Early Geographical Landscape & Wildlife

The Land Before it Became a Park

In the 19th century, a few residents had erected villas in the area to enjoy the view of the New Jersey coastline.  The site of Riverside Park was back then very much a rural landscape (Cromley, 1984). The wealthy lived on the top of the hill and at the bottom near the water was the commercial track area.

When designing the park, the plan was to originally create a straight avenue that was 100 feet wide, but Frederick Olmsted proposed making the drive along the curved territory as oppose to attempting to level the land. The land around Riverside Park was considered a topographical difficulty since it did not fit in perfectly with the grid like structure of the city streets (Cromley, 1984).

The following graph portrays the diversity of the landscape and its features in 1609.

The landscape of the land in 1609.Click to enlarge chart.

Hillsides covered a majority of the land, with a minimum elevation of 36 feet and a maximum elevation level of 91 feet. The soils were thought to be moderately rocky and have a muddy marine bottom. It was a tidal river community with a good percentage of pine forest surrounding the area.


Probability of Mammals Present in Riverside Park in 1609

Click to enlarge chart. (welikia).

This graph depicts the probability of the mammals that existed in Riverside Park from 86th Street to 110th Street in the year 1609. Among the top three most common mammals were the meadow vole, white-footed mouse, and deer mouse. Many of the mammals that ‘probably’ existed in Riverside approximately 400 years ago do not exist there today, for some obvious reasons. One of these main reasons include the influx of population and new inhabitants in New York City that drove many of these mammals away.

Photograph by Jennifer Edalgo

Photo by Joe McDonald

Photo by Jill Harness


Click to enlarge

This chart depicts the probability of the birds that existed in Riverside Park in the year 1609. There were hundreds of types of birds that have been highly assumed to have made Riverside their home. Amongst these, the most prominent were the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Wood Duck, American Black Duck, and the Red-tailed Hawk.


Click to enlarge chart

The diversity of plants that most probably existed in Riverside Park in 1609 was tremendously varied. The chart continues to list hundreds more of these plants. The Virginia Threeseed Mercury, the Red Maple, and the American Hornbeam were amongst the many plants that have been figured to cover the area of the park.

Early Inhabitants

The Europeans were not the first to step foot in New York. Many lived here prior to the European settlement. According to the Manhatta Project at the Wildlife Conservation Society, Lenape was the Native American language of the New York City region at the time of first contact with Europeans. The first people used means of hunting, fishing, and gathering to survive. During the thousands of years that Native Americans inhabited, they fished and farmed on Manhattan, especially the area now known as the Upper West Side. This land was characterized by heavily forested and rocky landscapes with streams spilling into the nearside Hudson River (Day, 2007) .

Former Ecosystems

According to the Welikia Project, approximately 400 years ago, the ecological communites of Riverside Park most probably included tidal river communities, Appalachian oak- pine forest and a marine rocky intertidal community.

Presumably the Appalachian Oak Forest that existed at Riverside Park in 1609. (Kimball, The Division of Forests and Lands)

Appalachian Oak Forests. (Photograph by The GLOBE Program).


With a list of approximately 30 different mammals, more than 50 different birds, 80 various types of plants, and different human inhabitants, it is safe to say that the biodiversity of Riverside Park was always very high. The great wealth of ecosystems in Riverside, and of the species within it, was extraordinary hundreds of years ago. As of late, the biodiversity of Riverside Park certainly declined, due to various factors such as a big influx of population surrounding the area, as well as construction of buildings and urban development. However, invertebrates, birds, snakes, frogs, toads, salamanders, rats, squirrels, and other small mammals succeeded in flourishing in Riverside, New York despite the heavy flow of humans.

One Response to Early Geographical Landscape & Wildlife

  1. Jason Munshi-South says:

    Ok, so I see that this section is an annotated version of the previous section (and is much better!). A few more visuals, particularly photos of important species or landscape features that are no longer present, would make this section more visually appealing. Again, please include the year in the in-text citations, and describe where these results came from.

    Can you provide an overall opinion on what these results mean in terms of biodiversity? I believe that the Manahatta project will also provide lists of ecosystem types for an area, e.g. red oak swamp, mixed hardwood, etc. If you can tell us what these ecosystems were (with perhaps pictures of important trees), then the narrative would be more compelling.


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