The History of Sheridan Square
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.
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.