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Andrew Haswell Green

Also known as Andrew Green

Unsung civic hero Andrew Haswell Green was involved in many preservation-related issues during his lifetime, including the founding of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society.

People: Michael Miscione, William Tweed, Robert Moses
Organizations: The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, New York City Board of Education
Places: Central Park, Fort Washington Park, Morningside Park, New York Public Library, Riverside Park
Above: Andrew Haswell Green, 1899; Courtesy of Success Magazine

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 24 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 economy.”1

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 years.2

Andrew Haswell Green improved New York in many other ways as well. He was responsible for adding Riverside Park, Morningside Park, and Fort Washington Park 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 1860s he began a bridge campaign that was designed as 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, 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 York.”3

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 insane.4

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 one of New York’s unsung civic heroes.5

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 1970s, and played a major role in many New York preservation battles.6

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 City Hall.7

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 together.”8

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 unknown.9

  • A. H. Green Papers, 1894
    New York Public Library, Room 328
    Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
    New York, NY 10018-2788
    Tel: (212) 930-0801
  1. 
David C. Hammack, “Comprehensive Planning before the Comprehensive Plan: A New Look at the Nineteenth Century American City,” in Daniel Schaffer, ed., Two Centuries of American Planning (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988).
  2. 
Michael Miscione, “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. 
Seymour Durst, “Andrew Haswell Green, Where Are You When We Need You?” The New York Times, 13 November 1988.
  5. 
Michael Miscione, “A Man, a Span, a Plan:” The New York Times, 20 May 2001.
  6. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 16.
  7. 
Seymour Durst, “Andrew Haswell Green, Where Are You When We Need You?” The New York Times, 13 November 1988.
  8. 
David C. Hammack, “Comprehensive Planning before the Comprehensive Plan: A New Look at the Nineteenth Century American City,” in Daniel Schaffer, ed., Two Centuries of American Planning (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988).
  9. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 16.