Honoring Olmsted:Lecture to spotlight architect inspired by Adirondacks

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Jan. 5—KEENE — Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted never shook the Adirondacks, a childhood imprint.

April 26, 2022, marks the 200th birthday of the author, journalist, public official, city planner and father of American landscape architecture.

Olmsted and his successor firms designed thousands of landscape projects across the country, transforming American life and culture.

His vision of public parks for all people — and their ability to strengthen communities and promote public well-being — are now more important than ever, according to www.olmsted200.org


The Adirondack Garden Club (AGC) invites interested persons to a virtual discussion of "The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted," Monday, Jan. 10 at 11 a.m.

Roxanne Zimmer, Ph.D., community horticulture specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension Suffolk County, will give the lecture via Zoom and will focus on explaining the design principles utilized by Olmsted in his gardens, answering such questions as: What are the hallmarks of Olmsted park design? What made his work outstanding and radical in his time? Why are these features so important today?

Lecture attendees will take a virtual trip to Central Park, Prospect Park, Boston's Emerald Necklace and the Bayard Cutting Arboretum to see the key features that answer these questions.

"Olmsted had a lifelong affinity for all things Adirondacks because he, as a child, was taken to the Adirondacks with his family, and it left this lasting impression on him such that you can go to most major parks of his today and you see some remnants of the Adirondacks," Zimmer said.

"It might be a rustic building. It might be a fence. It might be a little gathering place, but he has it done in the Adirondack style. He connected to the Adirondacks. I don't know if he ever said it. He usually called it rustic. Clearly, it's the chairs, everything about it is Adirondacks. In fact if you go to his house in Massachusetts, the entryway to his house has like kind of a little Adirondack opening. It's amazing. It's just amazing."


Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Olmsted's father, a successful dry-goods merchant, loved scenery and took Olmsted on regular trips through the countryside, according to the website.

Early on, Olmsted developed a great love of travel, but showed little love, however, for formal education.

He was schooled largely by ministers and briefly attended Yale. But sickness caused him to withdraw after his first semester.

For the next 20 years he "gathered experiences," which helped shape his landscape design: a year-long voyage in the China Trade, farming on Staten Island, reporting for the New York Daily Times, and serving as a partner in a publishing firm and managing editor of a literary and political journal.

In 1850, Olmsted took a six-month walking tour that was to prove life-changing. He paid a visit to Liverpool's Birkenhead Park, a rare public park, open to all.

There, Olmsted concluded that park access should be a right of all Americans.

"I was ready to admit," he wrote, "that in democratic America there was nothing to be thought of as comparable to this People's Garden."

"He believed in parks being places that were therapeutic," Zimmer said.

"That being out in nature would heal people he then said of the new stresses of urban life. So, he saw it as an elixir. Parks were an elixir to the stresses of modern life. That at the time was a pretty radical notion."

Olmsted also thought all parks should be open access to everyone regardless of race, color creed, circumstance.

"They all should be free and open to the public," Zimmer said.

"That was a radical notion, too, in the 1850s. So what he essentially then set up for us in America to enjoy these 100 or 200 years later is that we now have these gorgeous, handsome wonderful parks that are free and open to the public. His became the model for what anyone else would follow. Everybody else followed his lead."

The Adirondacks influenced Olmsted tremendously.

"He loved the way that waters and woods, he called it scenery, came together," Zimmer said.

"That's what he would recreate in his parks. What he learned and saw in the Adirondacks. What he absorbed, he was a kid. What he was mindful of as a kid is in part what he tried to recreate in his parks."

More than a "park maker," Olmsted designed every kind of landscape, including parks and parkway systems, diverse recreation areas, college campuses, urban and suburban areas, planned communities, cemeteries and specialized landscapes for arboreta and expositions.

It's the year that nationally we all should be celebrating Olmsted," Zimmer said.

"In my position at Cornell Cooperative Extension, I teach the gardening programs to the public. I'm trying to raise consciousness and awareness of the significant legacy that I think we take for granted. People should be aware of that we have this particular individual to thank for so much of what we enjoy in public parks.


Olmsted defined American landscape architecture through the hundreds of projects he envisioned across the country. His public parks, now over 150 years old, remain thriving natural oases in the heart of American cities.

He is best known for his landscape design of seven well-known gardens: Central Park in New York City, Prospect Park, Brooklyn; Emerald Necklace, Boston; Biltmore Estate, Asheville; Mount Royal, Montreal; and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and White House.

Olmsted also conceived the idea for the original 4,000 acres of pastureland and woods at Shelburne Farms in Vermont.

"His legacy is enormous, and we have him to thank for what we enjoy today," Zimmer said.

"He helped set up Niagara Falls. He got all the buildings that were there. He helped that group demolish all the buildings because he said, oh my God, everybody was using hydro power all along the falls."


The Garden Club of America is a partner of the Olmsted 200 campaign, with 199 member clubs throughout the country, including the Adirondack Garden Club, participating in educating the public as to Olmsted's importance.

Through events, education and advocacy at the local and national levels, Olmsted 200 ensures that Olmsted's legacy lives on by renewing public and policy commitments to the preservation and maintenance of our historic parks and places.

More information on Olmsted 200 is available at www.olmsted200.org.

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