Father’s Day, a time honored tradition of thanking the fathers and father figures in our lives for their support, encouragement and very presence, seems an ideal day for those of us involved in the landscape industry to give a head nod to the father of landscape architecture. Although there exists several contenders whom one may consider the father of landscape architecture, the name most commonly recognized is that of Frederick Law Olmsted.
Olmsted, born in Connecticut in 1822, did not begin a career in the green industry until the year he turned 35. Prior to that he had tried his hand at several professions including scientific farming – what is now known as agriculture, merchant seaman, traveling news correspondent, and even an author. In 1857, seventeen years after he embarked on a walking tour of the gardens and country sides of Europe, Olmsted landed the illustrious position of the superintendent for Central Park. It was here that he met Calvert Vaux, a British Architect who had been collaborating with Andrew Downing on a landscape design for Central Park. Andrew, whom some would argue is the father of landscape architecture, met a tragic end at the age of 37 in a steamboat fire. His untimely and unexpected death allowed for a collaboration between Olmsted and Vaux, who presented to the city of New York the design titled Greensward.
Seemingly a nomadic soul, Olmsted traveled throughout the United States serving in positions ranging from the Executive Secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission (an early version of the American Red Cross), and as the Manager do the Mariposa Estate in California where he was involved in gold mining activities. Upon his return to New York he rejoined forces with Vaux, and they worked on landscape designs for Prospect Park, Riverside (a Chicago subdivision), the Buffalo park system, and the reservation at Niagara Falls. Olmsted remained committed to creating sustainable green spaces to be enjoyed by all up until his death in 1903. Other landscape projects attributed to Olmsted include the United States Capitol, Stanford University, Fenway, the Biltmore Estate, and the Mount Royal Park located in Quebec, Canada.
To learn more about Frederick Law Olmstead and his contribution to the landscape industry be sure to peruse one of the books written by or about Olmstead including:
Frederick Law Olmsted Papers. Olmsted, Frederick Law.
Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove: A Preliminary Report, 1865. Olmsted, Frederick Law.
Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted. Martin, Justin.
Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing the American Landscape. Beveridge, Charles.
A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century. Rybczynski, Witold.
Civilizing American Cities: Writings on City Landscapes. Olmsted, Frederick Law.