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Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), American landscape architect, was prominent in promoting and planning recreational parks across the country.

Frederick Law Olmsted was born at Hartford, Conn., on April 26, 1822. He did not matriculate at college because of weak eyes, but he attended lectures at Yale University intermittently and became an honorary member of the class of 1847. He also studied engineering. In 1844 Olmsted decided to become a farmer and, after getting practical experience, settled on Staten Island, where he operated a farm until 1854. In 1859 he married Mary Cleveland Perkins Olmsted, the widow of his brother; the couple had two children.

In 1851 Olmsted visited Andrew Jackson Downing, who with others had conceived the idea of creating a vast park in New York City. Before realizing his dream, Downing died. Olmsted kept the idea alive and in 1857 was appointed superintendent of what became Central Park. He and Calvert Vaux then won the design competition for the park, and in 1858 Olmsted was advanced to chief architect of Central Park. During the Civil War he resigned his appointment over political differences and in 1863 accepted the superintendency of the Frémont Mariposa mining estates in California.

When Olmsted returned to New York in 1865, he and Vaux were reappointed landscape architects for Central Park. The Olmsted firm became the foremost landscape architects in America. Their projects included Prospect Park, Brooklyn (1865); the village of Riverside near Chicago (1868); Mount Royal Park, Montreal (1873-1881); the grounds of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. (1874-1885); the Boston park system (1875-1895); Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif. (1886-1889); and Jackson Park, Chicago (1895). Olmsted's most important late work was the design for the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1890-1893).

Restless by nature, Olmsted traveled frequently and often published his diaries and talks. He wrote Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (1852), A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), A Journey through Texas (1857), and A Journey in the Back Country (1860).

Always interested in publishing, he and C. S. Sargent founded the journal Garden and Forest. Olmsted further encouraged park planning by publishing Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns (1871) and A Consideration of the Justifying Value of a Public Park (1881). He died on Aug. 28, 1903, having witnessed the enthusiastic development in American cities of public park systems.

Further Reading

There is no definitive study of Olmsted's work. Important as source material is Frederick Law Olmsted: Landscape Architect, edited by F. L. Olmsted, Jr., and Theodora Kimball (2 vols., 1922-1928), which contains many of his papers and emphasizes Central Park. Julius G. Fabos and others, comps., Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.: Founder of Landscape Architecture in America (1968), is a brief, well-illustrated survey of Olmsted's career; it contains illustrations of his projects, an appendix listing his major works, and a chronology of his life. See also Broadus Mitchell, Frederick Law Olmsted: A Critic of the Old South (1924). □

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Olmsted, Frederick Law (1822-1903)

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903)

Sources

Landscape architect

Significance. Frederick Law Olmsted was Americas foremost landscape architect in the late nineteenth century. More than any other American of his generation Olmsted represented a belief in the power of landscape to provide a refuge to urban residents and succeeded in planting the romantic ideal in the heart of some of the nations largest cities. At a time when most urban land was in the hands of private speculators, he symbolized a belief in the civic good and the necessity of urban planning.

Restless Beginnings. Olmsted was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on 26 April 1822. When he was fourteen years old a severe case of sumac poisoning partially blinded him, and for several years thereafter he had poor eyesight. Doctors recommended that he do little reading, so he postponed entering college and traveled in the northeastern United States and Canada with his father, a wealthy merchant. He then worked for a New York importer (1840) and traveled to China (1843). Upon his return to the United States he briefly studied scientific farming at Yale University and did some publishing and editorial work. Between 1852 and 1854 he traveled through the South and wrote extensively on the region, submitting stories to the New York Daily Tribune. (The stories were compiled and published as The Cotton Kingdom in 1861.) Olmsted received an appointment as general secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission during part of the Civil War (1861-1863), then went to California as administrator of the forty-four-thousand-acre Mariposa Estate (1863-1865).

Landscaping Genius. Olmsted was an early American observer of British and of continental parks; he admired the eighteenth-century English garden and skillfully used open areas and natural watersheds in his designs. He developed his style of landscape design in response to urban needs; he was the first to call himself a landscape architect rather than a landscape gardener. With his partner, Calvert Vaux, he designed New Yorks 840-acre Central Park (1858-1861) and landscaped New York City north of 155th Street. Olmsteds style in turn inspired many city and national parks that followed. He also planned the Emerald Necklace (Boston), Prospect Park (Brooklyn), South Park (Chicago), Belle Isle Park (Detroit), Mount Royal Park (Montreal), the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and the Boston and Buffalo park systems. His other projects included the Stanford University campus (1886) and the Biltmore Estate outside Asheville, North Carolina (1888). One of his last major projects was as chief landscape planner for the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Olmsted died on 28 August 1903.

