1868 Vaux & Olmstead Map of Central Park and the Upper West Side, New York City
Description: An altogether extraordinary hand colored map of New York City’s Central Park and the Upper West Side prepared and printed for inclusion in the Thirteenth Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Central Park. This is an extremely rare variant on the map of Central Park that originally appeared in the 1862 Comissioner’s Report. This variant lacks the title, which is printed at the top of the 1862 map, but depicts more of the surrounding area, especially the Upper West Side, and features a decorative border. The map depicts the park as a whole and includes pathways, lakes, buildings, individual trees, rocks, and elevation measurements. The streets and avenues surrounding the park as well as the tramways that existed at the time are also noted.
The inclusion of the Upper West Side, specifically 8th Avenue (Central Park West) and 9th Avenue (Columbus Avenue) is particularly significant. The park commissioners recognized that the construction of Central Park would transform the Upper West Side plateau into some of the city's most valuable real estate. Though the grid structure of the Upper West Side had been laid out in 1811, when this map was made the Upper West Side plateau was sparsely inhabited and largely given over to farms and squatter communities. The streets and avenues shown here existed only in concept, making this, in essence, the first specific map of the Manhattan's Upper West Side.
This extraordinary map reveals Central Park as conceived by the Landscape Architects, and indeed “artists”, Vaux and Olmstead. Vaux and Olmstead were awarded the task of designing Central Park in 1853 by the City Common Council. Olmstead’s vision drove the overall design while Vaux concentrated his attentions on bridges, buildings, and other structures within the park. The creation of Central Park, which was to consist of some 800 acres of public forest, pathways, promenades, lakes, bridges, and meadows, was a seminal moment in civic urban design. The park itself was designed as a whole with every tree, pond, and bench meticulously planned. Olmstead wrote: “Every foot of the parks surface, every tree and bush, as well as every arch, roadway, and walk and been placed where it is for a purpose.”
Historian Gloria Deak writes,
“There was a staggering amount of work to be done to transform the area into a blend of pastoral and woodland scenery. This involved the design and construction of roadways, tunnels, bridges, arches, stairways, fountains, benches, lamp posts, gates, fences and innumerable other artifacts. It also involved the supervision of an army of about five thousand laborers…Olmsted, to whom most of the credit goes, insisted on seeing the multidimensional project as a single work of art, which he was mandated to create. For this purpose, he ventured to assume to himself the title of ‘artist.’”Today, because of Vaux and Olmstead’s efforts, New York Yorkers, ourselves included, have the privilege of enjoying what is, perhaps, the finest example of a planned urban public recreation area in the world.
Date: 1868 (undated)
References: Deák, Gloria Gilda. Picturing America: 1497-1899. Vol. 1. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. pp. 535-536; Peters, Harry T. America on Stone. U.S.: Doubleday, Doran, 1931. pp. 350-356. (Sarony, Major & Knapp).
Cartographer: Frederick Law Olmstead (April 26, 1822 - 1903) was an American journalist, landscape designer, and forefather of American landscape architecture. Born April 26, 1822 in Hartford, CT, Olmstead never attended college, instead taking work as a seaman, merchant, and journalist until 1848, when he settled at Tosomock Farm in Staten Island, New York. On June 13, 1859 Olmstead married Mary Cleveland, the widow of his brother John and adopted her three children. Olmstead's fateful introduction to landscape design occurred in 1850, when a journalism assignment took him to England to visit public gardens. Inspired by Joseph Paxton's Birkenhead Park, he went on to write and publish Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England. This led to additional work with the New York Daily Times (The New York Times) who sent him on an extensive tour through Texas and the American South from 1852 to 1857. It was after this trip that Olmstead wrote his popular criticism of slave economies, A Journey Through Texas. In 1858, Olmstead, along with his design partner, the architect Calvert Vaux, entered and won New York City's Central Park design competition. Though it was their first major landscape design project, the construction of Central Park from 1857 to 1866, created what many consider to be the finest planned urban recreation area in the world. They continued collaborating on such projects as Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Chicago's Riverside Park, the Buffalo park system, Milwaukee's Grand Necklace, and the Niagara Reservation. These were not just parks, but entire systems of parks and interconnecting parkways (which they invented) linking cities to green spaces. In 1883, Olmstead founded the Brookline, MA based Fairsted Company, the first landscape architecture firm in the United States. It was from this office he designed Boston's Emerald Necklace, the campus of Stanford University, the University of Chicago, the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and many other public areas. In 1895 Olmstead retired to Belmont, Massachusetts. Three years later, in 1898, he was admitted McLean Hospital, whose grounds he had designed several years before. He remained a resident and patient there until he passed away in 1903. Olmstead is buried in the Old North Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut. Click here for a list of rare maps by Frederick Law Olmstead.
Cartographer: Runtime error in mm5/5.00/modules/util/toolkit.mvc @ [0000001c:000007ae]: toolkit.mv: Line 4034: MvCALL: Unable to open URL 'http://www.geographicus.com/mm5/cartographers/vaux.txt': Error looking up 'www.geographicus.com'