Frederick Law Olmsted
b. Hartford, Connecticut d. Brookline, Mass.
b. London, England d. Brooklyn, NY
Born to wealth Frederick Law Olmsted led the life of a
dilettante until 1857 when as a result
of long cultivated social connections won
an appointment as the Superintendent of
the development of New York City's new
843 acre park.
Working as an apprentice architect in
London in 1850 Vaux met Andrew Jackson
Downing, the prominent American landscape
designer who hired him as an associate for a
firm he was starting in Newburgh, New York.
In turn he moved to New York settled into
domestic life and by 1856 became a citizen
of the United States.
Two men from truly disparate backgrounds
were set on a life's path that would eventually
affect the destiny of the world's fastest
In 1858, the City of New York had already
initiated plans for a new park at the center of
Manhattan and elicited designs through an
Calvert Vaux, who had been working on a
design for the park made the right political
move and approached Olmsted with the idea
of forming a working collaboration. Called the
Greensward Plan the effort of that union was
submitted to the park competition.
The strategy proved to be fateful when the
examining committee chose theirs as the
Serving as the chief architect from 1858-1861
as a presence at the construction
site to make sure the collaborative vision was
fulfilled. Theirs would be a park conforming to
the real contours of nature with rich woodlands,
winding paths and hills and valleys. Theirs
would be a park replete with Vauxs architectural
vision, which united design and nature with
the human spirit.
Olmsted was fastidious in his attention to detail
and both fought the ugly demon of political
infighting to make sure events conformed to
their original plan. They succeeded heroically
against a succession of negativity until 1877
when the team was dismissed from the project.
Olmsted and Vaux devoted twenty years of
their lives to the hoped for realization of a
dream only to fall victims to the city
bureaucracy and petty political infighting.
There is no single tribute or monument in
the Park to their collaborative effort. Their
memory for most is simply a footnote in history and a graphic tribute at the Dairy below..