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Olmsted, Frederick Law (1822-1903)

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Frederick Law Olmsted

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The founder of American landscape architecture was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the city founded by his ancestors. James Olmsted was among those who sailed on Lyon to the Massachusetts colony in 1632 and then migrated with Thomas Hooker to Connecticut.

Frederick’s mother died when he was three, and a series of tragedies followed: failure as a farmer after eight years of struggle; success and then failure in the profession of writing and publishing; the early death by tuberculosis of his dearly beloved brother John.

Nevertheless, Olmsted went on to win the post of superintendent of Central Park in New York City, which he pioneered in designing with architect Calvert Vaux. Joining his intimate friend, Unitarian minister Henry Whitney Bellows, he served as chief executive officer of the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War.

As an American pioneer, he designed the U.S. Capitol and White House Grounds, the park systems of Buffalo and Chicago, Rochester and Louisville, Seattle and Boston, as well as the campus of Stanford University. In thirty years he established landscape architecture as both an art and a profession. Finally, he wrote the following words which led to the establishment of the United States Park Service in 1916:

“To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”