Some time back we came across a trove of 1890s photographs showing the wide wooden steps leading down from Mount St. Vincent’s Hotel (or McGown’s Pass Tavern) to the Conservatory Gardens. We can’t find them anymore, but this 1900 wintertime picture is also useful.
From the 1870s to 1930s there were various greenhouses in the area. The most elaborate ones are these, built in the late 1890s. The Parks Department couldn’t or wouldn’t maintain them, so eventually they came down.
They were just off Fifth Avenue. If you were on East Drive in the Park, however, you could descend to them via a nice set of steps from the high mount.
There is nothing like this today. Apart from a steep and uninviting path to the east of McGowan’s Pass, it is very difficult to find your way from East Drive to the flower gardens that now replace the old Conservatory.
Here is a photo of the steps as they looked in the 1870s. You can see a corner of the original greenhouse, which was decrepit by the time it was replaced by the spiffy buildings of 1899. (This comes from Central Park by Edward J. Levine, one of the better histories of the Park.) The steps date at least from the 1860s, and the catwalk up above appears on maps of the 1870s, where it is a mysterious V-shaped structure.
It is unclear whether these structures were rebuilt in the 1880s (after the old Mount St. Vincent buildings burned down and were replaced by the ornate new roadhouse), or whether new steps were constructed to go along with the new greenhouses.