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Prospect Park: secrets of Brooklyn’s beloved park

Explore the lesser-known corners of one of Brooklyn’s best parks

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This year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of Prospect Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's other great parkland masterpiece. (There's also that big central one in upper Manhattan, but we forget what it's called.)

What it lacks in size compared with its neighbor to the north, Prospect Park makes up for in ingenious landscaping, plenty of diversions and a refreshing lack of tourists. In modern times, the park's story has been one of neglect followed by restoration. Today, it maintains many of its historical elements while also constantly revamping and evolving—just like the borough that surrounds it.

Here's a rundown of some of Prospect Park's hidden corners and interesting byways, plus the stories of a few of its stranger artifacts. (And the less said about that "aggressive squirrel," the better.)

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1. Mount Prospect Park

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Eastern Pkwy
Brooklyn, NY 11238
(212) 639-9675
Visit Website

Off Eastern Parkway near the Brooklyn Museum, you'll find a staircase that leads away from the bustle to the second-highest point in Brooklyn. (The highest is Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery.) To call it a "mount" is generous—it's only 200 feet above sea level—but it served as a lookout point for the Continental Army during the Battle of Brooklyn in the Revolutionary War as they defended the Heights of Guan (now the neighborhood of Gowanus) from the British. There's not much of a view these days thanks to the buildings that have sprouted up around it, but there's now a playground and a wide lawn for lounging high(ish) above it all.

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2. The Rose Garden

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420 Flatbush Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11225

Not all of Prospect Park is equally maintained; one area that until recently had fallen particularly into neglect was the Rose Garden, which sadly hasn't had a rose growing in it since the 1960s. But in its heyday in the 1880s, the garden bloomed and boasted a pool with goldfish swimming inside. Earlier this summer in honor of the park's 150th anniversary, the the Connective Project to install 7,000 sunflower-yellow pinwheels in the onetime flower beds. Keep an eye on this spot: It's the focal point of the Prospect Park Alliance's new restoration project.

Courtesy Prospect Park Alliance

3. Vale of Cashmere

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-
Brooklyn, NY 11238

This extravagantly named chunk of parkland takes its title from a Thomas Moore poem about a region of Northern India. It was once a children's play area and then a formal garden, but much like the nearby Rose Garden, it's fallen into disrepair. Since then, the area has come to resemble a fairyland, with flowers and trees growing wild in an abandoned fountain. It's also held an important place in the history of Brooklyn's gay cruising scene, as documented in photographer Thomas Roma's book In the Vale of Cashmere. The Prospect Park Alliance is beginning restoration efforts in the Vale, removing invasive weeds (using goats!) before beginning reforestation in the area.

4. Lefferts Historic House

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452 Flatbush Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11225
(718) 789-2822
Visit Website

Get a peek at Brooklyn's bucolic past at this Dutch Colonial farmhouse, built in 1783 by Pieter Lefferts. Originally located on Flatbush Avenue, the house managed to survive the Industrial Revolution before it was relocated to the park in 1918 to prevent it from being knocked down. Now it's a kid-friendly museum offering an immersive experience in the 18th-century farming lifestyle, complete with candle making and butter churning demonstrations.

5. The Ravine

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95 Prospect Park W
Brooklyn, NY 11215
(718) 965-8951
Visit Website

Deep in the center of the park, this lush woodland holds the title of Brooklyn's only forest. Olmsted and Vaux designed the Ravine with Adirondack landscapes in mind, and as such it's an oasis of winding trails, waterfalls, rustic bridges and even a small gorge. Erosion and overuse threatened the forest until reclamation efforts began in the 1990s, and now it's almost back to its former glory. If you're looking for wildlife in the park, this is the place to find it.

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6. Prospect Park Carousel

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95 Prospect Park West
Brooklyn, NY 11225
(718) 965-8951
Visit Website

This carousel near Flatbush Avenue is a few notches above your average kid's ride. Built in 1912 by master carousel maker Charles Carmel, its elaborately decorated wooden menagerie includes 53 horses, a lion, a giraffe, two dragons, and a deer with inlaid with real antlers. The carousel was restored in 1987, and can be ridden today for $2 a pop.

