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1861 Vaux and Olmstead Map of Central Park, New York City


Map of the Central Park Showing the progress of the Work up to January 1st 1861.
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Title:    Map of the Central Park Showing the progress of the Work up to January 1st 1861.

Description:    An altogether extraordinary hand colored map of New York City's Central Park prepared and printed for inclusion in the Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Central Park. This extremely rare variant on the map of Central Park originally appeared in the 1861 Commissioner's Report. 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 careful observer will note that only the southern portion of the park is colorized - this is meant to suggest that only this part has been completed and that the remainder of the park was still under construction.

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:    1861 (dated)

Source:    Fourth Annual Report of the Commissioners of the Central Park, (New York) 1861.    

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, Doubleday, Doran, 1931, pp. 350-356. Haskell, D. C., Manhattan Maps A Co-operative List, (New York 1931) #1108 and #1175.

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:    Calvert Vaux(1824 - 1895) was a British architect and landscaper who is best remembered for his co-design, with Frederick Olmstead, of New York City's Central Park. Born in London in 1824, little is known of his early life, though it is recorded that, at 9 he was apprenticed to London architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham, a proponent of the Gothic Revival Movement. Vaux worked for Cottingham until he was 26 years old, honing his skills and building a reputation as a skilled draftsman. During an exhibition of his watercolors in 1851, Vaux caught the attention of landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing was looking for a partner to fulfill his revolutionary vision of urban architectural-landscaping. Dowing recruited Vaux to design buildings, bridges, and structures, while he focused on the overall landscape design. Vaux accompanied Downing to the United States where, in 1854, he gained U.S. citizenship and founded the American Institute of Architects. Vaux's partnership with Downing lasted approximately two years and resulted in a number of significant works, including the grounds of the White and Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. In 1852 Downing passed away in a tragic accident. At the time Downing was working on a landscape design for New York City's Central Park. In a decision that would forever change the American urban landscape, Vaux called in the fledgling landscape designer Frederick Olmstead to fill Downing shoes. Though Central Park was their first joint project, Vaux and Olmstead proved a magical combination, creating what many consider to be the finest planed urban recreation area in the world. Following the completion of Central Park, Vaux and Olmstead formed an official business partnership and went on to design Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Morningside Park in upper Manhattan. They planned one of the first suburbs in Chicago, Riverside, and were commissioned to design parks for Buffalo, NY, Milwaukee, WI, and Rockwood Park in Canada, among others. Vaux ended the partnership in 1872 and went on to collaborate with George Kent Radford and Samuel Parsons. However, in 1889 he again joined forces with Olmstead to design Downing Park, as a memorial to his mentor. Vaux tragically passed away on November 19, 1895, when he drowned in Brooklyn, NY. Click here for a list of rare maps by Calvert Vaux.

Size:   Printed area measures 35.5 x 10 inches (90.17 x 25.4 centimeters)

Scale:    1 : 4800

Condition:    Average. Map has repaired fold damge. Backed on archival tissue. Some damage in upper right margin Priced accordingly, normaly a 1500 USD map.

Code:   CentralParkNewYork-vauxolmstead-1861 (to order by phone call: 646-320-8650)

Tags:    City Plan , Manhattan , Vaux , Olmstead

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