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The Lullwater from Nethermead Circuit, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

This year, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is celebrating its 150th birthday, marked by an opening bash this past weekend. The 585-acre urban oasis of winding trails through forests, a sprawling lawn, and a serene lake, is as much a work of human engineering as nature. The landscape architecture team Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux guided the placement of each boulder and tree (using a custom tree-moving machine), with 2,000 workers planting flora and hand-digging the lake with picks and shovels. Glacial ponds from New York’s ice age were gently shaped into Victorian ideals, and touches like a dairy with live sheep and cows contributed to the rustic experience.

After Olmsted and Vaux had completed Central Park, which was established in 1857, they weren’t eager to take on another New York City park project. Olmsted wrote that he was frustrated at “accommodating myself to infernal scoundrels.” Yet Brooklyn philanthropist and politician James S. T. Stranahan helped convince the duo to cross the East River for greater creative freedom. When the park opened in 1867, it represented the height of their ideas on nature’s potential to morally elevate humanity.

The park has changed over the years. The dairy is gone, as are some questionable additions like a replica of Mount Vernon constructed in 1932 under Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. In the later 20th century, Prospect Park fell into disrepair, its recent revitalization led by the Prospect Park Alliance that formed in 1987. (Happy 30th to them!) Below, you can contrast the 19th-century park through selections from the New York Public Library’s collection of stereoscopic images, to photographs of the park in the 21st century. And if you want to see the stereo cards in motion, click over to the NYPL Stereogranimator to animate the archival views.

Ambergill Falls, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Ambergill Falls, Prospect Park (2012) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Lincoln monument, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Lincoln monument, Prospect Park (2016) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Lullwater Bridge, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Lullwater Bridge, Prospect Park (2016) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Rustic arbor, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Rustic arbor, Prospect Park (2016) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Lake, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

The Lake, Prospect Park (2017) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Camperdown Elm, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

The Camperdown Elm, Prospect Park (2015) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Cleft Ridge Span, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Cleft Ridge Span, Prospect Park (2017) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Concert Grove, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Concert Grove, Prospect Park (2017) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Concert Grove, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Concert Grove, Prospect Park (2013) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Concert Grove, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Concert Grove, Prospect Park (2013) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Waterlilies, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Waterlilies, Prospect Park (2016) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Litchfield Villa, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Litchfield Villa, Prospect Park (2016) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Binnen Bridge and Cascade, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

The Binnen Bridge and Cascade (2017) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Waterfall, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Waterfall, Prospect Park (2015) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Rustic arbor, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Rustic arbor, Prospect Park (2017) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Boating on the lake, Prospect Park, stereoscopic view (courtesy Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library)

Boating on Lullwater, Prospect Park (2012) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...