Washington Square Park has a varied history. Before it became a public park in 1823, the area was a marshland, part of a Native American village, the site of 18th century public executions, a military parade ground, and a "Potter's Field" burial ground, where tens of thousands of indigent 18th century yellow fever victims lie.
In the mid-19th century, as living conditions grew more crowded in lower Manhattan, many of the city's wealthier residents built large Greek revival mansions on the north side of the park. Many of these elegant residences still stand today.
Washington Square Park has been featured in several books and films, including Henry James' novel, "Washington Square" (set in one of the Greek revival mansions mentioned above) and the film, "Searching for Bobby Fischer," where the protagonist plays chess right in Washington Square Park.