Before it was the Upper East Side, Yorkville or Lennox Hill, the area between 66th and 77th streets, framed by what are now Third Avenue and the East River, was known as Jones Wood. The most densely forested land on the isle of Manhattan, it was named after John Jones, who had purchased more than half of its 150 acres in the early years of the new republic of the United States of America. By the 19th century, it had become a popular destination for city dwellers, a verdant escape from Manhattan's increasingly urbanized landscape, boasting such attractions as bowling, billiards and donkey rides, along with beer gardens and facilities for sporting events and large public gatherings.
In fact, Jones Wood has been characterized as "America's first amusement park" and it almost became Manhattan's official playground. In 1853, it was one of two tracts of land cited by the state legislature as possible locations for "a great park," reminiscent of Europe's lavish public spaces, that would address the recreational needs of the growing city. The other was what became Central Park, an area deemed more suitable than Jones Wood because it was more conveniently located and thus more accessible to the populace it was to serve. Jones Wood remained a fashionable bucolic retreat for most of the remainder of the century, although its acreage was steadily encroached upon as the city moved northward.
An 1894 fire that destroyed eleven acres signaled the beginning of its demise; its fate was subsequently sealed by the emergence of the more sophisticated entertainments of Coney Island, which had become geographically desirable to Manhattan-based day trippers with the debut of the Brooklyn Bridge and the electrified trolleys that traversed it. By the dawn of the 20th century, developers had gobbled up the rest of Jones Wood, leaving virtually no trace of the once lush forest, except for a little known space called Jones Wood Garden, a private hidden plot surrounded by twelve circa 1870s townhouses on 65th and 66th Streets, between Lexington and Third Avenues. That secret garden is now joined by Jones Wood Foundry in a salute to the memory of the long lost woodland as a welcoming gathering place for convivial pursuits.