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Louisville's Olmsted Parks and Parkways were created with a great vision for the future of our city.

When Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to design a park system for Louisville in 1891, he was already the acknowledged father of America 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.

The Founder of American Landscape Architecture

Olmsted was invited to Louisville in 1891 by a group of prominent citizens to survey the land they had acquired for parks. The group was so impressed following his presentation they immediately contracted with his firm for development of a master plan for three large multi-purpose parks. Olmsted’s designs for Cherokee, Iroquois and Shawnee Parks took advantage of the topographical elements unique to each area of the city and provided for a system of interconnecting parkways to link them.

The major parks and parkways brought access to nature and neighborhoods began to spring up on surrounding lands. As Louisville continued to grow, the city recognized the need for small, inner-city parks and playgrounds. In all, Olmsted and his successor firm developed plans for eighteen parks and six parkways that today comprise Louisville’s historic park system.

These parks achieve Frederick Law Olmsted’s social vision. As the source of healthful inspiration—through mental, physical and social recreation—the parks provide a respite to the stresses of modern city life. They provide spaces where people can come together to create a stronger community. Our parks exhibit all the classic physical elements of an Olmsted Park: graceful topography and alignments; ease and accessibility; balance of uses; expression of native character and use of native materials; separation of traffic modes; and subjugation of built elements to nature.

The Olmsted Park system is a magnificent work of art that must be preserved to continue their enormous contribution to the quality of life in Louisville. They are an incomparable gift from a remarkable civic partnership that, a century ago, championed planning, raised substantial money, and summoned the goodwill and resources of the community at large. The landscapes in and around the parks remain a crucial resource for serving the cultural and recreational needs of the public.

History Highlights


Frederick Law Olmsted and the Board of Park Commissioners embarked on a plan for the Olmsted firm to design Louisville's park system.

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Founded in 1880, Baxter Square was the city's first public park. The Olmsted firm made recommendations for the urban green space in 1892.

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Development begins on Chickasaw Park, believed to be the only park designed by the Olmsted firm for the Black community during segregation.

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The plan for Seneca Park was presented in 1928. This was the last of the parks designed in Louisville by the Olmsted firm.

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Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy was founded, modeled after Central Park Conservancy in New York City.

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The first major expansion of Louisville's Olmsted Park System was made possible by an $8 million donation, enabling Olmsted Parks Conservancy to purchase 25 acres of land next to Cherokee Park.

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