Madison Square Park sits three blocks north of Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 23rd Street at Broadway. An area that began as a swamp has since become a pleasant urban park filled with New York history.
The land around Madison Square Park has undergone various changes over time. The swampy public area became a potter's field in 1794, serving as a burial ground for paupers and strangers. It was then made into a military parade ground in 1807, stretching from 23rd Street to 34th Street and Third Avenue to Seventh Avenue. In 1847 "Madison Square Park" opened, encompassing its present size from 23rd Street to 26th Street and Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue.
Madison Square Park remained far uptown in the "suburbs" during the first half of the 19th century. In 1839, the principal building in the vicinity was a farmhouse, when Broadway was still a country road. The farmhouse was leased as Corporal Thompson's cottage, also called "Madison Cottage," named after the 4th President of the United States. The tavern and roadhouse served as a popular stopping place for travelers and their horses. It was at the outskirts of the city, and provided a resting stop for those traveling to or from the city through the north. It operated until 1853. In 1859, it became the site of the Fifth Avenue Hotel and a hub of New York's social life. The hotel boasted distinguished guests and four hundred servants, unprecedented private bathrooms, a "late supper" included in its standard per-day charge, and the first hotel passenger elevator in the world.
As New York developed northward, fashionable hotels and brownstone townhouses surrounded Madison Square Park. Upper class families moved into the area, including the parents of Theodore Roosevelt and Edith Wharton. In the 1870s, Ignatz Pilat, a former assistant to Frederick Law Olmsted, and William Grant landscaped the park. Like today, the park had well-defined walkways and open lawns. Madison Square Garden opened beside the park in 1879. Although the name has endured, "The Garden" has gone through 4 iterations and changed to a location away from the park.
Madison Square Park displays a tapestry of New York City history. The first of the statue installed in the park was the bronze statue of William H. Seward (1876), former New York governor and senator and Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln. An enduring rumor holds that the sculptor was asked to cut costs, and therefore offered to sculpt only a head of Seward, which would then be affixed to an existing body from his work on a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Philadelphia. The two statues share similarities, but it is evident that they are separate works. Other statues include Roscoe Conkling, a New York Republican stalwart who TR battled for influence during his political career, Admiral David Farragut and President Chester A. Arthur, who lived nearby. Next to the square sits a monument to General William Jenkins Worth, after whom Fort Worth, Texas and Worth street in Manhattan are named. Worth Square and General Grant National Memorial are the only monuments in the city that double as mausoleums.
Madison Square Park temporarily housed the Statue of Liberty's torch during the centennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Her arm and torch were displayed in the park between 1876 and 1882, after being brought over from the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, in an effort to raise funds for the completion of the statue and construction of the base. France and the United States split fundraising for the statue, with the US responsible for funding its base. Theodore Roosevelt Sr., the president's father, was a wealthy and influential philanthropist that helped raise funds for the completion of the monument as a founding member of the American Committee, Franco-American Union. He also served on its subcommittee of contributions to raise funds for the completion of the statue's pedestal.The statue of Liberty and Madison Square have since become New York icons.
Evolving to suit the needs of the city that grew around it, Madison Square Park today is a pleasant respite from New York's hustle and bustle, as well as a monument to the city's past.