Frederick Law Olmsted is best-known today as the “Father of Landscape Architecture.”
His biography says he created the profession of landscape architecture by working in a dry goods store; taking a year-long voyage in the China trade; and by studying surveying, engineering, chemistry, and scientific farming.
Though I found references saying he did attend Yale College, apparently he was about to enter Yale College in 1837, but weakened eyes from sumac poisoning prevented him the usual course of study and did not graduate from college.
His career started out in journalism, when he travelled to England in 1850 to visit public gardens there, including Birkenhead Park, a park said to have been designed by Joseph Paxton which opened in April of 1847…and the first publicly funded civic park in the world.
Joseph Paxton, a gardener and greenhouse builder by trade…
…was also said to have been commissioned by Baron Mayer Rothschild in 1850 to design the Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire…
…and Joseph Paxton was also given credit for designing the Crystal Palace to house the 1851 Great Exhibition in London in Hyde Park.
The Crystal Palace was described as a massive glass house that was 1,848-feet, or 563-meters, long, by 454-feet, or 138-meters, wide, and constructed from cast-iron frame components and glass.
After his trip, Olmsted published “Walks and Talks of an American Farmer” in England in 1852, where he recorded the sights, sounds and mental impressions of rural England from his visit.
Frederick Law Olmsted was also commissioned by the New York Daily Times to start on an extensive research journey in the American South and Texas between 1852 and 1857.
The dispatches he sent to the Times were collected into three books, and considered vivid, first-person accounts of the antebellum South: “A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States,” first published in 1856…
…”A Journey through Texas,” published in 1857…
…and “A Journey in the Back Country in the Winter of 1853 – 1854,” published in 1860.
All three of these books were published in one book, called “Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom,” in 1861 during the first six months of the American Civil War at the suggestion of his English publisher.
Frederick Law Olmsted also provided financial support for, and sometimes wrote for, “The Nation,” a progressive magazine that is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, having been founded on July 6th of 1865, only three-months after the end of the American Civil War.
Frederick Law Olmsted’s career as a prolific and celebrated landscape architect was said to have gotten its start teaming up with Calvert Vaux in the design and creation of Central Park in New York City.
He had been introduced to English-born architect Calvert Vaux by his mentor, another founder of American landscape architecture, Andrew Jackson Downing, who died in 1852 in a tragic steamboat fire.
A prominent advocate of the Gothic Revival architectural movement, Andrew Jackson Downing had brought Calvert Vaux to the United States as his architectural collaborator after they met when Downing was travelling through Europe in 1850.
Olmsted and Vaux entered the Central Park design contest together after Downing’s death in 1852.
Vaux was said to have been impressed by Olmsted’s theories and political contacts, though Olmsted had never designed or executed a landscape design.
Their design, announced as the winner in 1858, was called the “Greensward Plan.”
Frederick Law Olmsted’s visit to Birkenhead Park in 1850 was said to have provided him inspiration for the Central Park design.
Backing up in time just a tad regarding Central Park, the land for it was said to have been donated by Robert B. Minturn, after he and his family’s return from an 18-month grand-tour of Europe between 1848 and 1850.
Robert B. Minturn was one of the most prominent American merchants and shippers of the mid-19th century.
Robert Minturn was also an active manager of many charitable associations in New York city, who aided in establishing the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and the New York Juvenile Asylum.
There were an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 homeless children in New York City by 1850, which was said to have a population at the time of 500,000 people.
Reportedly a close friend of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Loring Brace established the Children’s Aid Society in 1853.
It was during this time that the American West was opening up for settlement, and we are told Brace’s vision was to emigrate children to live with western farming families.
A movement going in this direction was widely supported by members of wealthy New York families, like Charlotte Augusta Gibbes, the wife of John Jacob Astor III, who was the wealthiest Astor family member of his generation.
The New York Juvenile Asylum (NYJA) that Central Park’s Robert Minturn was associated with, and which was established in 1851, sent an estimated 6,000 children out west between September of 1854 until 1923, and was in the top four of institutions participating in the American orphan train movement.
Criticisms of the orphan train movement focused on concerns that initial placements were made hastily, without proper investigation, and that there was insufficient follow-up on placements. Charities were also criticized for not keeping track of children placed while under their care.
What was the true significance of Charles Loring Brace’s orphan train movement?
Was it really about finding impoverished children from the city a good home and a better life, as we are taught?
Or was the orphan train movement the beginning of something else entirely, the organized shipping of children for other reasons?
What was really going on here?
Frederick Law Olmsted was the first executive secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission.
The United States Sanitary Commission was a private relief agency created by federal legislation on June 18th of 1861, with the mission of supporting the sick and wounded soldiers of the Union Army.
Sanitary Fairs were fundraising events held to support this agency.
The “Sanitary Fairs” had everything, including majestic “temporary” buildings said to have been built for the fairs, to be torn down after, and while not as elaborate as the big expositions such as in Chicago, they were still something in and of themselves.
The planner of the United States Sanitary Commission, and its only president from 1861 to 1878, was Henry Whitney Bellows, an American Unitarian Clergyman.
He was the Pastor of the First Congregational Unitarian Church of New York City at the time of the American Civil War, also known as the All Souls Unitarian Church.
This building for Henry Whitney Bellows’ congregation, also known as the “Church of the Holy Zebra,” was said to have been built between 1853 and 1855, and in use only until 1929, at which time they moved uptown.
This church building was destroyed by fire on August 23rd of 1931.
