A multi-talented visionary and prolific landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) had many careers: farmer, journalist, manager of public and private projects, and author, among others. He was the originator and co-founder of The Nation during the Civil War (still in publication) and headed the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the predecessor of the American Red Cross.
Working in an age of urbanization and industrialization, Olmsted saw parks as the “self-preserving instinct of civilization.” With an early bent for the land and its protection, he was a leader of the campaign to protect Niagara Falls and worked to preserve what is now Yosemite National Park. As a landscape architect, his firm was involved in the design of nearly 5,000 projects in 45 states and several countries. His work changed the landscape of America through such projects as: Central Park (Manhattan), the U.S. Capitol grounds and the West Front terrace, Mount Royal Park (Montreal), Prospect Park (Brooklyn), and the Biltmore Estate grounds (North Carolina).
Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner, Calvert Vaux, chose the term “landscape architect” to describe their work, a term that has become part of our vocabulary. He designed (and named) the “parkway” as a way to separate commercial vehicles from recreational ones. He created the first park systems and greenways in the country, and launched the first great experiment in scientific forestry in the U.S. He is also credited with designing the first planned suburb.
Throughout almost twenty years of work on the Emerald Necklace (1878-1896), Olmsted created special retreats — places for both active and passive recreation; green and open spaces offering relief and refreshment from the pressures and tensions of everyday life.
Beyond the natural beauty Frederick Law Olmsted harnessed or redesigned in his many works, his greatest legacy may be his social vision and the unwavering belief in democracy that he brought to his profession — a belief that parks could serve as meeting grounds for people of different backgrounds and economic means. In the Emerald Necklace, this belief has been achieved.