Stay Informed! Join our mailing list:

Andrew Haswell Green

Image(s): 

Sometimes listed as Andrew Green.

Biography

Andrew Haswell Green was a lawyer, reformer, public official, master planner, and a visionary. He was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1820 to a prosperous, professional family. As a young man, he received a commercial education while working as an apprentice in a leading dry goods establishment. At the age of twenty-four, he began to study law at the firm of Samuel J. Tilden. Green soon became interested in civic affairs.

He served as the President of New York City's Board of Education from 1855-1860. During his two terms, he sought to reduce the share of state school tax that was levied on city property. He worked to manage the schools to ensure "order and economy1."

Green also served as Comptroller of the City of New York from 1871 until his retirement in 1877. During his term, he played a significant role in bringing down the Tweed Ring, the corrupt group of individuals led by William Tweed, who controlled New York's finances at the time. As Comptroller, Green saved the city from fiscal insolvency and rescued the municipal credit from disaster. He was able to save millions of dollars of the city treasury by reducing annual expenditures over a period of five years2.

Andrew Haswell Green has improved New York in many other ways as well. He was responsible for adding Riverside, Morningside and Fort Washington Parks to the map. He facilitated the creation of recreational spaces, such as the Bronx Zoo. He merged the Tilden, Lenox and Astor libraries into what is known today as the New York Public Library. Additionally, in 1888, he launched a movement to expand New York City’s water supply reserve. In the 1860's, he began a bridge campaign that was designed in an attempt to unify New York City with its neighbors. The construction of the bridge over the Harlem River was another one of his projects. As a staunch advocate of comprehensive planning, Andrew Green often rallied single-handedly for the unification of the five boroughs. His successful efforts resulted in the establishment of Greater New York, the five borough city that we have today, and earned him the moniker "Father of greater New York3."

Green was killed on November 13, 1903 at the age of 83, in a case of mistaken identity. The assailant, Cornelius Williams, claimed that he was in pursuit of Bessie Davis, a woman who had allegedly besmirched his good name with terrible lies. Williams asserted that Green had been protecting Davis. Authorities deemed Williams "obviously deranged," and he was sent to the state hospital for the criminally insane4.

Despite Green's contributions to society and his tragic death, the only dedication to him in all of New York City is the Andrew H. Green memorial bench in Central Park. Manhattan Borough Historian Michael Miscione has taken up the cause of erecting a more fitting monument in Green's honor. Miscione has also suggested renaming the Washington Bridge after Green, since the construction of the bridge was originally his idea. Miscione hopes to gain recognition for New York's unsung civic hero5.

Key Events Places and Dates

1895 - Founded American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society.

Offices Held

  • President of New York City Board of Education, 1855-1860
  • Central Park Commissioner, 1857
  • New York City Comptroller, 1871-1877

Andrew Haswell Green, New York's little known civic hero, was a major player in preservation's history. He founded The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society in 1895. This organization, originally called the Trustees of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects in the State of New York, was dedicated to enriching the urban landscape and protecting historic structures and natural sites from destruction, decay and encroachment. Even after the organization was renamed, the primary focus remained on the interests of the state of New York. The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society survived until the 1970’s, and played a major role in many New York preservation battles6.

Green served as both a member and President of the state reservation at Niagara Falls for twenty years. He battled successfully to save the Hudson Palisades, a line of steep cliffs along the west side of the lower Hudson River in northeast New Jersey and southern New York. He also fought to preserve individual buildings, such as the old City Hall7.

Green, himself, was one of the key individuals who steered the construction of Central Park. In 1857, Green was appointed as one of eleven commissioners who were charged with the regulation and government of Central Park.

As a commissioner, he sought to extend Central Park up to 110th street, four more blocks than were originally designated in the plan. He also lobbied for better access to the Park from the West Side, and called for the implementation of tree lawns to separate and protect carriage, horse and pedestrian traffic. Due to his efforts, he managed to get zoning regulations passed to regulate the design and size of buildings on the park’s perimeter. He enriched Central Park by establishing both scientific and cultural institutions, such as the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Observatory, within the Park. Even Frederick Law Olmsted, who worked with Green on the Commission and frequently disagreed with him, conceded that, "Green did a hundred times more work than the rest of the commission together8."

Confirming Olmsted's observation, historian Kenneth T. Jackson has said that, "Green is arguably the most important leader in Gotham’s long history, more important than Peter Stuyvesant, Alexander Hamilton, Frederick Law Olmsted, Robert Moses and Fiorello La Guardia," and yet, he remains largely unknown9.

Archives, Personal files, and Ephemera

A.H. Green Papers, 1894.
New York Public Library
Room 328
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018-2788
(212) 930-0801
  • 1. Hammack, David C. "Comprehensive Planning before the Comprehensive Plan: A New Look at the Nineteenth Century American City," In Two centuries of American Planning.
  • 2. Miscione, Michael. "Rediscovering Andrew Haswell Green:" An open Letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, All City Representatives and Public Official.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Durst, Seymour. "Andrew Haswell Green, Where Are You When We Need You?" New York Times, November 13, 1988.
  • 5. Miscione, Michael. "A Man, a Span, a Plan:" New York Times, May 20, 2001.
  • 6. Anthony C. Wood. Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City's Landmarks. (New York: Routledge, 2007). Page 16.
  • 7. Durst, Seymour. "Andrew Haswell Green, Where Are You When We Need You?" New York Times, November 13, 1988.
  • 8. Hammack, David C. "Comprehensive Planning before the Comprehensive Plan: A New Look at the Nineteenth Century American City," In Two Centuries of American Planning.
  • 9. Anthony C. Wood. Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City's Landmarks. (New York: Routledge, 2007). Page 16.