 1990, pp. 32–33
  27. ^ Rosenzweig & Blackmar 1992, pp. 166–167
  28. ^ "1859 Central Park Commissioners Annual Report" (PDF). New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. 1859. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  29. ^ "The former replacement bridge with utilitarian spiked steel pipe handrails".
  30. ^ Central Park Conservancy. "Things to See: Great Lawn: Bank Rock Bridge". Archived from the original on March 10, 2014.
  31. ^ Central Park Conservancy. "Press Release: CENTRAL PARK CONSERVANCY ANNOUNCES THE CAMPAIGN FOR CENTRAL PARK" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 3, 2007. Retrieved October 3, 2007.
  32. ^ Central Park Conservancy. "The Ramble".
  33. ^ Rosenzweig, Roy & Blackmar, Elizabeth (1992). "Timeline Post-WW2: Gays". The Park and the People. Cornell University Press.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  34. ^ Vitullo-Martin, Julia (July 21, 2003). "Taking Back the Park from Crime". The Gotham Gazette.
  35. ^ Rothstein, Richard (April 26, 2007). "Springtime In Central Park". QueerSighted.


  • Kinkead, Eugene (1990). Central Park, 1857-1995: The Birth, Decline, and Renewal of a National Treasure. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-02531-4.
  • Rosenzweig, Roy; Blackmar, Elizabeth (1992). The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-9751-5.

External links

  • Media related to The Ramble and Lake at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 40°46′35″N 73°58′16″W / 40.77628°N 73.97118°W / 40.77628; -73.97118

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