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7. Prospect Park Dog Beach

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(718) 965-8951
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This small area off the Upper Pool is notable not so much for its beauty but for the park visitors who frequent it: Brooklyn's endless, varied parade of dogs. Particularly during off-leash hours in the early morning and evenings, the shallows of Upper Pool are swarming with frolicking canines cooling off after a run in the Long Meadow. The beach reopened after renovations just this summer, having replaced its ugly concrete entryway with stone slabs meant to mimic an Adirondack streambed.

A post shared by Vincenzo Galgano (@vvvvincenzo) on

8. Prospect Park Boathouse

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101 East Dr
Brooklyn, NY 11225
(646) 393-9031
Visit Website

Prospect Park's water features are actually all part of one water way, from the Lake in the south part of the park to the Upper Pool in the north. Perhaps its most picturesque portion is the Lullwater, a wide basin modeled after the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park. Beside it is a 1900s Beaux Arts boathouse designed by Helme & Huberty. In addition to being rented out as an events venue, the landmarked building is home to the Audubon Center, dedicated to bird conservation. The Boathouse was saved from demolition thanks to preservation efforts in 1964, and went on to be a filming location in Martin Scorsese's 1993 movie The Age of Innocence. 

Prospect Park then and now Shutterstock

9. Camperdown Elm

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Lullwater Bridge
Brooklyn, NY 11225

If Prospect Park's weirdest tree looks like it came from another time and place altogether, that's because it did. This knotty, twisting elm was donated to the park in 1872, using a cutting from the singular trees that grew on the estate of the Earl of Camperdown in Dundee, Scotland. The elm fell into neglect until it was saved from the ax and restored to health thanks to Pulitzer-winning poet Marianne Moore, who used it as a symbol to help found the Friends of Prospect Park. Moore even wrote a verse ode to the tree, in which she dubbed it Brooklyn's "crowning curio."

A post shared by Jennifer Jadach (@jenn27j) on

10. Concert Grove

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153 East Dr
Brooklyn, NY 11225

The park's extensive Lakeside project, which opened in 2013, included the restoration of several original Olmsted and Vaux landscape elements that had been bulldozed to make way for Wollman Rink in the 1960s. Among the revived areas is this shady grove facing out onto the lake, which originally served as a venue for live alfresco performance. Its musical legacy lives on in 19th-century busts of composers that dot the grove, including the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Grieg. The grove also includes the dubiously named Oriental Pavilion, designed in the 1870s to approximate a Middle Eastern architectural style.

11. Friends Quaker Cemetery

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Though it's closed to the public, you can still catch glimpses inside this small, 19th-century cemetery on the southwest side of the park. Opened in 1849 by the Society of Friends, the graveyard actually predates the park and is now private land within it. Among the prominent Quakers buried here are Raymond Ingersoll, former Brooklyn Borough President, and Montgomery Clift, the midcentury Hollywood heartthrob who died young in 1966 and was buried here at the behest of his Quaker mother.

Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons

12. Imagination Playground

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159 East Dr
Brooklyn, NY 11225

This playground along Flatbush Avenue is the most visually interesting of Prospect Park's kid spaces. Among its diversions is a bronze dragon that spews water; and a statue of depicting Peter and his dog Willie, characters in children's books by beloved Brooklyn author Ezra Jack Keats. As its name suggests, this playground has nontraditional structures for kids to play on, like a stagelike area overseen by a giant eye and a curling bridge that resembles a piano.

Courtesy of NYC Parks

13. Lookout Hill

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150 West Dr
Brooklyn, NY 11218

The best views to be had in Prospect Park are from atop this 177-foot-high hill overlooking the Lake. At the bottom you'll find a monument erected to the memory of the Maryland 400, a company of American troops who held the hill while Washington's army retreated during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. There used to be a wide path for well-to-do Brooklynites to take their carriages up the hill, but these days you can go on foot via a stone staircase. On a clear day when the leaves are off the trees, you can see all the way to Coney Island.

14. The Peristyle

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Park side avenue & Parade place
Brooklyn, NY 11215
(718) 965-8951
Visit Website

Also known as the Grecian Shelter, this neoclassical structure on the southern end of the park was designed in 1905 by legendary architect Stanford White. (He was murdered a year after its completion.) Open to the air and held up by limestone Corinthian columns, the Peristyle looks like it might have fallen through a time portal from Ancient Greece. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Shutterstock

15. Prospect Park Parade Ground

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Coney Island Ave & Parkside Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11218
(718) 965-8951
Visit Website

Situated at the very bottom of the park across Parkside Avenue, the Parade Ground is a 40-acre expanse dedicated to sports of all stripes, with public spaces for baseball, football, tennis and soccer. In the 19th century, the Parade Ground was used for military drilling by the Union Army and the Coast Guard. Today, it's famous for a different reason: The ballfields here have been early swinging grounds for dozens of World Series-winning MLB players, including Sandy Koufax, Tommy Davis and Joe Torre.

