Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted

Central Park, New York City fame landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted was born on April 26, 1822, in Hartford, Connecticut. Son of a merchant, Olmsted inherited love for nature, people and place from his father.

In 1838, at the age of 16, Olmsted intended to get admission at Philips Academy, Yale College but withdrew his plans because of weakness of his eyesight due to sumac poisoning. Thus, he was given private tuitions for topographical and civil engineering. He tried several professions including being a clerk, farmer, seaman, merchant, and journalist and later moved to a farm in 1848 towards the south of Staten Island, with the help of his father. There he worked as a newspaper correspondent, publishing several books as an outgrowth of that career.  Moreover, he travelled throughout the southern United States.  With the help of different contacts as a columnist, in 1857 Olmsted became the superintendent of Central Park of New York without any college degree.

After serving as the administrator of the park, Olmsted became the architect in-chief for a new design proposal of the park and ultimately the design proposed by his team became the winning design. The park took twenty five years for completion and its construction took a great toll from Olmsted in the form of his health. After this Olmsted was made the administrative head of the US Sanitary Commission, which was the forerunner of the American Red Cross and next was his last job as the manager of the vast Mariposa gold mining estate in California, before commencing his own firm.

Frederick Law Olmsted had great love for designing the urban life. He wanted to preserve areas of natural beauty and promote them for the enjoyment and exposure to public. Due to his great passion he became the first head of the commission incharge of preserving Yosemite Valley and later in 1887 served as a leader in establishing the Niagara Reservation. By 1860s Olmsted had reserved the status of a notable landscape architect and was basketing a lot of projects as major consultant and designer from all over the eastern US. Instead of splitting the natural elements and natural beauty from the cities, Olmsted’s strategy was to blend in the landscapes and such natural features into the built environment. His concepts changed the whole outlook of city planning. He initiated a project named City Beautiful.

He also happened to have great fondness for writing. In 1850 Olmsted commenced writing during his walking tour of England. He stayed there for almost 6 months and wrote Walks and Talks of an American Farmer. Later he got the chance to write for the New York Daily Times and his writings brought attention towards blacks and poor whites being crushed by socio-economics of southern plantation agriculture. Olmsted wrote several books and papers and kept writing throughout his life.

Frederick Law Olmsted worked with great dedication and succeeded in maintaining a lavish practice throughout his career. He retired in 1872 and dedicated all of his time for his own firm and supervised almost 550 projects through his firm from 1872 to 1895. In 1895 Olmsted suffered from a mental break down that made him spent last years of his life in an asylum and died on August 28, 1903.