2015: The Year of the Sheep

Sheep's head on fireplace of Tavern on the Green

Sheep's head support from the fireplace mantel at Tavern on the Green

By 1860, the rocky area slated for a military parade ground on the Greensward Plan was blasted, filled, and fertilized into a rolling meadow inhabited by some 200 sheep.

Greensward Plan 1858

Greensward Plan, 1858

Visitors didn't have to worry about stepping on sheep pats: visitors were not supposed to venture into the meadow. "The blades of grass that united, make up a lawn, can be enjoyed without pressing them underfoot," said Commissioner Andrew Haswell Green.

Sheep Shepherd Central Park

Central Park's sheep and shepherd, from an 1869 guide to the Park

The sheep lived in unobtrusive sheds until 1870, when Boss Tweed and his cronies took control of Central Park. Tweed liked building things: construction gave a lot of opportunities for inflated bills and kickbacks. Jacob Wrey Mould, who had been working with Calvert Vaux, was commissioned to design a permanent home for the sheep and their shepherd, complete with a decorative fireplace.

Sheepfold ca. 1870

Sketch of the original Sheepfold

The Sheepfold was nearly complete when Tweed was expelled from office in late 1871. After inspecting it, the Park's engineer reported that the $70,000 building was damp, lightless, and unventilated: wholly unsuitable as a home for sheep. Commissioner Green suggested turning it into an aquarium. Frederick Law Olmsted wanted it razed. But modifications were made, and the sheep took up residence for the next 60 years.

Sheep ca. 1900

Sheep in Central Park, ca. 1900

In the early 1930s, Park Commissioner Robert Moses shipped the sheep off to Prospect Park and ordered that the Sheepfold been transformed into a restaurant, which he named "Tavern on the Green."

Tavern on the Green in the 21st Century

The private restauranteurs who ran the Tavern for decades turned the open patio into the famed Crystal Room, and wrapped nearby trees with lights. For many years it was the highest-grossing restaurant in New York - a favorite venue for celebrity spottings and celebration dinners.

For a photo of Tavern on the Green, ca. 2002, see here.

Tavern on the Green shut its doors and sold off its fittings in 2009. It reopened in 2014, with a completely redesigned interior. The sheep supports on the fireplace are still there, though.

If you're looking for a hearty meal at a reasonable price ... be warned that this restaurant (and about half the others in Zagat's New York) is not catering to you. But then, dinner out isn't all about the food on the plate.

Tavern on the Green

Jacob Wrey Mould's Ruskinian Gothic exterior

Tavern on the Green interior

Tavern on the Green, interior


Sheep supporting the mantel at Tavern on the Green

Great Sheep Quotes

I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.--Alexander the Great

We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.--George S. Patton

Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.--Winston Churchill