Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 22

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 22

Comments
/
/
/
404 Views

This is the grave of Frederick Law Olmsted

2016-02-14 15.16.28

Olmsted, the famed designer of Central Park in New York and parks around the nation, is the father of American landscape architecture. He has rightfully been criticized recently for kicking African-Americans and the Irish out of what is today Central Park to build the space. That’s fair, but as these things go, we have to consider whether the social cost was worth the long-term benefit. That’s a slippery slope, higher power of your choice knows. But New York without Central Park would be a worse place, I think we can all agree. He and his agency designed public spaces across the nation, including Jackson Park in Chicago, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, and the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. His earlier career as a journalist writing extensively about slave society in the South in the 1850s is also incredibly valuable. During the Civil War, he helped raise three African-American regiments for the Union army and worked on projects that raised $1 million for the U.S. Sanitary Commission. He also helped preserve the area around Niagara Falls from development and was an important player in the preservation of Yosemite National Park.

You can visit his home and studio outside Boston and it’s pretty cool.

Frederick Law Olmsted is buried in Old North Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • twbb

    NYC without Central Park wouldn’t really be NYC anymore.

    • Bruce Vail

      Let’s not forget Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

      • twbb

        I think Prospect Park is (and I think Olmsted thought this too) a superior park, though I think it isn’t as vital from an emotional standpoint as Central Park.

        My favorite Olmsted park is actually a little east, Forest Park in Queens, simply because of the wooded — as opposed to landscaped — hiking trails.

        • N__B

          Olmsted considered Prospect Park to be his best stand-alone work and the Boston park system to be his best comprehensive work.

      • Halloween Jack

        Came here to say this. It was one of the reasons why I loved living in Park Slope during my short stay in NYC; for someone who came from a part of the country with a shorter (European-settled) history, it always seemed kind of awesome that there was a Revolutionary War battlefield practically in my back yard.

      • mch

        Or Eastern Parkway. The idea of the “setback” is crucial to Olmsted thinking

        Olmsted, or probably his son, designed a local estate here in far western MA. On a local history site, many people have written in, remembering how as children they roamed and played on the estate, all to the delight of its owner. Now the core of it is a private school, and the rest is either attractive subdivision or I-dunno-what or who owns what — meadows and fields (with beautifully carved views of the mountains) that everyone passes as they drive or run by, beautiful. Children who live near enough no doubt still roam and play (or so I hope)….

        According to the authors of Gotham (or so I recall as my source), Olmsted wanted to hire blacks as well as Irish in constructing the phase of Central Park that was constructed during the CW. (Btw, not ALL of what became Central Park had been occupied by blacks — that’s oversimplifying.) Olmsted had already been “fired” and “rehired,” so he wasn’t bargaining from a position of strength. He was persuaded that the next phase of the project would be stopped dead in its tracks if blacks were hired: the Irish would object. So he caved on that one, but les to the Anglo-Dutch and more to the Irish interests of NYC. (Not that Tweed didn’t know how to play both sets of interests well.)

        Back to my western MA town. Citizens recently, successfully, resisted a development project that would have uglified our Main Street, which is so very beautiful for drivers-by, dog-walkers, runners, school children, anyone…. Yes, a few set-back, grand houses, still expensive, form the core here, but we ALL enjoy the effect…. Turns out, the Olmsted who designed that estate also designed our Main Street….

    • Brett

      It reminds me of Erik talking about the national parks and inequality. They were established by a bunch of rich folks in politics like Teddy Roosevelt, but they did genuinely preserve important tracts of land and nature against being completely churned over in the late 19th century/early 20th century.

  • TribalistMeathead

    Yes, and Chicago would be a worse place without Olmstead and one of his partners on the World’s Columbian Exposition project, Daniel Burnham.

  • Bruce Vail

    Olmsted legacy more ambiguous here in Baltimore. He’s credited with designing much of the Roland Park neighborhood, said to be the city’s first real suburb. A principal feature of the suburbs, of course, was strict racial segregation. This segragation largely in place to this day.

    • Bruce Vail

      Roland Park also said to be the home of the first shopping center (designed by Olmsted) — http://www.rolandpark.org/rphistory.html

      I’ve driven by this shopping center a hundred times and it really isn’t recognizable as shopping center anymore….

    • Todd

      That was Olmstead, Jr., I think. He might have claim to as much influence as his father: national mall, rock creek park, Cornell, and his influence on the national parks.

      • Bruce Vail

        Right you are. Also probably unfair to blame Olmsted Jr. for segregation in Roland Park, since it was the developers who made the real decisions, and had hired Olmsted Jr. just to do some of the design work.

