New exhibit celebrates Prospect Park at 150

To help celebrate Prospect Park's 150th anniversary, one of the most extensive exhibitions of its history is now on display. Brooklyn reporter Jeanine Ramirez takes a look. 

The Prospect Park Carousel is just one of the attractions featured in a new exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of this beloved outdoor space. 

"What really came through was the idea of community. We really wanted to celebrate the park as Brooklyn's backyard and what it's meant to people over the years," said Deborah Kirschner of the Prospect Park Alliance.

Before it was parkland, it was also the scene of the Battle of Brooklyn during the Revolutionary War. But in 1861, engineer Egbert Viele was commissioned to design the park. His plan had Flatbush Avenue running right through it. But then the creators of Central Park took over the job -- Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. They moved the park's borders and the 585 acre space was opened on October 19, 1867.

"It's widely known that Prospect Park was Olmstead and Vaux's favorite park. I think they had a lot more freedom, to do what they wanted to do." said Marcia Ely of the Brooklyn Historical Society.

The exhibit, housed at the Brooklyn Historical Society, is divided into five sections  There's a showcase of ways the park was used in its early decades from archery to boating to lawn tennis. Some of the scenic postcards included images of sheep on the Long Meadow. But the ugly side of the park's history is also documented, including its decline in the decades after the 1930s.

"The industrialization hits Brooklyn and dries up the city's coffers all which leads ultimately to the fiscal crisis of the 1970's when there was no money for parks and really no money at all for the city," Ely added.

The Prospect Park Alliance was formed in 1987 to help restore life to the park. It organized cleanups and provided programming. 

"When the alliance was founded, visitorship was estimated to be at about one million people each year, which was a significant drop. Now we estimate to close to 20 million visits a year," Kirschner said.

With the rise in the park's popularity, came the competing interests. There are protests about cars and alcohol among other issues. But all seem to agree the park is the borough's crown jewel.

The Prospect Park exibition will be up through next July.

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