The History of Sheridan Square

The History of Sheridan Square
The Dig

L: an aerial view of Sheridan Square; R: Sheridan Square Viewing Garden

On this day, August 1, in the year 1864 during the Civil War, General Philip Sheridan was appointed by Ulysses S. Grant as commander of the Army of the Shenandoah, where he defeated Confederate troops.  Sheridan further gained fame when his tactics helped to force General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  He was instrumental in the official designation of Yellowstone as a National Park and, in 1888, his career reached its apex when he was appointed General of the Army by President Cleveland.  He passed away that same year.

Interesting information, but why should this concern GVSHP and Off the Grid readers?It is General Philip Sheridan that Sheridan Square in the West Village is named after, who died on August 5, 1888.  Sheridan Square is one of those names that Villagers, and New Yorkers on the whole, know- it’s a subway stop, there are a couple large apartment buildings with that address, it is the small triangle at the intersection of Washington Place, West 4th Street, and Barrow Street that some may use as a landmark meeting place among the non-gridded area.

General Sheridan was considered a hero at the time, especially in the North.  A New York Times article from 1896, announced the decision by the Aldermanic Committee on Land, Places, and Public Parks to officially name the strip of land Sheridan Square after the General.  The plot had originally been a place of settlement of the Sappokanican Indians, who used the triangle as a trading post, and was paved over as a public road in 1830.  It was not yet a garden in the nineteenth century, but was used an open public space for political campaign speeches, community gatherings, drilling and marching, and a place for children to play.  In 1918, the IRT subway station at Christopher Street/Sheridan Square opened, cementing Sheridan Square’s prominent association with the Village.  A bronze statue of General Sheridan by sculptor Joseph P. Pollia was erected at the nearby Christopher Park (at the intersection of West 4th Street and Grove Street) in 1936, creating an ever-confusing mix-up of the two parks.

L: the mosaic in the Christopher Street/Sheridan Square subway station; R: the statue of General Philip Henry Sheridan in Christopher Park

Unfortunately, during most of the twentieth century, Sheridan Square served as nothing more than a traffic-safety island.  It wasn’t until 1982 that the area went from a paved triangle to a lovely viewing garden.  The genesis of this project came in July of that year when a group of Sheridan Square neighbors, the Sheridan Square Triangle Association, convinced the Parks Department to turn this plot of land into a garden.  GVSHP’s then-Executive Director, Regina Kellerman, heard about these plans and thought it would be the perfect spot to conduct an archaeological dig since the 4,200 square foot triangle hadn’t been used since the early twentieth century and hadn’t really been touched at all prior to that.  Professional archaeologists contributed their time, and Dr. Anne Marie Cantwell, a  professor at Rutgers, agreed to direct the site excavation and involve her students.  Mostly it was Native American artifacts that were being searched for, many of which were uncovered.  The Sheridan Square Viewing Garden stands today, cared for still by its neighbors, as a reminder of the unity and commitment to history of Greenwich Village.

The groundbreaking of the Dig (GVSHP was originally known as the Greenwich Village Trust for Historic Preservation)

The Dig


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Dana was GVSHP's Programs and Administrative Associate from 2010 to 2013.

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10 comments on “The History of Sheridan Square
  1. Dana David Gurin says:

    There is an historical error in this description of the origins of the Viewing Garden. The community didn’t convince the Parks Department to turn the triangle over to plantings. The garden was a joint venture of the Transportation Department and the community. It was later turned over to the Parks Department to make sure it would never be repaved. I was the deputy commissioner of transportation at the time and labored to make the project happen. See the plaque at the western end of the garden which notes the role of the Transportation Department, as does as an entry in the American Institute of Architects Guide to New York

  2. Dana avra cohen says:

    Where are the unearthed artifacts today? Can they be viewed? Were any scientific papers published about the results of the dig?
    Thank you.

    Life-long Villager,
    Avra Cohen

  3. Dana EDLIS Café says:

    New York University would be the first place to ask…

    Anne Marie Cantwell
    was at Rutgers.

  4. Dana AngryWhiteMan says:

    General Sheridan is yet another flaming asshole held up for worship thanks to the whitewashing of our history and undying love for racist war criminals. You can read more about him hear. The square should be renamed, the plaque taken down, and the statue toppled and melted. Read more about the lovely general here:

    • Dana Jon Sterngass says:

      This is yet another oversimplification of a multi-faceted century. One could just as easily argue that Sheridan’s victory at Cedar Creek, for which he personally deserves most of the credit, was instrumental in ending the horrific crime of slavery and preserving the Union. His Reconstruction actions in Texas were strongly in support of African Americans. He was instrumental in creating and protecting Yellowstone National Park. Granted, his career fighting Native Americans doesn’t play well to modern eyes, but he was a military man, and always slandered by the “good Indian=dead Indian” quote–he always denied saying it and was in fact more understanding of Native Americans than most Americans. The above “racist war criminals” view reduces an extremely complex man to a stereotype used to flog the United States. While the quasi-genocide of Native Americans is disgraceful, I’d do a little more research before making such a blanket condemnation…he has always been a hero to most African Americans

      • Dana Santiago Corn says:

        I guess you would find a way to justify Hitler. We Native Americans see this person for what he is, the leader of our holocaust. His famous quotes include, “the more Indians we kill today, the less we need to kill tomorrow” and “the only good Indian is a dead one”. His statue deserves to be removed and our history needs to be heard.

      • Dana Santiago Corn says:

        I guess you would find a way to justify Hitler. We Native Americans see this person for what he is, the leader of our holocaust. His famous quotes include, “the more Indians we kill today, the less we need to kill tomorrow” and “the only good Indian is a dead one”. His statue deserves to be removed and our history needs to be heard.

        The Indian massacre happened ONLY 50 years before the Jewish Holocaust and AFTER reconstruction, so how can you justify the “different time” excuse. This man didn’t see us as Human.

  5. Dana Al - Marilyn Dantonio-Heitzer says:

    Some of the comments are as interesting as the history of Sheridan Square is, however, it is my belief that trying to apply the mores and attitudes of today vis a vis what occurred in America in the 18th and 19th centuries is a sometimes mangled effort.

6 Pings/Trackbacks for "The History of Sheridan Square"
  1. […] and traditions from all branches of Paganism and from across the city, met Friday evening in Sheridan Square, the small park across from the bar where Gay Liberation began, Stonewall. After forming a Circle […]

  2. […] And, parenthetically, if you mosey up a few blocks north of the venerable Barrow Street, to the West Village’s Sheridan Square, you’ll find Demas having appeared in play after play with the Axis Company, Randy […]

  3. […] Sheridan Square, for example, is the site where Stewart’s Cafeteria and Life Cafeteria were located in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They based their late-night operations on the idea that allowing gay men and lesbians to gather at their establishments would also attract tourists, who would come to gawk . Life Cafeteria in particular became an entry point into the larger gay world, attracting young people who didn’t know of anywhere else to go, and bringing them into the gay community. (Gay New York, 167-168) […]

  4. […] can read about the dig on our blog here, and in the September 20, 1982 issue of The Columbia Spectator here. Following the project, a […]

  5. […] great NYC location scene has Caroline and April walking through Greenwich Village, passing through Sheridan Square and Christopher Street. This area is notable as it’s the location of The Stonewall Inn where the gay liberation […]

  6. […] dedicated to our community of many letters. For other history buffs, this is Sheridan Square. The History of Sheridan Square – GVSHP | Preservation | Off the Grid. General Sheridan is still there but has been pretty much eclipsed by the Stonewall. I didn’t […]

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