The site of Bryant Park is in a part of Manhattan that was countryside well north of the populous city until nearly the middle of the 19th century. The city decommissioned the potter’s field here in 1840 and the massive Croton Distributing Reservoir was built here in 1843. In 1853-54, the Crystal Palace Exhibition held New York's first "world fair" on the site. In 1884, Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park, to honor the recently deceased poet and editor William Cullen Bryant. Bryant (1794-1878) was a poet, newspaper editor and civic reformer. A major transformation occurred beginning in the 1890s, when the Croton Distributing Reservoir was pulled down to make way for the construction of the present New York Public Library.

    In 1974, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Bryant Park as a Scenic Landmark. It is a privately managed park today. People on their lunch break frequent its lawn and walkways, and in the summer, crowds attend lunchtime performances of Broadway excerpts and Monday night screenings of classic films. In winter, a skating rink is installed and a holiday market brings shoppers to the park.