Olmsted, Frederick Law

Olmsted, Frederick Law,

1822–1903, American landscape architect and writer, b. Hartford, Conn. Although his Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England had appeared in 1852, Olmsted first attained fame for journalistic accounts of his travels in the American South during the early 1850s. In these works, published in book form as A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), A Journey through Texas (1857), A Journey in the Back Country (1860), and Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom (1861), he painted vivid pictures of the evils of slaveholding society. During the Civil War he served as secretary to the U.S. Sanitary Commission and pioneered various concepts of public health.

When Central Park in New York City was projected (1856), Olmsted and Calvert VauxVaux, Calvert
, 1824–95, American landscape architect, b. London. He emigrated (1850) to the United States, and assisted A. J. Downing with the U.S. Capitol grounds and a number of Hudson River estates.
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 prepared the plan that was accepted two years later, and Olmsted superintended its execution. The well-planned public park was a new departure, which Olmsted developed in many other parks and cities, e.g., Prospect Park, Brooklyn, N.Y.; South Park, Chicago; Mt. Royal Park, Montreal; park systems in Buffalo and Boston; and the grounds of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. One of his most spectacular achievements was the laying out of the grounds for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which he afterward redesigned as Jackson Park. Olmsted also took an interest in the creation of college campuses, e.g., Berkeley (1864), and state and national parks. In addition, he designed parkways and was involved in city planning.

His son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. 1870–1957, b. Staten Island, N.Y., grad. Harvard, 1894, was also a landscape architect and city planner. He studied with his father and began practice in 1895. He taught (1900–1914) Harvard's first course in landscape architecture. As a city planner he served on many committees and government boards. In 1901 he was influential in the plan for beautifying Washington, D.C.


See F. L. Olmsted's Forty Years of Landscape Architecture: Central Park, ed. by F. L. Olmsted, Jr., and T. Kimball (1928, repr. 1973), The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, ed. by C. C. McLaughlin et al. (9 vol., 1977–), Frederick Law Olmsted: Plans and Views of Public Parks, ed. by C. E. Beveridge et al. (2015), and Writings on Landscape, Culture, and Society, ed. by C. Beveridge (2015); biographies of the elder Olmsted by L. W. Roper (1974) and W. Rybczynski (1999); studies by J. G. Fabos et al. (1968), E. Barlow (1972), and C. E. Beveridge and P. Rocheleau (1995).

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Olmsted, Frederick Law

One of the most important landscape architects of the time, and an innovator in the design of public parks, much influenced by John Paxton’s work in England. He designed Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Central Park in New York City. His last large scheme was the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893), where he created a sylvan setting for the Neoclassical buildings of McKim, Mead and White, Daniel Burnham, and others.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

Olmsted, Frederick Law

(1822–1903) landscape architect, writer; born in Hartford, Conn. The father of landscape architecture in America (he literally coined the term), he attended lectures at Yale and studied engineering, then took a year-long voyage to China (1843). He returned to start an experimental farm on Staten Island (1847–57), influenced by the views of his friend, Andrew J. Downing. In 1850 he traveled to England where he was impressed by Birkenhead Park, just completed in gritty Liverpool. Commissioned by the New York Times, he traveled through the American South, and his eventual two-volume Cotton Kingdom (1861) was the classic work on plantation life. Superintendent of New York City's Central Park from 1857, he and Calvert Vaux, a young English architect, won the competition in 1858 to design the area, which was then mostly wilderness occupied by squatters. Their plans called for creating a pastoral effect—walkways winding around gentle slopes, along broad lawns and through groves of trees, with separate recreational areas and vehicular roads. When the Civil War broke out, he interrupted work on Central Park to become general secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission (1861–63), but political problems and ill health led him to go to California with his new family—he had married his brother's widow in 1859 and adopted her children, including John Olmsted. There he managed John C. Frémont's Mariposa properties, designed the Berkeley campus of the University of California, and worked to have Yosemite turned into a state reservation; he was soon among those proposing a system of protected wilderness areas for the U.S.A. Returning to New York (1865), he completed work on Central Park, and with Calvert Vaux, he set up a private firm of landscape architecture, which over ensuing decades designed numerous parks distinguished by his vision of saving natural environments within urban areas, such as Brooklyn's Prospect Park, the Boston park system, Chicago's South Park, and Montreal's Mount Royal Park. The firm also designed hundreds of other projects such as the U.S. Capitol Grounds, the Riverside community outside Chicago, and the grounds of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893). In 1888 he moved his office to Brookline, Mass., but his firm retained its supremacy in the field.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Olmsted, Frederick Law. The Cotton Kingdom: A Travaller's Observations on Cotton and Slavery in the American Slave States.