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Frederick Law Olmsted focused most of his attention on Central Park until the Civil War, when he took leave of absence to become general secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission. Forerunner of the American Red Cross.
In one way or another, parks have the ability to improve almost every aspect of life for individuals and the community at large. Caring for these historic treasures and seeing that they remain valuable assets for our community is the heart of the work undertaken by Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
When Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to design a park system for Louisville in 1891, he was already the acknowledged father of American landscape design, famous for his work on Central Park in New York, the U.S. Capitol Grounds, and the Biltmore estate grounds. Olmsted’s greatest achievement, however, was his concept of creating a system of parks connected to tree-lined parkways, instead of freestanding parks as was the common practice. His concept was most fully realized in Louisville, the ultimate park system of his career, and one of only four completed such Olmsted systems in the world.
It was quite a revolutionary idea for the turn of the century. Not only did Olmsted’s plan integrate the native landscape throughout the entire city as it was projected to grow, but it created a system of green spaces that all social and economic groups could enjoy.
Olmsted designed for three types of recreation:
These activities were to be enjoyed in enhanced parklands where “sequestered and limitless natural scenery” could have a “poetic and tranquilizing influence” on an urban populace otherwise surrounded by brick and steel, cement and fumes.
Together Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. and his sons John Charles and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. were responsible for 18 parks and 6 parkways that have shaped the city of Louisville and provided a wealth of open spaces for its citizens.