Frederick Law Olmsted

A special guest is scheduled for January 12th’s New Year’s Party – Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted. Yes, we know, he died in 1903. But that was not an obstacle for Mr. John Bartram, who died in 1777, and appeared at the 2011 Friends New Year’s Party. Thanks to the theatrical excellence of Kirk Brown, it will not be an obstacle for Mr. Olmsted either. Here is some homework to do before the Members Only New Years Party. Garnering information about Mr. Olmsted is aided by the many wonderful websites about him, including Here we learn that his concept of the role of the landscape architect was “as broad as his social and political concerns. Olmsted saw his profession as a way to shape the American city by designing public parks and park systems to meet a wide range of recreational needs.” You can register (for free) to take part in the Olmsted forum, which is populated with knowledgeable folks who frequent Olmsted parks.

The National Parks Service Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, MA has a neat website Here is an interactive World Map of Olmsted designed sites.

To learn about all the places that his firm and his sons designed go to A quick search revealed some 236 New Jersey properties, private and municipal, received the Olmsted touch. These include many in Essex County, many near Trenton and a number here in Morris County including Drew University, Glen Farm (a cemetery) the private homes of the Twombleys, Perkins, Willis’s and a Miss Margaret Howes. What fun to research further and see if any of them are extant.

The city of Louisville loves Olmsted big time. Go to to read about their efforts to restore these beautiful public spaces in their city where, they write, that Olmsted designed for three types of recreation: Recreative or individual use, such as walking or relaxing; Gregarious or social use, such as picnics; Exertive or athletic use, such as ballgames.

These activities were to be enjoyed in enhanced parklands where “sequestered and limitless natural scenery” could have a “poetic and tranquilizing influence” on an urban populace otherwise surrounded by brick and steel, cement and fumes. That’s how I like my parks to affect people too!

Finally, visit for learning at the highest level. Here are links to the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian and Harvard Design School.

In the cold, coming months surely you will have an hour or so to peruse these sites and learn something of a man whose work “reflects a vision of American communities and American society still relevant today – a commitment to visually compelling and accessible green space that restores and nurtures the body and spirit of all people, regardless of their economic circumstances.” Then, come to the New Year’s Party and be prepared to meet the man!

by Lesley Parness –