1. Mount Prospect Park

Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Off Eastern Parkway near the Brooklyn Museum, you'll find a staircase that leads away from the bustle to the second-highest point in Brooklyn. (The highest is Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery.) To call it a "mount" is generous—it's only 200 feet above sea level—but it served as a lookout point for the Continental Army during the Battle of Brooklyn in the Revolutionary War as they defended the Heights of Guan (now the neighborhood of Gowanus) from the British. There's not much of a view these days thanks to the buildings that have sprouted up around it, but there's now a playground and a wide lawn for lounging high(ish) above it all.

Eastern Pkwy
Brooklyn, NY 11238

2. The Rose Garden

420 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225
Courtesy Prospect Park Alliance

Not all of Prospect Park is equally maintained; one area that until recently had fallen particularly into neglect was the Rose Garden, which sadly hasn't had a rose growing in it since the 1960s. But in its heyday in the 1880s, the garden bloomed and boasted a pool with goldfish swimming inside. Earlier this summer in honor of the park's 150th anniversary, the the Connective Project to install 7,000 sunflower-yellow pinwheels in the onetime flower beds. Keep an eye on this spot: It's the focal point of the Prospect Park Alliance's new restoration project.

420 Flatbush Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11225

3. Vale of Cashmere

-, Brooklyn, NY 11238

This extravagantly named chunk of parkland takes its title from a Thomas Moore poem about a region of Northern India. It was once a children's play area and then a formal garden, but much like the nearby Rose Garden, it's fallen into disrepair. Since then, the area has come to resemble a fairyland, with flowers and trees growing wild in an abandoned fountain. It's also held an important place in the history of Brooklyn's gay cruising scene, as documented in photographer Thomas Roma's book In the Vale of Cashmere. The Prospect Park Alliance is beginning restoration efforts in the Vale, removing invasive weeds (using goats!) before beginning reforestation in the area.

-
Brooklyn, NY 11238

4. Lefferts Historic House

452 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225

Get a peek at Brooklyn's bucolic past at this Dutch Colonial farmhouse, built in 1783 by Pieter Lefferts. Originally located on Flatbush Avenue, the house managed to survive the Industrial Revolution before it was relocated to the park in 1918 to prevent it from being knocked down. Now it's a kid-friendly museum offering an immersive experience in the 18th-century farming lifestyle, complete with candle making and butter churning demonstrations.

452 Flatbush Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11225

5. The Ravine

95 Prospect Park W, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Deep in the center of the park, this lush woodland holds the title of Brooklyn's only forest. Olmsted and Vaux designed the Ravine with Adirondack landscapes in mind, and as such it's an oasis of winding trails, waterfalls, rustic bridges and even a small gorge. Erosion and overuse threatened the forest until reclamation efforts began in the 1990s, and now it's almost back to its former glory. If you're looking for wildlife in the park, this is the place to find it.

95 Prospect Park W
Brooklyn, NY 11215

6. Prospect Park Carousel

95 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY 11225

This carousel near Flatbush Avenue is a few notches above your average kid's ride. Built in 1912 by master carousel maker Charles Carmel, its elaborately decorated wooden menagerie includes 53 horses, a lion, a giraffe, two dragons, and a deer with inlaid with real antlers. The carousel was restored in 1987, and can be ridden today for $2 a pop.

95 Prospect Park West
Brooklyn, NY 11225

7. Prospect Park Dog Beach

Brooklyn, NY 11215

This small area off the Upper Pool is notable not so much for its beauty but for the park visitors who frequent it: Brooklyn's endless, varied parade of dogs. Particularly during off-leash hours in the early morning and evenings, the shallows of Upper Pool are swarming with frolicking canines cooling off after a run in the Long Meadow. The beach reopened after renovations just this summer, having replaced its ugly concrete entryway with stone slabs meant to mimic an Adirondack streambed.

