Frederick Law Olmsted

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Frederick Law Olmsted (April 26, 1822August 28, 1903) was a United States landscape architect, famous for designing many well-known urban parks, including Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City, the country's oldest coordinated system of public parks and parkways in Buffalo, New York, the country's oldest state park, the Niagara Reservation in Niagara Falls, New York, Mount Royal Park in Montreal, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, Massachusetts, Cherokee Park (and the entire parks and parkway system) in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as Jackson Park, Washington Park, Midway Plaisance in Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition, the landscape surrounding the United States Capitol building, and George Washington Vanderbilt II's Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

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[edit] Life and career

Born in Hartford, Connecticut to a wealthy dry-goods merchant and the son of a farmer, Olmsted was fascinated with nature from his youth. After attending Phillips Academy, he studied agricultural science and engineering at Yale. After sailing to China in 1843 for a year, he worked on his farm in Connecticut, then moved to New York City and ran a 130-acre (0.5 km²) experimental scientific farm on Staten Island that his father acquired for him in January 1848. This farm, named "The Woods of Arden" by previous owner, Erastus Wiman, Olmsted renamed to Tosomock Farm.

Image:Frederick law olmstead 1857.jpg
Frederick Law Olmsted in 1857

Olmsted also had a significant career in journalism. In 1850 he traveled to England to visit public gardens, where he was greatly impressed by Joseph Paxton's Birkenhead Park, and subsequently published Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England in 1852. Interested in the slave economy, he was commissioned by the New York Daily Times (now the New York Times) to embark on an extensive research journey through the American South and Texas from 1852 to 1857. Olmsted took the view that the practice of slavery was not only morally odious, but expensive and economically inefficient. His dispatches were collected into multiple volumes which remain vivid, first-person social documents of the pre-war South. The last of these, "Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom" (1861), published during the first six months of the American Civil War, helped inform and galvanize antislavery sentiment in New England. Olmsted also cofounded the magazine The Nation in 1865. He married his brother's widow Mary in 1859 and adopted her three sons.

Olmsted's friend and mentor, Andrew Jackson Downing, the charismatic landscape architect from Newburgh, New York first proposed the development of New York's Central Park as publisher of The Horticulturist magazine. It was Downing who introduced Olmsted to the English-born architect Calvert Vaux, whom Downing had personally brought back from England as his architect-collaborator. After Downing died a hero's death in a steamboat explosion on the Hudson River in July 1852, in his honor Olmsted and Vaux entered the Central Park design competition together—and won (1858). On his return from the South, Olmsted began executing the plan almost immediately. Olmsted and Vaux continued their informal partnership to design Prospect Park in Brooklyn from 1866 to 1868, and other projects. Vaux remained in the shadow of Olmsted's grand public personality and social connections.

The design of Central Park embodies Olmsted's social consciousness and commitment to egalitarian ideals. Influenced by Downing and by his own observations regarding social class in England, China and the American South, Olmsted believed that the common green space must always be equally accessible to all citizens. This principle is now so fundamental to the idea of a "public park" as to seem self-evident, but it was not so then. Olmsted's tenure as park commissioner was one long struggle to preserve that idea.

After completing Central Park, Olmsted served as Executive Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross in Washington D.C. which tended to the wounded during the Civil War. In 1863 he became the manager of the Mariposa mining estate in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. In 1865 Vaux and Olmsted formed Olmsted, Vaux and Company. When Olmsted returned to New York, he and Vaux designed Prospect Park, Chicago's Riverside subdivision, Buffalo, New York's park system, Milwaukee, Wisconsin's grand necklace of parks, and the Niagara Reservation at Niagara Falls.

Olmsted not only created city parks in many cities around the country, he also conceived of entire systems of parks and interconnecting parkways which connected certain cities to green spaces. Two of the best examples of the scale on which Olmsted worked are one of the largest pieces of his work, the park system designed for Buffalo, New York, and the system he designed for Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

For a list of Olmsted designed parks in Buffalo, New York, please see Buffalo, New York parks system.

Olmsted was a frequent collaborator with Henry Hobson Richardson for whom he devised the landscaping schemes for half a dozen projects, including Richardson's commission for the Buffalo State Asylum.

In 1883 Olmsted established what is considered to be the first full-time landscape architecture firm in Brookline, Massachusetts. He called the home and office compound Fairsted, which today is the recently-restored Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. From there Olmsted designed Boston's Emerald Necklace, the campus of Stanford University and the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago among many other projects. In 1895, senility forced him to retire. He moved to Belmont, Massachusetts and took up residence at McLean Hospital, which he had landscaped several years before, where he remained until his death in 1903, and burial in the Old North Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut. After Olmsted's death, his sons John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. continued the work of their firm, doing business as the Olmsted Brothers. The firm lasted until 1950.

Olmstead was one of the six founding members of the Union League Club of New York.

A quotation from Olmsted's friend and colleague architect Daniel Burnham could well serve as his epitaph. Referring to Olmsted in March, 1893, Burnham said, "An artist, he paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views." (quoted from Larson's The Devil in the White City)

[edit] Academic campuses designed by Olmsted and sons

Between 1857 and 1950, Olmsted and his successors designed 355 school and college campuses. Some of the most famous are listed here.

[edit] Other notable Olmsted commissions

[edit] References

  • Beveridge, Charles E, Paul Rocheleau (October 1998). Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing the American Landscape. New York, New York: Universe Publishing. ISBN 0-7893-0228-4.
  • (2003) Guide to Biltmore Estates. Asheville, North Carolina: The Biltmore Company.
  • Hall, Lee (1995). Olmsted’s America: An "Unpractical" Man and His Vision of Civilization. Boston, MA: Bullfinch Press.
  • Olmsted, Frederick Law (1856). A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States; With Remarks on Their Economy.
  • Rybczynski, Witold (June 1999). A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and North America in the Nineteenth Century. New York, New York: Scribner. ISBN 0-684-82463-9.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Frederick Law Olmsted

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