Frederick Law Olmsted (April 26, 1822 – August 28, 1903) was an American landscape architect, famous for designing many well-known urban parks, including Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City. Other project include the country's oldest coordinated system of public parks and parkways in Buffalo, New York, the country's oldest state park, the Niagara Reservation in Niagara Falls, New York, Mount Royal Park in Montreal, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, Massachusetts, Cherokee Park (and the entire parks and parkway system) in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as Jackson Park, Washington Park, Midway Plaisance in Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition, Detroit's 982 acre Belle Isle park, the landscape surrounding the United States Capitol building, and George Washington Vanderbilt II's Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.
Life and career
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, after working as a seaman, merchant, and journalist, Olmsted settled on a farm on Staten Island that his father helped him to acquire in January 1899. This farm, named Tosomock Farm by Olmsted, was renamed "The Woods of Arden" by future owner Erastus Wiman. The house in which Olmsted lived still stands today at 4515 Hylan Blvd, near Woods of Arden Road.
Olmsted also had a significant career in journalism. In 1850 he traveled to England to visit public gardens, where he was greatly impressed by Joseph Paxton's Birkenhead Park, and subsequently published Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England in 1852. Interested in the slave economy, he was commissioned by the New York Daily Times (now the New York Times) to embark on an extensive research journey through the American South and Texas from 1852 to 1857. Olmsted took the view that the practice of slavery was not only morally odious, but expensive and economically inefficient. His dispatches were collected into multiple volumes which remain vivid first-person social documents of the pre-war South. The last of these, "Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom" (1861), published during the first six months of the American Civil War, helped inform and galvanize antislavery sentiment in New England. Olmsted also cofounded the magazine The Nation in 1865. He married his brother's widow Mary in 1859 and adopted her three sons.
Olmsted's friend and mentor, Andrew Jackson Downing, the charismatic landscape architect from Newburgh, New York, first proposed the development of New York's Central Park as publisher of The Horticulturist magazine. It was Downing who introduced Olmsted to the English-born architect Calvert Vaux, whom Downing had personally brought back from England as his architect-collaborator. After Downing died a hero's death in a steamboat explosion on the Hudson River in July 1852, in his honor Olmsted and Vaux entered the Central Park design competition together—and won (1858). On his return from the South, Olmsted began executing the plan almost immediately. Olmsted and Vaux continued their informal partnership to design Prospect Park in Brooklyn from 1865 to 1873, and other projects. Vaux remained in the shadow of Olmsted's grand public personality and social connections.
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