Blockhouse #1

Location: Northwest Central Park just south of Central Park North, between Central Park West and Powell Blvd.

Date of Visit: April 3, 2017. (Visited St. John the Divine earlier that afternoon.)

Open Hrs. ADA Accessbility? Admission Website
  • Central Pk:
    Daily: 6am-1am
No Public Website
Afternoon Reflections
Blockhouse from back of the hill.

Central Park is a home of many secrets. If you know where to go and spend time exploring, chances are you’ll discover something many don’t know existed. In Morningside Heights and just off the northwest corner of Central Park, Blockhouse #1 is a very visible secret.


The Blockhouse’s foundations date back during the Revolutionary War, but construction didn’t begin until during the War of 1812. After the British attacked Connecticut, General Joseph Swift recruited volunteers from the New York area, and they hastily constructed a series of forts along Morningside Heights — including #1 — in case the Royal Navy invaded Manhattan from the north. Fortunately, the British never did, so the Blockhouses never saw combat. After the Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve 1814 (two days after Blockhouse #1 was complete), they were all immediately abandoned. Today, the Central Park Blockhouse is the only one standing.

Over the years, the Blockhouse’s construction included two other phases: storing ammunition and adding two extra feet of stone on top; and then adding the current entrance, staircase, and tall flagpole (usually flying the American and smaller POW/MIA flags). In 1905, a plaque dedicated to it went missing. In 1999, a new one was installed in its place, but went missing again by 2003.

Be Close, Look Up
Looking up the flagpole.

Outside of The Obelisk, it’s Central Park’s oldest structure. During the warmer months, ivy grows on the deserted walls.

A Quiet Wonder

There are many really quiet areas in Central Park, and Blockhouse #1 and the surrounding hill are no exception. It’s a tough walk to there, especially from the north, where each stone stair is old, steep, and weathered. From the south, the hill can be slippery.

But once you arrive at the site, it can look breathtaking. Stand at the top of the hill, and you can see Central Park North and its traffic, while the surrounding area is quiet and calm. Sometimes you’ll hear leaves rustle from the wind in the spring and summer or animals during autumn and winter, birds chirping, or see squirrels running. On the day I visited, squirrels began searching for grub they buried before hibernation, and birds either flew or searched under the mulch for food.

The Blockhouse itself shows age. Ivy vines twisted, twirled, and pierced through the red stone. Its staircase to the gate is lowly crumbling. The gate, padlock, and fence posts are very rusty. However, all of this adds character to not only the fort, but the hill, too; it’s not Central Park’s oldest structure for nothing. On its own merits, the fort can be considered boring, but when you judge it on his history, it’s historically significant. There may not be any war scars, but longtime weather affected it. But the Central Park Conservancy has been able to preserve it, and chances are it’ll be preserved for years to come. The people who built it are long gone, but their ancestry remains here.


Depending on your preference, it may bore you to the point where you won’t want to be there for other than a few minutes. But boring doesn’t mean important. It’s been around since 1814 and remains an important piece of history about a war that isn’t discussed much nowadays. It’s over two centuries old and shows it, but it’s preserved really well. Blockhouse #1 isn’t exactly one of the most beautiful or spectacular landmarks in Central Park, but it’s worth a visit.

Best Directions:

  • By subway, take the 2 or 3 train to Central Pk. N. and Malcolm X Blvd or the A/C/D/B train via 8th Avenue/Central Pk. W. to W. 110 (Cathedral Parkway).

    By bus, take the M2, M3, or M4 along Central Park North (the M2 to Powell Blvd. only) or the M10 along Central Park West.

Visitation Tips:

Powell Blvd. entrance. The Blockhouse is down the pathway.
  • This location isn’t ADA-accessible at all. Some trails leading to the Blockhouse has lots of steep stairs, and the Blockhouse is located at the very top of a hill.

    There are very slippery rocks surrounding the back of the hill, making it difficult to climb unless you have good sneakers. Additionally, the top of the hill has a cliff with a twenty-five-foot drop with no fencing. So if you’re afraid of heights and/or if the weather may get bad, stay clear of the cliff.
  • There is a white birch tree near the padlocked door with lots of carved messages on them, problably by people who visited the place in the past. Don’t do it: Central Park trees are public property, so to chisel is vandalism. Secondly, to carve messages on trees desecrates the woods’s beauty.
  • Near the area are lots of grassland with a fence separating the trees/mulch and the pathways, some of which lead to the Blockhouse. As always, for respect of the wildlife there, don’t trespass on the grassland.
  • Photography and videography are permitted.
  • For safety advice, don’t be out there at or near dusk, twilight, or nighttime. The surrounding area has no lighting, and the hill itself has no lampposts. An unfenced cliff plus steep stairs plus slippery rocks plus no lighting equals bad news. So if you go there in the late afternoon, leave no later than at least ninety minutes before dusk.
  • The transit system changes periodically, usually every quarter, so check the train, bus schedules, and traffic alert before planning.

    Bus options can be unrelible sometimes, so check traffic reports and MTA Bustime (a real-time bus locator) before taking one.