Sources

Charles E. Beveridge and Paul Rocheleau, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing the American Landscape (New York: Rizzoli, 1995);

Robert L. Gale, The Gay Nineties in America: A Cultural Dictionary of the 1890s (Westport: Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992).

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Olmsted, Frederick Law

Olmsted, Frederick Law (1822–1903). One of the most important landscape-architects of C19 after Downing's death, he developed the C18 English Picturesque style of landscape, and was an innovator in the design of public parks, much influenced by Paxton's Birkenhead Park, Ches. (1847), as is clear from his admiration for English landscape-design, expressed in his Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (1852).

With Calvert Vaux (who had been associated with Downing) he created Central Park, NYC (from 1858), an ingenious scheme with a wide variety of types of landscape, including rock-work with cascades, meadows and water, and traffic-routes sunk from view, with paths over and under them as the grade required. He designed the campus for the College of California at Berkeley, Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, CA (1864), and proposed creating a nature-reserve in the Yosemite Valley, a precedent for the National Parks movement. Again with Vaux he designed Prospect Park, Brooklyn (1865–73), resumed work on Central Park, and planned Riverside, near Chicago, IL (1868), which proposed dwellings around common land, parks, and the beginnings of a scheme that anticipated pedestrian routes. He began the landscaping around the Federal Capitol, Washington, DC (1874), his work being completed by his son F. L. Olmsted, jun. (1870–1957), in the 1920s, who continued to practise with the elder Olmsted's adopted stepson, John Charles Olmsted (1852–1920).

Persuaded to settle in Massachusetts by H. H. Richardson (with whom Olmsted had collaborated on the design of the State Asylum for the Insane, Buffalo, NY (1871), and on other projects) in 1881, Olmsted had commenced designs for the system of parks in Boston in 1878, a brilliant scheme forming a meandering trail of greenery and water connecting Charles River to Franklin Park. He contributed to the designs of the campus of Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA (1886), worked with Vaux on the Niagara Falls Reservation, NY (1887), and designed the Louisville Park system, KY (1891). His last large scheme was the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893), where he created a sylvan setting for the Neo-Classical buildings of McKim, Mead, & White, Daniel Burnham, and others. Olmsted's system of transport, roads, and jetties for water-borne visitors was, like most of his work, forward-looking, imaginative, and inventive. He was a prolific writer, and published numerous works of considerable importance.

Bibliography

Beveridge (1995);
Burley et al . (1996);
C. Cook (1972);
I. Fisher (1986);
L. Hall (1995);
LeG&S (1996);
McLaughlin (ed.) (from 1977);
Olmsted & Hubbard (eds.) (1973);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Roper (1973);
E. Stevenson (2000);
Sutton (ed.) (1979);
Todd (1982);
Jane Turner (1996);
W&S (1994)

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Olmsted, Frederick Law

Frederick Law Olmsted, 1822–1903, American landscape architect and writer, b. Hartford, Conn. Although his Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England had appeared in 1852, Olmsted first attained fame for journalistic accounts of his travels in the American South during the early 1850s. In these works, published in book form as A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), A Journey through Texas (1857), A Journey in the Back Country (1860), and Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom (1861), he painted vivid pictures of the evils of slaveholding society. During the Civil War he served as secretary to the U.S. Sanitary Commission and pioneered various concepts of public health.

When Central Park in New York City was projected (1856), Olmsted and Calvert Vaux prepared the plan that was accepted two years later, and Olmsted superintended its execution. The well-planned public park was a new departure, which Olmsted developed in many other parks and cities, e.g., Prospect Park, Brooklyn, N.Y.; South Park, Chicago; Mt. Royal Park, Montreal; park systems in Buffalo and Boston; and the grounds of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. One of his most spectacular achievements was the laying out of the grounds for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which he afterward redesigned as Jackson Park. Olmsted also took an interest in the creation of college campuses, e.g., Berkeley (1864), and state and national parks. In addition, he designed parkways and was involved in city planning.

His son, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870–1957, b. Staten Island, N.Y., grad. Harvard, 1894, was also a landscape architect and city planner. He studied with his father and began practice in 1895. He taught (1900–1914) Harvard's first course in landscape architecture. As a city planner he served on many committees and government boards. In 1901 he was influential in the plan for beautifying Washington, D.C.

See F. L. Olmsted's Forty Years of Landscape Architecture: Central Park, ed. by F. L. Olmsted, Jr., and T. Kimball (1928, repr. 1973); The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, ed. by C. C. McLaughlin et al. (8 vol., 1977–2013)); biographies of the elder Olmsted by L. W. Roper (1974) and W. Rybczynski (1999); studies by J. G. Fabos et al. (1968), E. Barlow (1972), and C. E. Beveridge and P. Rocheleau (1995).

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