Saturday, January 05, 2013

Biography of a Man Who Fought Tammany Democrats Among Other Things

Justin Martin.Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted. Cambridge, Ma.: Da Capa Press, 2011.

Olmsted was a New York Daily Times writes won in the 1850s toured Southern states and wrote articles on slavery. Olmstead was hired to write about the South after a five minute interview where he pledged to write only his observations. The Times had increased from four to eight pages, raised its price, and lost circulation from 25,000 to 18,000. The Times needed to fill more pages and attract more readers. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was popular then, and had been written by Harriett Beecher Stowe based on her knowledge of one slave state. Olmsted was to view a great span of the South.

Olmsted was shocked by the slavery he saw. He also found well treated slaves who loved their masters who were trusted to have guns for their own hunting. Olmstead found many plantations where about a third of slaves worked. Many were found by a nurse to be unable to work yet still received food and clothing from the masters

Olsted found slaves who had worked on farms in both Southern and Northern states. These slaves advise that slave farms were less efficient than hired labor. Olmstead calcuated slave farms produced were half as efficient as a farm he had worked on in Staten Island.

Omsted met with German farmers in Texas. 150 German families bought land from a speculator who tricked them. Olmsted visited New Braunfelds, Texas, a community of 3,000, nearly all German. They did not use slave labor. These farms operated very efficiently.

In sum, Olmsted’s articles informed the public that slavery was economically inefficient.

Olmsted  found railroads in the South were very slow which further harmed efficiency in slowly moving goods and in travel.

The balanced and insightful interviews Olmsted wrote about from slaves and slave owners created greater concern among Northern readers about slavery. His book “The Cotton Kingdom” about slavery was successful in England and helped generate British sympathy for the North against the South.

Olmstead happened to meet Charles Elliott at an inn in Morris Cove, Ct. Elliott informed Omsted of a search for a Superintendent for Manhattan’s Central Park. Olmsted’s book, while notable, had not earned much money. Olmsted applied for the position. He was hired in 1857 at $1,500 a year, Olmsted was in charge of cleaning the park for a future undecided park plan.

Manhattan then had 165 acres of parkland in 17 parks, most of which were neighborhood squares. In 1850, both of New York’s candidates for Mayor had pledge creating a large park. A 150 acre Jones Wood was considered yet the owner didn’t want to sell it. The legislature voted to buy the land by eminent doman yet the owner kept the sale frustrated in lengthy litigation.

An inferior site of Central Park was then considered. Andrew Jackson Downing was to have created a design for Central Park. Downing drowned attempted to save a woman following a boat fire.

Olmsted supervised 700 laborers. His first big projects were demolishing hundreds of abandoned structures and having swamps drained.

Calvert Vaux had continued work he had down with Downing and developed a plan for Central Park. It included Gothic architecture that was then popular.

A plan by Egbert Viele was the official plan for Central Park. The Central Park Board believed the plans had design flaws. It was decided to have an open competition for producing a design plan.

Vaux and Olmsted worked together on a plan submission. Olmted had read about landscaping since a child As a farmer and journalist visiting farms, he further saw landscaping.

Olmsted was also a social reformer who wanted to create a tranquil place for urban residents. It would be available to all regardless of income level and social status. Their plan, unlike their competitors’, did not completely follow the competition guidelines. That did not prevent their winning the competition. The guidelines called for planning for a prospect tower. Vaux and Omsted did not include one and one was never built.

After Vaux and Olmsted won the competition, two Board members, both conservative Democrats, objected. They called for 17 amendments to the plan, including rejecting sunken transverses, creating horse paths, and creating a grand promenade across the park. They sought to change Vaux’s and Olmstead’s plan for a rural park. Olmsted presented his case with a tour of the park to the publisher of the New York Courier and Enquirer Richard Grant White. White was convinced and wrote supportingly of the plan. Omsted’s plan won over the amended plan.

Olmsted was hired as Architecture Chief at $2,500 per year even though he had no architecture training. Vaux was hired as Omsted’s assistance at $5 per day. Viele was dismissed.

The plan was opened in stages. Ice skating was created by winter. 1,000 were hired for what became the city’s largest public works unit/ Many rocks was blasted.250 tons of gunpowder was used, more than what would later be used in the Gettysburg battle. Land was drained.

 Ice skating proved popular. It was one of four places young men and women could be together unsupervised by chaperones. Many couples met ice skating.

While the amendment for more horseback riding had been defeated, the Park Board later demanded more access for horseback riding. Olmsted and Vaux created trails far apart from pedestrian traffic.

The Olmsted-Vaux plan led to creating 34 bridges and archways from 1859 to 1865.