        • Woodrowfan

          no, it’s fair. he and his brother even suggested that African-Americans not be allowed to live in all-white neighborhoods as servants. If you allowed black children in the neighborhood (the servants’ kids) it would lead to crime.

          see “Bourgeois Nightmare: Suburbia, 1870-1930.” I just started reading it a couple days ago.

  • joe from Lowell

    There is an Olmsted park in Lowell. The design is so graceful and unforced that you wouldn’t think it had really been designed at all, but if know what to look for, you realize how much design effort that took.

  • Dirty Davey

    I would not consider the grounds of the Biltmore Estate a “public space”.

    • muddy

      When I lived In Asheville I used to get a yearly pass to use the grounds, it wasn’t expensive. Costs a lot more to see the house and winery or whatever. The one for just the grounds is not only the designed portions, but hiking in woods etc. My dogs loved it.

    • Woodrowfan

      I can’t go there. it’d drive me nuts. My wife keeps trying to drag me there when we visit my Mom in Hendersonville. The same when we visited Newport. She finally convinced me to visit one of the “summer cottages.” Gah.

  • rea

    Belle Isle in the Detroit River was at one point very beautiful, but it’s rather run down now, and as you might expect, was stolen from Detroit by Gov. Snyder.

    • NO!

      At one point Belle Isle was beautiful until the city of Detroit started neglecting it.

      I go there regularly. Believe me, the place was an absolute dump until the City was dragged, kicking and screaming, into an arrangement where the state would run it for 30 years as a recreation area.

      It has far to go to get to it’s former glory but its moving in the right direction, thanks to the state takeover.

      • Trent Sobchak

        This. The state park system now has a stable funding stream and is quite well supported. The city of Detroit, for reasons internal and external, just was not maintaining the park. Belle Isle isn’t one of Snyder’s crimes.

  • Rob in CT

    Is it just me, Erik, or have you been spending a fair bit of time in Hartford recently?

    • wjts

      If so, what a lucky fellow he is!

      • America’s finest city!

        • wjts

          It’s certainly the finest city in the Hartford area!

          (Hartford actually does have at least a few points in its favor: Hartford Stage is legitimately one of the best regional theaters in the country and Trinity College’s Cinestudio is hands-down my favorite movie theater in the whole wide world. Also, the best summer job I ever had was working for the Connecticut State Library preparing old copies of the Norwalk Bulletin for microfilming.)

  • John not McCain

    He also did Delaware Park in Buffalo. This being Buffalo of course there is an expressway now running through the middle of it.

    • joe from Lowell

      There is an off-ramp taking up part of the Emerald Necklace in Boston.

    • Hey, we’re fixing that!

      • John not McCain

        Not by removing the scar in the middle of the park we’re not. Although I do agree that the situation will be improved.

    • SamChevre

      I live a block from an Olmsted-designed park. This being Springfield, the geniuses in charge decided to build an interstate through the park, cutting it off from the Connecticut River and demolishing the Victorian mansion of the man who donated the initial parcel of land.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Frederick Law Olmstead also designed the grounds of Stanford University. And he – and later his sons – did the grounds of any number of late 19th century large homes and estates around Boston, particularly along/around the North Shore, and for those homes, that still garners a pretty significant real estate valuation boost.

  • bratschewurst

    Frederick Law Olmstead also designed the grounds of Stanford University.

    Not just the grounds (which, at the time, amounted to around 8,000 acres), but the layout of the original buildings; the inner and outer quads. He based the design on the Place Vendôme in Paris.

    Also the Milwaukee parks system.

  • Lee Rudolph

    Coming to this after reading Campos’s thread, I want to put in a word for the landscape-architectural genius of Juan Federico Muntadas Jornet demonstrated in his work at the Monasterio de Piedra in the Montes Universales between Zaragoza and Madrid.

  • bratschewurst

    He has rightfully been criticized recently for kicking African-Americans and the Irish out of what is today Central Park to build the space.

    Given that it wasn’t his decision, but rather the state legislature’s, to build the park (a decision which was bound to lead to the eviction of the occupants of the land), I wonder to what extent he should be held responsible for this.

  • kmannkoopa

    Feel free to throw rotten vegetables at me, but I think Fredrick Olmstead is overrated (and I live in a neighborhood named after one of his parks in Western NY).

    In NY there were two great park builders, the lauded Fredrick Law Olmstead and the infamous (for largely other reasons) Robert Moses. They represent two countervailing views on the use of parks – Olmstead Parks are for shaping and admiring natural beauty, and Moses Parks are for recreation.

    The best parks in NY are the one designed by Olmstead and improved by Moses. Central Park and Niagara Falls State Park, two of the most prominent parks in the country (if not the world) are Moses improved Olmstead Parks. Moses’s landscape architects did an excellent job of finding areas where recreation (Pavilions, Soccer Fields, etc) can be carved out. Niagara Falls State Park got even better once the greatest excess, the Robert Moses State Parkway was closed through the park.

