Though Frederick Law Olmsted is perhaps best known for his work on Central Park in Manhattan, he has left his mark on numerous cities across the continent via his landscape designs. Olmsted was born in 1822, in Hartford Connecticut, to a merchant with a passion for nature. Frederick’s mother died before he reached age four, the woman his father remarried had an equally fervent love for the natural world.
Frederick attended prestigious schools such as Phillips Academy and Yale College, but chose to drop his plans for college due to sumac poisoning, which hindered his eyesight. Nonetheless, he went on to enjoy numerous careers and titles, including farmer, sailor, journalist, Leader of Sanitary Commission, conservationist, and ultimately – landscape designer.
Olmsted was introduced by Andrew Jackson Downing, a revered landscape architect, to an English architect by the name of Calvert Vaux. Vaux and Olmsted entered a Central Park design competition together, and they won, despite Olmsted having never before executed a landscape design. The Central Park project, beginning in 1858, was the start of a fruitful partnership between the two designers. Some of Olmsted’s other projects include: public parkways in New York, the Niagara Reservation in Niagara Falls, Mount Royal Park in Montreal, the master plans for UC Berkeley and Stanford University in California, and copious park systems across the United States. His firm was involved in the design of almost 5,000 projects in nearly every state in the country.
Olmstead worked on the Emerald Necklace in Massachusetts from 1878-1896. The Emerald Necklace is a 5-mile park system stretching from the Charles River to Dorchester, and is comprised of six parks: Back Bay Fens, The Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park. This chain was designed with the intention of connecting people and nature. As intended, it has become a place of recreational activities, from sailing to hiking, and the system even includes a zoo.
In 1895 Olmsted suffered a mental breakdown and was living in an asylum in Massachusetts until he died in 1903. Sadly, his groundbreaking work was not fully appreciated until after his death; Olmsted’s passion for nature lives on through his awe-inspiring work across America.