Harlem Meer

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Coordinates: 40°47′47.8″N 73°57′6″W / 40.796611°N 73.95167°W / 40.796611; -73.95167

The Harlem Meer and Dana Discovery Center (far shore)
Map of notable buildings and structures at Central Park (note: not all entrances shown). Pan and zoom the map and click on points for more details.

Harlem Meer is a lake at the northeast corner of New York City's Central Park. It lies west of Fifth Avenue, south of 110th Street, and north of the Conservatory Garden. The Meer has a meandering shoreline that wraps around the bluff that contains the remains of gun emplacements erected for the War of 1812 (but never used). After the 1966 completion of the Lasker Skating Rink and Swimming Pool, the Harlem Meer was reduced to 11 acres (45,000 m2) in size and 0.75 miles (1.21 km) in circumference.


The Harlem Meer, named after the nearby neighborhood of Harlem and the Dutch word for "lake", occupies the northeast corner of Central Park, close to North Woods and North Meadow. Both sections of the park were added to the original park site, which originally ended at 106th Street. The Meer, as Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the designers of Central Park, named it, was excavated at the lowest-lying section of the park, a semi-brackish, partly tidal wetland, which drained slowly into the East River.[1] It separated the former suburb of Harlem to the north from the lower part of Manhattan Island. To avoid the swamp, the Boston Post Road detoured westwards into the future park site, rising to cross McGown's Pass.[2]

The creation of the Meer and its adjacent wooded landscape was carried out by Andrew Haswell Green, to Olmsted and Vaux's specifications, from 1861, when Olmsted had been relegated to an advisory capacity.

1988-1993 restoration[edit]

Harlem Meer and Dana Discovery Center

The Harlem Meer was restored in 1988–1993 by the Central Park Conservancy. A concrete perimeter curb (installed in the 1940s) was removed and replaced by a more natural shoreline. As part of the restoration, the Meer was dredged and 34,000 cubic yards (26,000 m3) of sediment and debris were removed.[3] On the north shore, the Conservancy built the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center to provide a visitors' center at the north end of Central Park. The center was designed by the architects Buttrick White & Burtis in a style intended to harmonize with Calvert Vaux's original Victorian park structures. [4]


The waterside plaza next to the Dana Discovery Center is currently the site for the Sunday afternoon Harlem Meer Performance Festival, from mid-June to the first week of September. Catch-and-release fishing is a favorite summertime occupation along the Meer's banks. Besides the usual yellow perch and crappie, anglers have reported catches of the predatory Asian northern snakehead, Channa argus, a notoriously invasive species.[5]

An island in the Meer provides a retreat for waterfowl, particularly black-crowned night herons. The Meer also has a resident population of muskrats.

In literature[edit]

Ron P. Swegman, an author who writes about fly fishing, made the Harlem Meer a focal point of his essay collection Small Fry: The Lure of the Little.[6] The book includes a section titled "Bright Fish, Big Cities",[7] a pun on the New York novel Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney; it details the Meer's history and describes the experience of fly fishing there in the early 21st century.



  1. ^ Harlem Commons, as the area was known, was disputed between the City of New York and the heirs of the Harlem freeholders for most of the 18th century. It was divided into house lots and sold in 1825. (James Riker, Harlem (City of New York): its origin and early annals 1881, p. 472f.
  2. ^ "Early New York History: Old Days In Yorkville And Harlem" 1893
  3. ^ Central Park Conservancy, 1989-92.
  4. ^ Philip Arcidi, "Learning by the Rules," Progressive Architecture, December 1, 1993.
  5. ^ "'Fishzilla' loose in Central Park lake"; accessed 5 May 2013.
  6. ^ The Whitefish Press, 2009
  7. ^ Ron P. Swegman

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