    • Rugosa

      I grew up in Buffalo and have lived in Boston all my adult life. I’ll take issue with you (but won’t throw rotten vegetables – they’re for the compost heap). In Olmstead’s day, people couldn’t just pack the family in the car and drive out to some scenic spot for a Sunday picnic. Access to scenes of nature in an urban setting was considered a way for people, including the laboring classes, to refresh and recharge themselves. So I don’t think you can oppose Olmstead and Moses in quite that way.

  • efc

    He and his sons did the beautiful linear parks along Ponce De Leon Avenue through Atlanta and Decatur
    http://www.atlantaolmstedpark.org/

  • CrunchyFrog

    The things you learn reading LGM. I’ve always known the Oberlin College’s Tappan Square was designed by an Olmsted, but after this post I googled around and found it was actually two of the sons (well, one a nephew later adopted) of the man featured in this post. This on the heels of a recent American grave post about the namesake of Tappan Square, which also taught me new knowledge.

  • Eli Rabett

    Olmsted also designed the US Capital grounds and it is obvious if you walk through them.

  • Katya

    The Olmstead Brothers designed a number of parks in Spokane and the PNW, as well as improving a number of pre-existing parks. It really is an amazing legacy.

  • osceola

    Thank you for mentioning his books about his travels in the antebellum south. For historians, he’s an excellent first-hand source. I have used his Texas book for research purposes.

  • LWA

    Even if it were Olmstead’s idea to evict the families who lived there, there is often a false dichotomy in the framing of the criticism.

    If we take land through eminent domain, is there really no other option than displacing and impoverishing the evictees? There isn’t the possibility of fair compensation and relocation?

    God knows if somehow we absolutely had to seize Google’s office campus for whatever reason, I doubt they would be kicked to the curb penniless.

    • John Revolta

      For what it’s worth, the people living on that land at the time were squatting on City property in tents and shacks and so on. Compensation and relocation weren’t an issue……especially as regards poor blacks and, even worse, Irish.

  • Linnaeus

    Seattle has many Olmsted parks, although they were designed by his son and stepson, since Olmsted himself died only a year after the city hired his firm.

  • Steppanhammer

    Maybe I slept through that section of Olmsted in my Intro to Landscape History (probably wasn’t actually covered), but I never knew that about his prewar activities. Very cool.

  • BruceJ

    He was also instrumental in gaining National Park status for Yosemite. If you ever go there, I highly recommend coming in from the east end of the park; that way your first glimpse of the valley and Half Dome comes from Olmstead Point.

  • DocAmazing

    Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland was designed by Olmstead, and is one of the most beautiful open spaces in the Bay Area (and in an area with Muir Woods, Golden Gate Park and Redwood Regional Park, the competition’s stiff).

  • mch

    Or Eastern Parkway. The idea of the “setback” is crucial to Olmsted thinking

    Olmsted, or probably his son, designed a local estate here in far western MA. On a local history site, many people have written in, remembering how as children they roamed and played on the estate, all to the delight of its owner. Now the core of it is a private school, and the rest is either attractive subdivision or I-dunno-what or who owns what — meadows and fields (with beautifully carved views of the mountains) that everyone passes as they drive or run by, beautiful. Children who live near enough no doubt still roam and play (or so I hope)….

    According to the authors of Gotham (or so I recall as my source), Olmsted wanted to hire blacks as well as Irish in constructing the phase of Central Park that was constructed during the CW. (Btw, not ALL of what became Central Park had been occupied by blacks — that’s oversimplifying.) Olmsted had already been “fired” and “rehired,” so he wasn’t bargaining from a position of strength. He was persuaded that the next phase of the project would be stopped dead in its tracks if blacks were hired: the Irish would object. So he caved on that one, but les to the Anglo-Dutch and more to the Irish interests of NYC. (Not that Tweed didn’t know how to play both sets of interests well.)

    Back to my western MA town. Citizens recently, successfully, resisted a development project that would have uglified our Main Street, which is so very beautiful for drivers-by, dog-walkers, runners, school children, anyone…. Yes, a few set-back, grand houses, still expensive, form the core here, but we ALL enjoy the effect…. Turns out, the Olmsted who designed that estate also designed our Main Street….

  • mch

    As for Erik and Hartford…. I am reminded of my mother-in-law, the sainted (truly) Betty. Her grandparents were born in VT, within a few miles of us in MA, but she was an Oregon girl, through and through, notwithstanding all those years in Texas and Oklahoma with her husband and children. When she visited us in MA after the birth of her first grandchild, it was a big deal for her. Her first time not just on an airplane but east of the Mississippi. To her immense surprise, she felt at home in New England. Green! Trees! Hills! Ocean nearby!

It is main inner container footer text