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Union Square
835 Broadway New York, NY 10003
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A little patch of land that runs from Broadway to 4th Avenue and E 14th St. to E 17th St. in Manhattan — our flagship’s namesake, Union Square Park — has a rich history in modern-day New York City dating back centuries. This bustling park tucked amidst the busy streets of Union Square has been a fixture of New Yorkers since the 17th century. Get a closer look at the neighborhood’s storied history — history you can see for yourself after stopping into our dispensary.

The history of Union Square

Union Square’s history dates back to the early days of New York City, when the population was just a small fraction of what it is today. As the city grew, so too did Union Square’s role in daily life, from community gatherings to political activism. How did Union Square Park become the iconic locale it is today?

1700s

In the 1700s, what is today known as Union Square was used as a potters’ field, a burial ground for poor residents of New York City. This was typical of the time and is true of other well-known parks like the nearby Washington Square Park and Madison Square Park.

1800s

By 1807, as the Borough of Manhattan expanded and surrounded the area, it was designated Union Place. Union Square first became a state-recognized public place in 1831 and was acquired by New York City in 1833.

At this time, Union Square became a wealthy neighborhood, where some of the city’s richest inhabitants made their homes. It was also home to high-end retailers like Tiffany & Co. and Lord & Taylor. Still, from the moment Union Square was designated a public space, it also became the site of political organization for some of the most impactful movements of the 19th century and early 20th century, including labor unions, Civil War demonstrations, and the women’s suffrage movement.

By 1839, the location had become so important to the surrounding communities that Union Square Park officially opened to the public. In the coming years, the prominence of the surrounding neighborhood would then grow significantly. Homes, hotels, retail, offices, manufacturing facilities and banks would spring up left and right, and with them, arts and culture flourished. Union Square was even home to the infamous Tammany Hall political machine.

The park itself would become an increasingly important part of public life as the local community expanded. In 1864, it was home to the Great Metropolitan Fair of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. It also continued to be the site of less official events, including parades, political rallies, and labor demonstrations.

Notably, in 1882, Union Square Park hosted the first Labor Day celebration, when 10,000 workers marched up Broadway and through the park. This was 12 years before Labor Day became a national holiday.

1900s

Union Square Park continued to be an important site in the 20th century, but first, it would be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. From the late 1920s through the 1930s, Union Square Park underwent a total facelift, including the straightening of its pedestrian walkways, the construction of its pavilion, and the dedication of the Charles F. Murphy Memorial known as Independence Flagstaff, which was sculpted by Anthony de Francisci.

Union Square Park continued to be a place of firsts even in the 20th century, including the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. In 1976, the Union Square Greenmarket first began, offering fresh produce, protein, and plants to the local community. That market continues to this day, operating every Wednesday on the north side of the park.

In 1985, Union Square Park got yet another major renovation, which saw the addition of the plaza on the south end. You’ll walk down this plaza’s steps if you take the subway to get to The Travel Agency. This renovation also relocated some of the pathways to make the park more accessible and established the central lawn enjoyed by New Yorkers every day.

The renovations also added additional lighting for safety at night and created two subway kiosks for commuters. The expansion of Union Square Park continued in the 1990s with the construction of two new playgrounds, which are still packed with gleeful children daily.

With such a rich history and more than two centuries as a staple of daily life in New York City, it’s no surprise that the U.S. Department of the Interior chose to designate Union Square Park as a National Historic Landmark in 1997. The dedication specifically cites its importance in American labor history.

Why is Union Square named Union Square?

Union Square was named as such because it is located at the intersection — or the “union” — of Broadway and 4th Ave., known originally as Bloomingdale Road and Bowery Road.

Notable landmarks in Union Square

As you stroll around Union Square Park, you’re bound to notice the eye-catching sculptures, art installations, and unmistakable James fountain. Here are a few of our favorites you might come across.

James Fountain: A focal point of the park, the James Fountain was built in 1881 by Karl Adolph Donndorf. The ornamental fountain was established as a monument to temperance and to encourage passersby to drink water, rather than alcohol.

Independence Flagstaff: The Independence Flagstaff was gifted to New York City and Union Square Park by the Tammany Society as a memorial to Tammany president Charles F. Murphy, who died in 1924. It was most recently restored in 1987, when the stone pedestal was renovated and the flagpole reinstalled.

George Washington: This bronze statue of the first U.S. president riding his horse was modeled by Henry Kirke Brown and dedicated in 1856. It’s hard to miss as you stroll through Union Square Park, as Washington’s outstretched hand seems to wave to the crowds of passersby.

Marquis de Lafayette: This bronze sculpture honors the French-born general who fought in the American Revolution. It was gifted to New York City by the French government as a thank-you for providing aid to Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.

Mohandas Gandhi: Sculpted by Kantilal B. Patel, this bronze statue of Mohandas Gandhi was donated by the Gandhi Memorial International Foundation. It celebrates the tradition of protest linked with Union Square Park, honoring Gandhi’s nonviolent protests and movement for Indian independence.

In addition to these brilliant sculptures that mark historic moments throughout the life of Union Square Park, you can also enjoy lovely landscaping and blooming flowers in the warmer months. Union Square Park is a great place to relax, unwind, and connect to New York City’s past.

Union Square today

Union Square continues to be a beating heart of culture, tourism, and commerce in New York City. Home to performance venues like Irving Plaza, seasonal events like the Union Square Holiday Market, and unique eateries like Lillie’s Victorian Restaurant that call back to yesteryear, there’s always something going on in this thriving Manhattan epicenter. It’s just a quick subway ride on the 4/5/6, N/Q/R/W, or the L — or if you’re commuting across the Hudson, an easy walk to the 14th Street PATH station — to experience all that Union Square offers.

And only within the last year, Union Square made history again as home to one of the first legal dispensaries in New York City. We opened our doors in February 2023, inviting travelers to pass through and experience access to legal and safe cannabis grown right here in the Empire State. We are proud to be a part of this thriving slice of the city and be a part of all the nightlife, events, and culture that make Union Square great.

Stop into The Travel Agency

If you plan to visit Union Square Park, be sure to stop by The Travel Agency cannabis dispensary nearby. Not only does cannabis make for a relaxing day in the city, but our wide selection offers something for everybody. Just a short walk from our dispensary’s doors, you can try out your new cannabis products and get in touch with some local history on the same trip to the neighborhood. We’re looking forward to welcoming you to Union Square.

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