Happy Birthday, Frederick Law Olmsted!

Frederick Law Olmsted, famed for establishing the field of landscape architecture in the United States, would have been 200 years old on April 26, 2022. Olmsted designed parks all over America, including New York City's Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace. He and his sons, John and Frederick Jr., who took over his landscape architecture business after he died, also left their marks on Chicago. In honor of his 200th birthday, let's take a look at Olmsted's Chicago.

Olmsted and his partner, Calvert Vaux, first came to Chicagoland to design the suburb of Riverside. This work, and their design of New York's Central Park, earned them an invitation to propose a plan to Chicago's South Park Commission. The 1871 South Park plan envisioned what is now Washington Park, Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance. Work began, but the Great Fire of 1871 put development on hold.

Olmsted's design career continued around the country, but he returned to Chicago when he was asked to adjust his South Park plans to accommodate the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Olmsted worked closely with Daniel Burnham to design the Fairgrounds. Following the Fair, Olmsted revised the plans again to convert the Fairgrounds back into park land.

In 1895, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., retired, leaving his firm to his sons, who, as the Olmsted Brothers, continued their father's work and his relationship with Chicago's South Park Commissioners. The Olmsted Brothers designed the first smaller, neighborhood parks in the city, all around the South Side. These smaller parks were revolutionary at the time and changed the range of services parks provided to citizens.

Visit CPL's Special Collections to learn more about the Olmsted family's contributions to Chicago's landscape. The Chicago Park District photographs and drawings document the designs and implementations of both Olmsted Sr. and the Olmsted Brothers. Further, the World's Columbian Exposition collections illustrate Olmsted's role in designing the Fairgrounds.

Of special note are the C.D. Arnold Photographs, which document the transformation of the area from swamp to Fair. Two recent CPL virtual programs explore these contributions in greater detail: Building Chicago's Public Spaces and The Olmsted Legacy in Chicago.

If you can't get enough Olmsted, check out the Olmsted 200 website to see how cities all over the country are celebrating his 200th birthday. What's your favorite Olmsted site?

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