Town Squares

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

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.