pro consolidation

Andrew Haswell Green

Andrew [Haswell] Green (1820 - November 13, 1903) was a New York lawyer, city planner, civic leader and agitator for reform. Called by some historians a hundred years later "the 19th century Robert Moses," he held several offices and played important roles in many projects, including Riverside Drive, Morningside Park, Fort Washington Park, and Central Park. His last great project was the consolidation of the "Imperial City" or City of Greater New York from the earlier cities of New York, Brooklyn and Long Island City, and still largely rural parts of Westchester, Richmond and Queens Counties. He chaired the 1897 committee that drew up the plan of amalgamation.


1820 Andrew Haswell Green, one of eleven children, is born near Worcester, Massachusetts to a prominent family.

1835 Green moves to New York, where two of his sisters run a school for young girls.

1845 Green becomes a lawyer under the tutelage of railroad attorney and future Democratic governor and presidential candidate, Samuel J. Tilden.

1854 Green is elected to the New York City Board of Education. He soon becomes its president.

1857 The Republican-led New York State Legislature begins to institute measures to control the municipal affairs of the largely Democratic metropolitan region. One act creates the Central Park Commission (CPC). Green is appointed to the CPC, eventually becoming its head.

1858 Olmsted and Vaux’s Greensward Plan for Central Park is chosen by the CPC, thanks largely to Green’s influence. The CPC’s work will proceed under Green’s leadership, despite resistance from resentful local Tammany Hall politicians who have little control of the project.

1859 With Green’s coaxing, the legislature begins to expand the CPC’s authority, transforming it into the city’s first comprehensive planning body. In the next decade the CPC plans and/or proposes improvements in northern Manhattan, the Harlem River and today’s Bronx. Projects include Riverside, Morningside and Ft. Washington Parks; the street plan above 155 Street; a widened and straightened Broadway; a Grand Circle at 59th Street and Eighth Avenue, and more.

1868 Green proposes municipal consolidation of the entire metropolitan region to aid city planning, but his idea is viewed as premature. (Others had suggested various consolidation schemes as early as the late 1820s.)

1869 Envisioning Central Park as the cultural center of NYC, Green gets approval for the CPC to create the American Museum of Natural History, and then the Metropolitan Museum of Art, two prototypical public-private institutions.

1870 A new home-rule (“Tweed”) charter ends the state-run CPC. However, the city’s Departments of Public Works and Public Parks will eventually execute most of the CPC’s unfinished plans.

1871 The Tweed Ring is exposed. Green is made Comptroller to sort out the ring’s crippling theft and graft. He uses his personal credit to obtain funds to cover the city payroll. He cuts waste and halts most public works to spare the city from bankruptcy. Critics claim his retrenchment policy is too arbitrary and severe. Green serves until 1876.

1874 The City formally expands beyond Manhattan Island when the southwestern corner of Westchester County is annexed. It is called the Annexed District, later to become the western part of The Bronx.

1883 Brooklyn Bridge opens. Much public talk of formally uniting NYC and Brooklyn, but nothing comes of it.

Niagara (Falls) Park Commission is created to establish NY’s first state park and defend the falls. Green soon becomes president of the commission and will serve until his death.

1886 Samuel J. Tilden dies, leaving a vast fortune to create a public library for NYC but his will is contested by relatives. The executors – Green and two others – must make do with fewer funds. Green will propose consolidating the Tilden Trust with the Astor and Lenox Libraries, leading eventually to the New York Public Library.

1889 The Washington Bridge, a span over the Harlem River that Green had long championed, is completed.

Sentiment builds in the business community for municipal consolidation of the metropolitan region to protect the mismanaged port. The NYS legislature creates a commission to explore consolidation, with Green at its head. Green immediately proposes an ambitious consolidation plan that will be rebuffed a number of times, mostly by Brooklynites who call the movement “Green’s hobby.”

1894 Changing his approach, Green gets a nonbinding consolidation referendum on the ballot. Most surrounding municipalities vote in favor of consolidation, but Brooklyn’s pro-consolidation majority is razor thin – only about 0.2%! Alarmed by the results, opponents will lobby to thwart subsequent bills by Green and others.

Green rallies preservation-minded New Yorkers against the proposed destruction or removal of the New York City Hall building. The next year he will form the city’s first formal preservation and conservation group, to be called the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. The society will create parks and rescue endangered sites throughout New York City and State before folding in the 1970s.

1895 Eastern portion of today’s Bronx annexed by NYC.

Motivated by politics, Republican Party boss Thomas C. Platt embraces Green’s consolidation plan. He pushes the measure through the legislature in 1896. A Greater New York charter is passed in 1897.

1898 Consolidation takes effect January 1. New York City expands from approximately 60 square miles to over 300, and becomes the “World’s Second City,” behind only London in population.

An island at Niagara Falls is named for Green.

1902 Cornerstone is laid for the New York Public Library.

1903 Green is murdered in a case of mistaken identity. He is buried in Worcester. In 1905 his family estate in that city is turned into a public park.

1929 The Andrew H. Green Memorial Bench is dedicated in Central Park. It is surrounded by five elms, representing the five boroughs. In the 1980s the bench will be moved to another hill overlooking Harlem Meer, and new trees will be planted in 1998.

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