Here is a description of the organs that were once housed in this beautiful building destroyed by fire.
In addition to planning and organizing the United States Sanitary Commission, Henry Whitney Bellows was an organizer of the Union League Club of New York, along with Frederick Law Olmsted, George Templeton Strong, and Wolcott Gibbs.
It was a private social club for wealthy men that opened in New York City in 1863 where pro-Union men could come together “to cultivate a profound national devotion” and “strengthen a love and respect for the Union.”
It became the most exclusive mens’ club in Manhattan, and perhaps in the nation.
This location for the Union League Club was said to have been built on the northeast corner of 5th Avenue and 39th Street between 1879 and 1881.
This Union League Clubhouse closed its doors permanently on January 24th of 1931, after a new clubhouse was built on Park Avenue and 37th Street starting in 1929.
A little over a year later, on January 26th of 1932, a fire was said to have started in the basement, and engulfed the whole building in a short-period of time.
Unitarian clergyman Henry Whitney Bellows was also involved in the organizing of the Century Association in New York City, founded in 1847 and incorporated in 1857.
The Century Association was a private social, arts and dining club, and named after the first 100 people proposed as members.
The Century Association Building at 42 E. 15th Street was in-use by the association starting in 1857, and served as one of the headquarters of the United States Sanitary Commission.
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were members of the Century Association, as well as many other famous architects, artists, writers, presidents, industrialists, financiers, and the like.
Frederick Law Olmsted’s prodigious career as a landscape architect also included the following works:
Olmsted and Vaux were credited with include the landscaping plan in 1866 for Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York…
…the community plan for Riverside, Illinois, one of the first planned communities, in 1868…
…the Buffalo Olmsted Park System, New York’s oldest system of paths and pathways, which included six parks, seven parkways, eight landscaped circles, and other public spaces, said to have been designed with Vaux starting in 1868.
According to the notation on the bottom of this image of his map of the Buffalo Park System, Olmsted proclaimed that “Buffalo was the best planned city in the United States…if not the world.”
The plan for the Walnut Hill Park in New Britain, Connecticut, was said to have been designed by Olmsted and Vaux in 1870.
The Mount Royal Park in Montreal Quebec was planned in 1877, said to be the first park Olmsted created after he and Vaux dissolved their partnership in 1872.
Other landscape plans for which Frederick Law Olmsted is listed as the primary landscape architect include:
Boston’s Emerald Necklace of Parks starting in 1878…
…and in 1888, in Rochester, New York, both Highland Park…
…and the Genesee Valley Park.
The Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Michigan, sometime in the 1880s…
…and the Cadwalader Park in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1890.
The Cherokee Park in Louisville, Kentucky in 1891…
…and starting in 1892, Olmsted is credited with the Grand Necklace of Parks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, also known as the Emerald Necklace, which includes Lake Park…
…and Juneau Park.
For the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, we are told Frederick Law Olmsted collaborated with yet another prolific architect, Chicagoan Daniel Burnham, to adapt Olmsted’s design of a Venetian-inspired pleasure ground, complete with waterways and places for quiet reflection in nature that complemented the grand architecture of the exposition…
…for the South Park Commission Site for the World’s Columbian Exposition of Jackson Park, Washington Park, and the Midway Plaisance.
This area was described as a sandy area along Chicago’s lakeshore that looked like a deserted marsh before construction began, but Olmsted saw, we are told, the area’s potential, and that his design included lagoons and what became known as Wood Island since they had not been developed yet.
As the person responsible for planning the basic land- and water-shape of the exposition grounds, we are told that Olmsted concluded the marshy areas of Jackson Park could be converted into waterways, and that workers dredged sand out of the marshes to make lagoons of different shapes and sizes.
Of course, since the buildings of the Exposition were only intended to be temporary structures, they were torn down afterwards, but Olmsted’s Jackson Park was left as a legacy for Chicagoans to enjoy…
…which hosts one of two Exposition buildings that were left standing – the former Palace of Fine Arts, which houses the Museum of Science and Industry today.
The other still-standing building from the 1893 Exposition is the Art Institute of Chicago…
…which was said to have been utilized as an auxiliary building during the Exposition for international assemblies and conferences.
Also in the early 1890s, Olmsted was said to have been tasked with designing Druid Hills in Atlanta, one of the city’s first planned suburbs…
…with his curvilinear style in which small parks are like wings on both sides of a straight line, in this case Ponce de Leon Avenue.
Frederick Law Olmsted’s last project, we are told, was for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina…
…where he was employed by George Washington Vanderbilt III to design the landscape for his new Biltmore Estate, which was said to have been built between 1889 and 1895.
The Olmsted Legacy in landscape architecture did not end, however, as it was carried on by his son, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and adopted son and nephew John Charles Olmsted, in the form of the Olmsted Brothers architectural firm which they established in 1898.
The Olmsted Brothers architectural firm was credited with things like the completion of Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta, called the Central Park of the South…
…as well as the landscape architecture for the 1906 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon…
…the 1909 Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, Washington…
…and the Olmsted Brothers played an influential role, among many other things, in the creation of the National Park Service, which was established in August of 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.
There are many famous architects and engineers to choose from for a study of the reset historical narrative, but Frederick Law Olmsted, and later the Olmsted Brothers, who carried on his legacy in the field of landscape architecture, seems to have been elevated in stature and ability to provide the explanation for how our current narrative came into existence after I believe was an unnatural occurrence that happened on earth not all that long ago, relatively-speaking.
Yet the stories we are told to explain the world we live in just don’t add up!