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“These Men Were Prophets!” » Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822 – 1903) is often remembered as the father of of American landscape architecture. His impact on the origin, design and development of Rochester’s Parks was considerable and extended even well beyond his retirement and death by way of the firm he created that was maintained by his sons.

Olmsted became famous for designing New York’s Central Park along with his partner Calvert Vaux. From the time he started on the design (1868) of the Buffalo NY Historic System of Parks and Parkways, Rochester Park enthusiasts sought his advice and services. As recorded in the NY Times in 1883, Ellwanger & Barry tied the original gift of the land for Highland Park with the use of Olmsted’s design services. Although, that gift was turned down, the eventual acceptance of the land for what would become Highland Park triggered the birth of Rochester’s Park Commission. Olmsted then recommended the purchase of lands for Genesee Valley and Seneca/Maplewood parks and was then retained as the designer of all three parks.

“At the suggestion of Olmsted…a civil engineer named Calvin C. Laney was engaged to prepare contour maps on which Olmsted then worked out his landscaping plans, taking full advantage of the rolling pastoral fields of the southern park and the more rugged grandeur of the river banks north of the city. New acres were added to each of these parks and to that bordering the reservior when opportunities to improve their approaches arose. The distinctive features of each park were fostered, and, as the facilities for reaching them improved, Rochesterians began to display their first enthusiasm over the public parks.

… it was at Highland Park that Olmsted’s conception of “an idealized rural landscape” received its greatest expression. Roch-esterians had been accustomed for decades to delight in the blooming fields and gardens of local nurserymen, and it seemed most fitting that this park should take over the display functions formerly served by the park’s donors and other nurserymen now crowded beyond the city’s borders.”
From: An Historical View of Rochester’s Parks and Playgrounds By Blake McKelvey in Rochester History Volume XI No.1 January 1949

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