8. Prospect Park Boathouse

101 East Dr, Brooklyn, NY 11225
Prospect Park then and now Shutterstock

Prospect Park's water features are actually all part of one water way, from the Lake in the south part of the park to the Upper Pool in the north. Perhaps its most picturesque portion is the Lullwater, a wide basin modeled after the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park. Beside it is a 1900s Beaux Arts boathouse designed by Helme & Huberty. In addition to being rented out as an events venue, the landmarked building is home to the Audubon Center, dedicated to bird conservation. The Boathouse was saved from demolition thanks to preservation efforts in 1964, and went on to be a filming location in Martin Scorsese's 1993 movie The Age of Innocence. 

101 East Dr
Brooklyn, NY 11225

9. Camperdown Elm

Lullwater Bridge, Brooklyn, NY 11225

If Prospect Park's weirdest tree looks like it came from another time and place altogether, that's because it did. This knotty, twisting elm was donated to the park in 1872, using a cutting from the singular trees that grew on the estate of the Earl of Camperdown in Dundee, Scotland. The elm fell into neglect until it was saved from the ax and restored to health thanks to Pulitzer-winning poet Marianne Moore, who used it as a symbol to help found the Friends of Prospect Park. Moore even wrote a verse ode to the tree, in which she dubbed it Brooklyn's "crowning curio."

Lullwater Bridge
Brooklyn, NY 11225

10. Concert Grove

153 East Dr, Brooklyn, NY 11225

The park's extensive Lakeside project, which opened in 2013, included the restoration of several original Olmsted and Vaux landscape elements that had been bulldozed to make way for Wollman Rink in the 1960s. Among the revived areas is this shady grove facing out onto the lake, which originally served as a venue for live alfresco performance. Its musical legacy lives on in 19th-century busts of composers that dot the grove, including the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Grieg. The grove also includes the dubiously named Oriental Pavilion, designed in the 1870s to approximate a Middle Eastern architectural style.

153 East Dr
Brooklyn, NY 11225

11. Friends Quaker Cemetery

Brooklyn, NY 11215
Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons

Though it's closed to the public, you can still catch glimpses inside this small, 19th-century cemetery on the southwest side of the park. Opened in 1849 by the Society of Friends, the graveyard actually predates the park and is now private land within it. Among the prominent Quakers buried here are Raymond Ingersoll, former Brooklyn Borough President, and Montgomery Clift, the midcentury Hollywood heartthrob who died young in 1966 and was buried here at the behest of his Quaker mother.

12. Imagination Playground

159 East Dr, Brooklyn, NY 11225
Courtesy of NYC Parks

This playground along Flatbush Avenue is the most visually interesting of Prospect Park's kid spaces. Among its diversions is a bronze dragon that spews water; and a statue of depicting Peter and his dog Willie, characters in children's books by beloved Brooklyn author Ezra Jack Keats. As its name suggests, this playground has nontraditional structures for kids to play on, like a stagelike area overseen by a giant eye and a curling bridge that resembles a piano.

159 East Dr
Brooklyn, NY 11225

13. Lookout Hill

150 West Dr, Brooklyn, NY 11218

The best views to be had in Prospect Park are from atop this 177-foot-high hill overlooking the Lake. At the bottom you'll find a monument erected to the memory of the Maryland 400, a company of American troops who held the hill while Washington's army retreated during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. There used to be a wide path for well-to-do Brooklynites to take their carriages up the hill, but these days you can go on foot via a stone staircase. On a clear day when the leaves are off the trees, you can see all the way to Coney Island.

150 West Dr
Brooklyn, NY 11218

14. The Peristyle

Park side avenue & Parade place, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Shutterstock

Also known as the Grecian Shelter, this neoclassical structure on the southern end of the park was designed in 1905 by legendary architect Stanford White. (He was murdered a year after its completion.) Open to the air and held up by limestone Corinthian columns, the Peristyle looks like it might have fallen through a time portal from Ancient Greece. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Park side avenue & Parade place
Brooklyn, NY 11215

15. Prospect Park Parade Ground

Coney Island Ave & Parkside Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11218

Situated at the very bottom of the park across Parkside Avenue, the Parade Ground is a 40-acre expanse dedicated to sports of all stripes, with public spaces for baseball, football, tennis and soccer. In the 19th century, the Parade Ground was used for military drilling by the Union Army and the Coast Guard. Today, it's famous for a different reason: The ballfields here have been early swinging grounds for dozens of World Series-winning MLB players, including Sandy Koufax, Tommy Davis and Joe Torre.

Coney Island Ave & Parkside Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11218