• City Hall Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, 1902-1903.  Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

    More info
    Select an item:
    City Hall Park, Carnegie Library, Allegheny, Pa
    • Date
    • 1902 - 1903
    • Description
    • 1902-1903. Transitioned to full-size illustration, when postal regulations permitted address and message together on reverse.
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection. The New York Public Library

  • This 1932 view of the town square in Mocksville, North Carolina, shows the impact of automobiles on town centers and public space. Courtesy of the Davie County Public Library via North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Mocksville Town Square 1932
    • Date
    • 1932
    • Description
    • This photograph, taken by Archie Holbrook from the courthouse steps, shows the town square prior to the oak trees that still exist today. A brass Gatling gun originally stood in the grass circle nearest the courthouse. Southern Bank and Trust Company... more
      This photograph, taken by Archie Holbrook from the courthouse steps, shows the town square prior to the oak trees that still exist today. A brass Gatling gun originally stood in the grass circle nearest the courthouse. Southern Bank and Trust Company operated in the large white building during the 1920s. Note the vacant lot to the left of the Mocksville Hotel in the northwest corner of the square. In 1934, the town supervisor, Hugh Lagle, and Ben Boyles drove out to a property along U.S. 158 and dug up four oak trees which they then planted in the square. A plaque now commemorates their planting. less
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/UND/1.0/;
    • Partner
    • North Carolina Digital Heritage Center
    • Contributing Institution
    • Davie County Public Library

  • Ox carts are being unloaded at the plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico, ca. 1910. Courtesy of the California Historical Society collection via University of Southern California Libraries.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Painting (or drawing?) of ox carts being unloaded at the plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico, ca.1910
    • Date
    • 1909
    • Description
    • Photograph of a painting (or drawing?) of ox carts being unloaded at the plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico, ca.1910. A row of ox-drawn carriages is lined up in front of the unloading area. Many oxen are lying down. Clusters of men are lounging around nex... more
      Photograph of a painting (or drawing?) of ox carts being unloaded at the plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico, ca.1910. A row of ox-drawn carriages is lined up in front of the unloading area. Many oxen are lying down. Clusters of men are lounging around next to the posts of the buildings to the right. The church in the background is the La Parroquia, which preceded the St. Francis Cathedral. "Presumably the ox carts traveled to Santa Fe on the Old Santa Fe Trail which originated in Independence, Missouri."--unknown author.; "On the site where St. Frances Cathedral stands today there was originally a small mission church. That mission was burned down in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. After the Spanish regained control in 1692, a more substantial adobe church, La Parroquia, was built on this site. That church served for almost 200 years. Finally, in 1884, La Parroquia was replaced by St. Frances Cathedral. The new Cathedral, intended for the ages, was constructed of stone from local quarries and from the La Bajada Mesa, west of town."--Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten. less
    • Rights
    • Public Domain. Release under the CC BY Attribution license--http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/--Credit both “University of Southern California. Libraries” and “California Historical Society” as the source. Digitally reproduced by the... more
      Public Domain. Release under the CC BY Attribution license--http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/--Credit both “University of Southern California. Libraries” and “California Historical Society” as the source. Digitally reproduced by the USC Digital Library; From the California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California. Send requests to address or e-mail given. Phone (213) 740-5900; fax (213) 740-2343. USC Libraries Special Collections. Doheny Memorial Library, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0189. Specol@usc.edu. less
    • Partner
    • University of Southern California Libraries
    • Contributing Institution
    • California Historical Society

From the earliest days of European settlement of what is now the United States, the first manifestation of public space in many regions was often the town square (alternately called the “town green,” “common,” or “plaza”).

Typically located in the heart of the town, the square was a tract of land owned or used jointly by the residents of the community. It may have initially served as a shared pasture. As towns grew, the square evolved into a park or plaza in front of the original county courthouse or town hall. It often included a monument, fountain, or flagpole to reflect its role in the civic life of the community. Some town squares also served as a market or commercial gathering space.

Town squares hosted civic gatherings, parades, and other community events, as well as serving as informal meeting or recreational space. As city centers became more dedicated to commerce, and as cars came to dominate the urban landscape in the twentieth century, many town squares were reduced to make room for wider roads or parking, or were redeveloped altogether.