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African Burial Ground and the Commons Historic District

NYC Landmarks50 Alliance

NYC Landmarks50 Alliance
New York, United States

Designated for the historical and archaeological importance of the ground on which it is situated, this district contains material from the earliest African, Dutch, and English Settlements of New York. A number of individual landmark buildings (City Hall, 52 Chambers Street, Surrogate's Court, Sun Building, and the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank Building) are located here.

Originally set aside as the Commons by the Dutch, this land has been a center of New York civic life since the seventeenth century. The English established the city's northern border midway through the Commons, at today's Chambers Street, and eventually fortified it with a palisades wall. Before the French and Indian War (1754-63), the southern half was converted into military ground and after independence the area was transformed into City Hall Park, the seat of the New York City government.

By the 1700s, the African population, both free and enslaved, accounted for approximately one of every seven city residents. New York's emancipated Africans were forced to bury their dead outside of the city, on the north side of the palisades. In the early nineteenth century, as the city expanded northward, the so-called African burial ground was built over with residential, commercial, industrial and public buildings. During excavation work in 1991 for a new federal office building, the remains of over 400 people were unearthed, at which point the General Services Administration began work on the African Burial Ground Project, the single most important historic urban archaeological project undertaken in the United States.

In 2006, the site was declared a National Monument, and transferred to the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. On October 7, 2007, a commemorative memorial by architect Rodney Leon was dedicated in tribute to the site's history. The memorial is located at the corner of Duane and Elk Streets and an interpretive center has been installed within the lobby of 290 Broadway. Both are open for public tours. ©2014

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  • Title: African Burial Ground and the Commons Historic District
  • Photo Credit: Tessa Hartley
  • Image Caption: African Burial Ground and the Commons Historic District
  • Designation Date: Designated: February 23, 1993
  • Borough: Manhattan

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