Skip to main content
The PBS on-demand streaming service, WNED PBS Passport, is available in Canada! Learn More

Learn More

Olmsted and America

By: Ken Chowder

Frederick Law Olmsted’s relationship to his nation does not, at the outset, seem especially complex. He was as American as clam chowder: he was born in Connecticut, of New England stock, and died in Massachusetts. He lived an upper-class American life all his 81 years, despite a series of financial struggles. Even so, one might cite a line from Citizen Kane: Charles Foster Kane describes the object of his interest, shop girl Susan Alexander, as “a cross-section of the American public.”

Olmsted - Light and Dark

By Ken Chowder

All Olmsted can be divided into two parts.He was a brilliant success, whose life was marked by tragedy and colored by frustration.

The Olmsted Firms: The Men Around the Master

By Keith Morgan

Frederick Law Olmsted was an autodidact. Having given up college for medical reasons, he trained himself on the job for the various careers he later pursued: scientific agriculture, journalism and eventually landscape architecture. The position that would ultimately determine the remainder of his life and establish his national reputation was one that, to a large extent, he fell into due to the failure of his previous enterprises.

The Persistence of Olmsted's Influence

By Robin Karson

Through the vast body of his firm’s work, Frederick Law Olmsted laid the foundation for a school of American landscape design whose principles and goals were closely aligned with his own. The origins of this school can be found in Olmsted’s first design, executed for Central Park collaboratively with Calvert Vaux in 1858, and traced through the second half of the nineteenth century as his influence spread through a scattered network of professional landscape practitioners. Few realize that it continued to guide American designs throughout the twentieth century.

Olmsted and Scenic Preservation

By Ethan Carr

Frederick Law Olmsted is rightly remembered as the most accomplished landscape architect in U.S. history; the designer of great municipal parks and other landscapes. He was also a key figure in the nation’s most significant early examples of scenic preservation. These endeavors were not mutually exclusive, and in fact park design and scenic preservation were both aspects of the practice of landscape architecture Olmsted developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. Public parks of all types – from municipal pleasure grounds to state and national reservations – made it possible for the general public, not just a wealthy few, to experience a wide range of landscape scenery.

Olmsted's Buffalo Park System and Its Stewards

By Thomas Herrera-Mishler

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), America’s first and greatest landscape architect, designed a system of parks and parkways in Buffalo that was the first of its kind in the nation and represents one of his largest bodies of work. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the system consists of six major parks, their connecting parkways and circles, and several smaller spaces.

John Charles Olmsted in the Pacific Northwest

By Laurence Cotton

Laurelhurst Park and Terwilliger Boulevard in Portland. Volunteer Park and Lake Washington Boulevard in Seattle. Corbin and Manito parks in Spokane. The campuses of Linfield College in McMinnville and Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon; Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington; the University of Washington in Seattle; the University of Idaho in Moscow; and the grounds of the State Capitol in Olympia, Washington. The Highlands residential development in Seattle and the Uplands in Victoria, British Columbia.

All of these sites demonstrate the inimitable Olmsted landscape design imprint, the clear influence of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. But in fact all of them, and many others in the Pacific Northwest, were designed by John Charles Olmsted.

Olmsted the Gold Miner

By Ken Chowder

January 6, 1865, was a fateful day in the history of American parks. That evening, two strangers showed up in Frederick Law Olmsted’s office in Bear Valley, California, a remote mining town at the rugged edge of the Sierras. Olmsted was there managing the Mariposa Estate – one of the most gigantic mining operations in the world. The operation was mining for gold, producing $25 thousand worth of it a month or more.

Designing a Middle-class Community: Riverside, Illinois

By Charles Beveridge

Olmsted’s vision of the future metropolis included suburban villages. In this new setting, Olmsted predicted, a suburban yeomanry would develop that would be the backbone of the increasingly urban nation, just as the independent yeoman farmers of an earlier time had been the mainstay of the rural republic. Amid the flux of modern life, with its threat of a class conflict, the home-owning suburban middle class would provide a balance wheel for society. “They stand in the vanguard of our civilization,” he declared; “they are our stronghold against agrarian and nihilistic tendencies. They are the best security we have.”

The Richardson Olmsted Complex: Landscape's Contribution to Well-Being from the Nineteenth through the Twenty-First Centuries

By Sharon F. Cramer, Ph.D.

Frederick Law Olmsted was in the right place at the right time. In 1869, he was invited to be a guest of influential Buffalo businessman and politician William Dorsheimer at the newly established Buffalo Club. The third guest at the table was architect Henry Hobson Richardson. When, a few months later, Buffalo won the bid to build the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, later renamed the Buffalo State Hospital, Olmsted and Richardson were directly involved in the development of the site, the former as landscape architect, and the latter as building architect. The site’s 203 acres of untouched farmland was recognized as one of the facility’s major assets.

Website Produced by WNED PBS

Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing Americais a co-production of WNED PBS, Buffalo/Toronto and Florentine Films/Hott Productions Inc., made possible by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor and The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation. With funding provided by HSBC, The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and The C.E. & S. Foundation. With additional support from The Peter C. Cornell Trust and Mass Humanities.

© 2014 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association. All rights reserved.