- He was a late bloomer.
- His father helped to support him financially - well into his thirties.
- He married his brother’s wife.
- He was a surveyor, a clerk, a sailor, a writer, a farmer, the owner of a magazine, and a gold-mine operator – all before he became what would be his claim to fame – a landscape artist.
- He was a self-taught landscape artist.
- He had much sadness in his life and at times suffered greatly.
- His namesake, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., was christened Henry.
- A carriage accident in the early days of Central Park left Olmsted crippled for the remainder of his days.
- And he was tough as nails.
Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin
A Clearing In The Distance by Witold Rybczynski
I have no idea what got me so riled up about FLO, but it could have occurred was when I was looking for vacation rentals in Maine, and remembered that the Olmsted family reportedly summered on Deer Isle. I had always thought the family had spent plenty of pleasant summers there on the Sunset side of the island . . .
Well, I was wrong about that. There is a house on Deer Isle that long ago was owned by the Olmsteds, but wife Mary purchased the property (46 acres) and had the house built in 1896 as a place to take her husband to convalesce who, in his old age, was suffering from depression or dementia, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t think he had any say in how the house was to be built or how the grounds were to be landscaped. The house was (and still is) called Felsted, and has appeared in two movies, Mel Gibson’s The Man Without a Face, and a movie called Finding Home. Olmsted lived there less than two years.
FLO was a late bloomer. When he was in his thirties, his father was still sending him an annual stipend, just so that he could survive. He married his brother’s wife, Mary Perkins, in 1859 after said (beloved) brother, John Hull Olmsted, passed away from tuberculosis. John left several children, all very young. FLO’s mother died at a young age, and he experienced much sorrow in his life. He was many things before he became the great man that we know him to be and everything that he did and everything he experienced helped to form the man that he would become. When the board of directors for Central Park was looking for a person to supervise workers to clear debris before the park could be built, Frederick Law Olmsted applied for the job after hearing about it from a person he’d just met. He knew he was terribly under-qualified to be the boss of so many men, but he desperately needed the work and it sounded interesting to him. And the rest, I guess, is history.
Frederick Law Olmsted went on to design landscapes for the Capitol building in Washington, DC to universities, parks, other schools, and some private residences (including Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate in North Carolina). Olmsted was a visionary, a truly gifted genius when it came to design and future use of an area.
“I have all of my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future.” ~Frederick Law Olmsted
“Genius is no more than a greater aptitude for patience.” ~George Louis Leclerc
Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (Rick) was christened Henry Perkins Olmsted. When the boy was about 6 or 7, his father changed his name as “a gift”. He hoped that someday his son would carry on the family name and the profession. And he did. Even after Rick died in 1957, Olmsted Associates continued to thrive until the year 2000.
I think it’s time to get off my soapbox now. But I also think you can tell I’m addicted. I love history, and there’s much of it in each of these books.