Andrew H. Green was 15 years old, traveling alone from his family’s home in Worcester, Mass., when he got his first taste of the city that he would come to so profoundly define.
In Connecticut, he wrote his father in 1835, “we changed stages and found in our stage nearly a whole cheese with a half a dozen sheets of gingerbread which we break and throw to the poor as we passed along.” Not long after, he asked his father to send him a pair of calfskin boots “for they cost an enormous price here.” He later reported that his brother’s cap was stolen from the store in which young Andrew worked from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., said it was lonesome there, but confidently added: “I know how to keep books well.”
Those glimpses of the man who would become president of the city’s Board of Education, chairman of the Central Park Commission, city comptroller and, as head of a commission to consolidate what would become the five boroughs, the father of Greater New York, are contained in hundreds of his letters that were recently acquired by the New York Public Library.
The trove was purchased late in 2010 at an auction conducted on behalf of Green’s descendants.
Green remains largely unsung, though, despite the best efforts of his chief cheerleader, Michael Miscione, the Manhattan borough historian who has argued relentlessly that Green deserved more than a commemorative Central Park bench on Fifth Avenue. As a result of his prodding and the cooperation of the Parks Department and Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, Andrew H. Green Park is scheduled to be completed within a few years along the East River from East 60th to 63rd Streets.
“His biography is not very well known,” said Thomas G. Lannon, assistant curator in the library’s manuscripts and archives division, which, according to Richard W. Oliver, the auctioneer, paid $500 for a cache of letters from Green to his father and purchased other letters and documents as well. (The Museum of the City of New York also bought some Green documents from among the thousands of family mementos. His silk top was sold for $300).
Some of his papers are in the collection of the New-York Historical Society. Scholars hope the newly found letters acquired by the New York Public Library will help shed more light on one of the 19th century’s most transformational figures.
“To me,” Mr. Miscone said, “the most intriguing letters were the early ones he personally wrote to his father when he was a young man in his formative teens and early ’20s when he is finding his way in life.”
Among the other items purchased by the library are notebooks Green filled during a European trip in 1868 while he visited gardens and parks. Another notebook, dated 1861, meticulously itemizes pending tasks related to Central Park, which was authorized by the state in 1853: “Get a list of gatekeeper stations, mend wire fences, estimates for bridge repair, moulds, preparations for concert ice, small map of drainage, planting trees, move rollers, salt, music arrangements, stones for concourse, instructions to gatekeeper … ”
Mr. Miscione alerted the library and other New York cultural institutions to the auction, which was held in Massachusetts in September, and attended it himself after what he described as a miserable week culling the most important papers and keeping them from private collections.
“If it didn’t end well, it could have made the rest of my life miserable,” he said. “It was high drama at the borough historian’s office.”
Eve M. Kahn contributed reporting.
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