Riverside Park stretches along the edge of Manhattan’s Upper West Side
streets, facing the Hudson River
. Roughly 316 acres, the park is four miles long and 1/8th of a mile wide, making it the narrowest regional park in New York City
. The park is bordered by Riverside Drive
, as well as the Henry Hudson Parkway
/West Side Highway
which runs roughly parallel. It is a splendid bit of greenery; has a bike path, pedestrian path, and plenty of benches for sitting.
The park is as loved by ‘West Siders’ almost as much as Central Park; it has wonderful cliff views of the Hudson River in the spring and fall. As well, you get a splendid view of New Jersey across the Hudson – in the morning the opposite shoreline faces east into the soft sun; or, in the evening, it can seen through the blinding yellow glaze of the sun setting in your eyes.
Riverside Park was designed and developed in a few stages. In 1865 a proposal came from parks commissioner William R. Martin to convert the riverside to a park. Prior to this, the land had been undeveloped, running alongside the Hudson River Railroad, originally built to connect New York City to Albany. The next year, 1866, commissioner Andrew Green’s bill to the Legislature was approved; the first part of the park was acquired in 1872. Frederick Law Olmsted designed a new park and road to accompany it, Riverside Drive; his idea was to be a park with a tree-lined drive winding in and out of valleys and rocks, overlooking the river. The park was worked on from 1875 to 1910; with architects and such laying out the park from 72nd and 125th Streets. This section was designed to suggest that the park might be an extension of the Hudson River Valley.
In the beginning of the twentieth century came the beginning of the City Beautiful Movement, and the park began to accumulate sculptures and monuments of the city’s heroes. As well, its border was extended north to 155th Street. The extension was designed by an F. Stuart Williamson, with attractive viaducts and grand castle-like entry arches. The park grew some more during Robert Moses’s administration in 1937, when 132 acres of land were added along the entire expanse of the Park. This new section was intended to focus on recreational needs of a city. Finally, in 1980 the park section from 72 –125th Streets was officially labeled a scenic landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Being as the park was created in stages, there are several distinct levels to it, each with its individual character. These stages are partly at the upper end, near 125th street, but also along the width of the park as it slopes up from the shoreline; here there are almost striated, long lean levels.
The upper level starts with Riverside Drive, which is surrounded by elms and a view of the lower park, at times. Next, the park heads down into the landscaped park, where it approaches the recreation areas.
The sloping parts here offer steps, ramps or winding walkways, and in the winder are ideal for sledding. The landscaping of this level, with natural looking rock outcrops is the most intact area of Olmsted’s design. As well, it contains five of the park’s playgrounds. One of these is fondly known as the ‘Hippo Park’, and is located in the park at around 91st street. It is a favorite for younger children and their parents; many an afternoon walk through the park has me passing this area and waving to my students and their nannies.
The middle section of the park is mostly an entrance to the parks lowest level at the shoreline, and was created when the railroad was covered in the 1930’s. This area is mostly frequented by joggers and dog walkers, also people heading further down. There are a few volunteer-maintained gardens here, some at 83rd street, the Garden People’s spot at 91st street, the sycamores stretching from 101st to 110th streets, as well as a community garden at 138th street.
Enter the park wherever (I usually enter at 90th street) and head all the way down where the river wind will make your hair crazy-tossed. Down on the riverfront you get a clear view of the Hudson River and across to New Jersey. There is the Cherry Walk, which opened in 2000 and runs from 100th to 125th streets. (This is the first of a series of improvements slated for the park.) There are pedestrians and cyclists, dogs and kids; lots of benches perfect for dozing in afternoon sun warmth and stiff water breezes. Plus there is that water lapping against the side of the dock for comfort.
Some Park Features:
- Fields and courts all over for handball, soccer, basketball and baseball. They are often full of kids’ teams practicing. An active recreation area betweeen 101st and 111th streets contains all these as well as a skate park.
- Three dog runs in the park, at 72nd, 87th, and 105th streets.
- The north waterfront between 147th and 152nd streets. The lawn extends right to the shoreline and is a popular place to start a stroll.
- Kayak launches at both 148th and 79th streets.
- The 79th Street Marina which is the only public access facility of this kind in Manhattan. This place is a delightful surprise in the summer, like a secret you didn’t know the city could keep.
- General Grant National Memorial , located in the park near W. 122nd St. and Riverside Drive. Ulysses S. Grant is entombed in Manhattan! Dedicated in 1897, Grant's Tomb shows the pride taken in erecting grand monuments in the late 19th century; it has become a landmark.
- Riverside Church, a Baptist/Interdenominational church is located along Riverside Drive at 122nd street. This church has a full working continental carillon of bells.