Olmsted and Vaux received work on other projects. They designed cemetery grounds in Middletown, N.Y. and figured the grid for uptown Manhattan north of 155th Street. Olmsted designed grounds for some mental institutions where he designed large meadow lands to create or calm feelings.

Central Park cost five times more ethan initially estimated. This drew critics. Olmsted resigned yet the Board persuaded him to return.

During the Civil War, the U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) kept military conditions sanitary. Omsted was a notable member of this Commission, This was important as 97% of solider deaths were from insanity conditions and diseases rather than from battle.

Olmsted discovered that medical skills and medicine was lacking among soldiers. He found their diets lacked fruit or vegetables. Olmsted advice on improvements that were mostly ignored as the military focused on battle preparations instead. Olmsted developed empirical studies indicating that a third of the time 10 of 29 regiments collapsed exhausted even before fighting. The exhaustion was due to lack of food, water, and/or sleep. soliders would travel 44 miles on battle days. Unpaid and disgruntled soldiers who had to sleep on the ground were more apt to break rans under fire. Omsted’s report was met with derision, was stamped “confidential” and filed away.

The Medical Bureau led by the Surgeon General was understaffed at 26 surgeons and 80 assistants. Olmsted recommended soldiers receive quinine for malaria as well as vaccines. The Surgeon General, who preferred traditional treatments and distrusted new procedures, disagreed. Olmsted met with President Lincoln yet Lincoln supported the Surgeon General.

Olmsted proposed creating plantations of free slaves in Port Royal Ct Sen. Lafayette Foster introduced a bill Olmsted wrote to do this. The bill passed. The experiment did not work as Olmsted hoped yet it prevented many from becoming paupers in Port Royal.

Olmstead and the USSC were understaffed for the overwhelming number of ill soldiers. The Medical Bureau focused on those injured in battle.

The South believed England would aid the Confederacy to preserve their cotton market. Olmsted’s book presenting the evils of slavery were among the reasons England ultimately did not recognize the Confederacy and provide to aid to the South.

Olmsted went to work for a mining company. He lowered the miners’ wages causing them to strike. Olmsted enticed Chinese immigrants to serve as replacement workers at even lower wages, He later discovered the company he worked for was run by swindlers.

Olmsted reunited with Vaux to design a park in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was then a separate city, as then the nations third largest city, wanted something similar to Central Park. Prospect Park was the result. A tree moving machine had been invented by John Culyer. This machine was used to move many trees in Prospect Park.

Chicago sought more green spaces. Its population had tripled from 100,000 in 1860 to 300,000 in 1868, making it the nation’s fifth most populous city. Buffalo similarly sought more green land. Both cities hired Olmsted, Vaux, and Company. They worked on Chicago’s Riverside project first. They then worked on creating three separate parks for Buffalo with a natural looking human constructed lake.

Olmsted and Vaux designed a park system similar to Chicago for Buffalo. They were brought back for landscaping around the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane.

New York’s Democratic Party boss William Marcy Tweed put his political operative Peter Sweeney into the office as President of the Public Parks Department. Sweeney thus was in charge of Central Park. Olstead and Vaux were listed as consulting architects yet their advice was never sought. A choice park spot was converted into a zoo. A horse trotting course was constructed. A building where mothers received untainted milk was transformed into a restaurant. Olmsted and Vaux argued against these action to no avail.

Olmsted and Vaux often argued professionally and personally. They dissolved their business partnership in 1872.

Olmsted designed the grounds around the Capitol. Viele reemerged as a critic. Viele was a member of the U.S. Congress yet served only one term and was defeated for reelection. Olmsted’s plans went through.

Montreal Olmsted to design parks. As before, Olmsted sought to create a therapeutic park that would be socially beneficial and open to all.

Boston wanted to turn a swamp where sewage was dumped into a park. This was the nation’s first restoration of wetlands. Back Bay Fens was created.

Niagara Falls was the most popular 19th century tourist stop. The best views were from commercial sites, thus commercializing the attraction. Olmsted wrote a report on the situation that helped prod the New York legislature to act to preserve Niagara Falls. Yet Governor Alonzo Cornell opposed spending on the project, stating “the water will run over the falls all the same.” The Niagara Commission voted 4 to 1 to hire Olmsted to develop a plan for Niagara Fals. The dissenting vote was an old Olmsted critic who wanted to hire Vaux, Olmsted offered to work with Vaux. Vaux feared falling into poverty and Olmsted sought to help him.

Olmsted and Vaum sought to make Niagara Falls open to al. They commenced building a large tourist building next to the train station, to where tourists could drive, use facilities, and store things. Information signs, which did not exist, were created, Benches were placed facing views. Railing was created that did not distract from the views.

Olmsted worked on Vanderbilt and Biltmore estates, Olmsted’s health began declining He did no work in his final years and he died in 1903.


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