New York has its very lovely public green spaces, playgrounds, and private parks.
But some lucky residents have their own secret interior garden—a lush sanctuary of trees, flowers, and fountains hidden from the street between rows of brownstones and accessible only through the back doors of adjacent neighbors.
One of these magnificent gardens, Jones Wood Garden, lies between Lexington and Third Avenues and 65th and 66th Streets (above) on the same block as St. Vincent Ferrar Church.
Jones Wood was a 150-acre tract of high forested land that roughly spanned today’s 65th to 76th Streets from Third Avenue to the East River.
Named for a 19th century tavern owner and owned by prominent families, it became a popular picnic and amusement spot and was in the running in the early 1850s to be the city’s first major public park.
In the post–Civil War years after Central Park edged out Jones Wood, builders cut down the forests and put up blocks of brownstone residences in this Lenox Hill neighborhood, as thy did all over Manhattan.
Demand for these private homes soured by the turn of the century, then picked up again after World War I. That’s when Jones Wood Garden got its start.
Developers purchased 12 brownstones (six on the north side of 65th Street, and six on the south side of 66th), remodeled them by getting rid of their tall stoops and updating the amenities, and designed a 100 by 108 feet sunken interior garden.
“This will be paved with special paving brick and flagging, and will have a fountain with a pool,” explained a New York Times article from 1919.
“Back of each house there will be a small and more intimate garden about 20 feet deep, upon which the dining room will open.” Shutters and trellises would be added to the back of each of these homes as well.
Unless you live there or know someone who does, Jones Wood Garden is pretty much off-limits.
Occasionally recent photos appear, particularly when one of the homes is up for sale.
In 2015, the house at 160 East 66th Street hit the market for $12 million. Curbed has the photos, including one with the open dining room leading to the garden, as described in the 1919 Times piece.
But to get a sense of the beauty and serenity of Jones Wood Garden, we have to rely on old images, such as these black and white photos from The Garden Magazine in 1922.
There’s also a series of color slides from the Library of Congress, dated 1921. One shows a child playing by the fountain and a woman in white (his mom? a nurse?) enjoying the scene.
[Second, third, fifth, and sixth photos: LOC; fifth photo: The Garden Magazine. Hat tip to A for sending me the LOC photos!]