Last week I went on a Central Park scavenger hunt in search of a Randel bolt. What is a Randel bolt, you ask? Well, first, we must go back in time to 1807, when the Common Council of the City of New York asked the State to appoint three Commissioners to assist in the planning of the city’s development; this would become the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. John Randel Jr, a young man from Albany was hired to survey and map the island of Manhattan. He was responsible for the creation of the grid that would become the blueprint for the streets and avenues of the city as we know them today.
For the next ten years, Randel and his team took on the painstaking task of marking every one of the more than 1,500 planned intersections that would run from North (now Houston) Street to 155th Street. They were said to have been pelted with artichokes and cabbages; arrested by the sheriff for trespassing; sued for damages after pruning trees; and attacked by dogs sicced on them by property owners irate at the prospect of streets being plowed through their properties (NY Times). They placed wooden stakes at each of the intersections of the surveyed north-south avenues and east-west streets. Afterwards the men replaced the stakes with approximately 1,550 three-foot high marble monument stones. Where they encountered bedrock or a boulder, an iron bolt was installed instead (98 in all).
As the plan progressed, New Yorkers became more vocal about the need for a public park. On July 21, 1853, the New York State Legislature enacted into law the setting aside of more than 750 acres (which would later expand to 843 acres) of land central to Manhattan Island to create Central Park. The planned park would eliminate 153 of the rectangular city blocks from the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan.
Now back to my scavenger hunt. So what became of all of those monuments and bolts put down by Randel and his crew some 200 years ago?. Most became rubble or were dug up and discarded. The New-York Historical Society possesses two of the marble monuments in its collection. Up until 2004, there were no known markers in any of their original locations. That was until a geographer by the name of Reuben Rose-Redwood and a surveyor, Lemuel Morrison, made the amazing discovery of an iron bolt embedded in a low rise of gray schist located in the park’s southern section. The information for the exact location of this bolt is vague, but I followed a few hints I found on-line and was able to locate the bolt myself.
In 2014, a few more discoveries were made, bringing the total of original grid markers to 6, which now includes 4 Randel marble monuments and 2 iron bolts. For the fully story of how these discoveries were made and for some really great information about the grid, read the January 2016 article by Marguerite Holloway published in the New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/unearthing-the-city-grid-that-would-have-been-in-central-park
For a very thorough explanation of the history of the grid, some really cool graphics, maps and interactive tools, visit the Museum of the City of New York’s website “The Greatest Grid” http://thegreatestgrid.mcny.org/greatest-grid/interactive-1811-plan