What Happened to Central Park’s Sheep?

The original 1857 concept for New York’s Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, included an open lawn known as the "Greensward." Borrowing from the concept of the traditional English garden, where polite society communed with nature, the plan specified that a flock of sheep should graze in the 15-acre meadow on the west side of Central Park. In 1864, some 200 sheep called the park home.

Pedigree Southdown sheep grazed there for nearly 70 years -- until city planners decided to build the Tavern on the Green restaurant on the Sheep Meadow site in 1934. In other circumstances, the sheep might have been relocated elsewhere in the park, but it was the height of the Great Depression and city officials feared that the sheep would be seen as a source of free food.

Farm life in the big city:

  • The Central Park sheep slept in a Victorian barn, tended by a shepherd and his family who had living quarters on the second floor. Parts of the barn were open to the public as educational pavilions, to the delight of the city's children.

  • Manhattan paid for their care, but the sheep helped out. They kept the grass mowed and fertilized, and their wool was collected and auctioned off.

  • In the 1930s, the Central Park sheep were relocated to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and eventually left the city for good. They moved 100 miles (161 km) north, into the Catskill Mountains.

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