Frederick Law Olmsted’s Buffalo Park System: Drawings and Photos of the First Park and Parkway System in America.

The Civil War is over and the soldiers have returned home. The American Industrial Revolution is in full swing. The pre-war population of the City of Buffalo was 81,129. The population after the war it is approaching 117, 714.

Pratt was Chairman of the Buffalo Board of Park Commissioners from its creation in 1869 to1879. Portrait: Collection of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Pratt was Chairman of the Buffalo Board of Park Commissioners from its creation in 1869 to1879. Portrait: Collection of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Frederick Law Olmsted recognized the need for green space in urban areas whose lands are being covered with factories emitting soil and air contaminants. At this time Buffalo was one of the largest cities in America. A citizens’ committee, whose members included Pascal P. Pratt, Sherman S. Jewett, and Wm. Dorsheimer, realized the city’s need for open spaces and requested the landscape firm of Olmsted, Vaux & Co., to plan a park. After an initial visit the firm decided the city really needed a whole system of parks and parkways. 

Pratt became the first Chairman of the Buffalo Board of Park Commissioners from its creation in 1869 to1879. “He will go down in history as the founder of Buffalo’s magnificent park system.”

Olmsted’s vision was to create “a City within a Park.”

The first parks designed were “The Park,” “The Front” and “The Parade.” Each park had a different purpose.

“The Park”  (1875), Richard Veenfliet  (1843 - 1922) Collection of the Buffalo History Museum

“The Park” (1875), Richard Veenfliet (1843 – 1922) Collection of the Buffalo History Museum

The Park was for strolling around the lake and down the paths that lead through woods and meadows always presenting a fresh view to visitors.

Olmsted’s design intent at The Front, however, “was not simply discovered scenery, but was artfully constructed to enhance nature.” 

The Parade (Martin Luther King Jr., Park) a 56-acre park designed by Olmsted in 1871, was intended for military drills.

Humboldt Park (formerly the Parade): revised preliminary plan. Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot, Brookline, Mass., December 11, 1895. Collection of the Buffalo History Museum, gift of the City of Buffalo

Humboldt Park (formerly the Parade): revised preliminary plan. Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot, Brookline, Mass., December 11, 1895. Collection of the Buffalo History Museum, gift of the City of Buffalo

Humboldt Park (Martin Luther King, Jr., Park)
Formerly the Parade Revised Preliminary Plan, 1896. In 1896 there was no longer a need for military drills. John C. Olmsted redesigned the park. He added a 5-acre wading pool, lily pond and a sheltered dining area where one could rest and be refreshed.

South Park, Preliminary plan for South Park.  F. L. Olmsted & Co., landscape architects, Brookline, Mass., April 27, 1892. Collection of the Buffalo History Museum, gift of the City of Buffalo

South Park, Preliminary plan for South Park. F. L. Olmsted & Co., landscape architects, Brookline, Mass., April 27, 1892. Collection of the Buffalo History Museum, gift of the City of Buffalo

South Park
The 155-acre South Park was designed in 1894 as an arboretum with more than 2,300 types of trees, shrubs and plant life appropriate to the Buffalo climate. A special area within the park or a large conservatory building was also planned.



Martha Neri, Archivist for Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and Cynthia VanNess, Library Director of The Buffalo History Museum, organized the exhibit.

On display now at the WNED Horizons Gallery is a wonderful collection of rarely exhibited framed drawings by Frederick Law Olmsted and his firm. The exhibit can be viewed in the WNED Horizons Gallery during regular business hours until May 9 2014.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s