Blockhouse (Romantic Ruin Urban Park)

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When Olmstead and Vaux acquired this tract of land, now the northwest end of Central Park, they preserved the Blockhouse because they liked the idea of a romantic, historic ruin. It’s located in “The North Woods.”

As romantic ruins go, the Blockhouse fortification in Central Park is humble and off the beaten track. It’s really not much to look at, which is part of its charm.

 I stumbled upon the Blockhouse by accident sometime last summer on a walk through “the woods.” In the winter, it’s clearly visible if you look up from 110th Street, walking east from the intersection where Central Park West runs into Frederick Douglas Boulevard. In fall, spring, and now summer again, the blockhouse is obscured by foliage.

The fort and others like it up at Harlem Heights were set up to fight off a possible of a British attack from Connecticut during the War of 1812.

It is the only surviving fort, preserved because the rocky outcrop was considered to be impossible to develop for housing. This then makes it a little heterotopia –a vernacular romantic ruin in a public, urban park, a modest little historical relic in a modern big-city.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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