Thursday, April 26 is Frederick Law Olmsted's birthday. In honor of his birthday, the Peace Bridge will be lit green - snap a photo and send it to @GrowWNY!
Also, if you're interested in landscape architecture and Olmsted's vision, come to Marcy Casino in Delaware Park, April 26 at 5 PM. Members of the New York Upstate Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects will talk about landscape architecture and toast to Fredrick Law Olmsted.
Fredrick Law Olmsted, considered the father of American Landscape Architecture and the landscape architect behind the 1,200-acre Olmsted Park system in Buffalo, turns 190-years old on Thursday. Having studied historic landscapers, I was surprised that I had never heard about Olmsted's involvement with Niagara Falls. So it occurred to me, what would Olmsted think of Niagara Falls now?
First, a brief history on Olmsted and his Niagara Falls connection. During the time of Olmsted's visit to Niagara Falls, only a small portion of the falls could be seen by visitors and he thought they were missing “the vast beauty and its soothing power.” So, in 1879 Olmsted helped to prepare a special report for the New York State Survey of the land around Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Falls landscape at that time was one filled with primitive wilderness and an assortment of buildings, including a grist mill, stable, and pulp mill. Prospect Point had a pavilion where according to an associate of Olmsted's, “free and easy men and women” came in the evening to drink and dance. But Olmsted saw beauty.
The crowning jewel of his future project was Goat Island. Primitive, but free from commercialism, Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux purchased Goat Island as well as neighboring Bath Island after New York Governor Grover Cleveland signed a bill into law that created a reservation at Niagara Falls in 1833.
The state commission asked Olmsted and Vaux to prepare a master plan that would provide visitors access to the various sights within the reservation. The master plan, submitted in 1887, had a network of roadways and paths and other improvements. Some of the plan was carried out prior to Olmsted's death in 1903, but since then the plan has been ignored.
Much of Olmsted's and Vaux's original landscaping along the banks of the Niagara River rapids was destroyed by the Robert Moses Parkway, and the highway bridge to Olmsted's crowning jewel, Goat Island, blocks the view of the rapids and the sky that tourist once saw from the first Goat Island bridge. Goat Island itself has lost much of its native vegetation that Olmsted saw so long ago. Cars and parking lots are now residents of the island along with statues, souvenir shops, snack bars and flower beds. Lost is the natural park idea Olmsted and Vaux envisioned for the reservation.
There is help on the way though. In 2000, the Niagara Heritage Partnership called on the state to remove the 6.5-mile section of the Robert Moses Parkway between Niagara Falls and Lewiston, and to restore that portion of the Niagara Gorge’s shore with native vegetation. The Heritage Partnership said this plan would both revitalize the city and create a nature reserve in the spirit of Olmsted’s original plan for Niagara Falls. People on both sides of the parkway argument have been debating the issue for about as long as the roadway has been in existence.
This month, Niagara Falls State Park received $25 million from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature through the “New York Works” project. Granted, the funding for the revitalization at the Falls park is more structural, but maybe when the structural items are all checked off, state money can go towards Olmsted's and Vaux's vision, one of subtle beauty. I think Olmsted would have liked that idea.
CLICK HERE for more information about the celebration at Buffalo Olmsted Parks Marcy Casino.