Category Archives: Frederick Law Olmsted

Highland Avenue’s Historic Parks

When journalists write about the history of our city’s landmarks, the Society takes note, and appreciates their interest in Birmingham’s heritage. One recent example is Gabby Gervais’ article on 1/27/22 in Bham Now entitled, ”Discover the origin of the 3 unique parks in Highland Park”, in which she quotes BHS Director, Marjorie White.

Today, part of a much loved neighborhood with a variety of affordable housing, Highland Avenue was originally lined with mansions and was the preferred home of many of Birmingham’s founders. The three parks at that time were merely ravines along the popular avenue. So Mayor George Ward, who had a strong interest in public green spaces, declared the ravines on Highland Avenue “parks” assuring that they would remain undeveloped lots.

Rhodes Park, named after the founder of what is now The Birmingham News, is 3 1/4 acres with residential lots that were developed mainly between 1906-1911. The landscape plan was created by Boston landscape architect, George Miller, while some of the architectural features were designed by William Leslie Welton.

Rhodes Park, considered the central park on Highland Avenue, has a number of landscape features not found in the other two. Due to lack of city funds at the time, the stone entrances, steps, and concrete features in Rhodes Park were paid for by the wealthy residents who lived along Highland Avenue at the turn of the century. While the other two ravines remained largely undeveloped, thanks to the efforts of Mayor George Ward, they have nevertheless remained parks, and are included in the Olmsted Brothers plans for green spaces in Birmingham.

Courtesy of highland-park.org, postmarked 1913

Highland Park is a perfect example of a neighborhood that celebrates Birmingham’s past while shaping its future. Learn more about it HERE

By Popular Demand!

The evening lecture at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens entitled, Celebrating Olmsted with Historian Laurence Cotton, on February 16th, filled overnight. In an effort to accommodate all those with an interest in attending, an additional lecture has been added at 10AM. Registration opens to the public at 5PM on Wednesday, January 19th.

Happy 200th Birthday, Frederick Law Olmsted!

Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America is a co-production of WNED PBS, Buffalo/Toronto and Florentine Films/Hott Productions Inc., made possible by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor and The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation. With funding provided by HSBC, The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and The C.E. & S. Foundation. With additional support from The Peter C. Cornell Trust and Mass Humanities. (Click on image above to view)

Birmingham is among many American cities that owes a debt of gratitude to the efforts and vision of Frederick Law Olmsted. Considered the founder of American landscape architecture, he was among the first to recognize the importance to public health of providing green spaces and parks in burgeoning cities at the turn of the century.

First, as a writer for the New York Times, he toured the country, and saw the anxiety, irritability, and impatience that close quarters in smoke-filled cities induced. He abhorred the segregation of the antebellum South. Olmsted was convinced that access to green spaces would reduce stress at a time when that real estate was being rapidly developed. Ultimately, Olmsted believed that public spaces would bring people from all walks of life together in a harmonious environment.

Subsequently in 1865, at the age of 43, upon becoming a landscape designer, he became an unintentional reformer who set out to change the way urban Americans engaged with one another.

His legacy in Birmingham includes:

  • an impressive plan for a comprehensive park system,
  • the plan for Birmingham’s civic cen­ter with its governmental buildings surrounding today’s Linn Park,
  • the site selection for today’s Samford University, and
  • the site selection and general plan for the Vestavia Country Club.

He invented parkways; he promoted curving, landscape- driven, suburban streets; he created planned communities, and experimental forestry. He connected cities with a series of parks, and ’rules of engagement’ that would allow everyone to protect and enjoy common green spaces. And perhaps his best known and also his first project is Central Park in New York City.

“The time will come when New York will be built up, when the rocky formations of [Manhattan] will have been converted into foundations for rows of monotonous straight streets and piles of erect, angular buildings. There will be no suggestion left of its present varied surface, with the single exception of the Park.” ~ Frederick Law Olmsted

His legacy provided the guidebook as to how American cities are planned today. We will forever celebrate the gifts he gave us! So, Happy Birthday, Mr. Olmsted!

(Many events are being planned and attendance may be in person, virtual or streaming due to Covid restrictions. Stay tuned for more details.)

A comprehensive film and commentary has been produced by WNED PBS and can be viewed HERE

To see the sheer VOLUME of work by The Olmsted Brothers, view the MAP HERE. Select an area to explore and download project maps. For instructions, read THIS

View Birmingham Historical Society’s newsletter regarding Olmsted’s legacy HERE

Please also refer to Birmingham Historical Society’s publication: The Olmsted Vision – Parks for Birmingham. A Publication about the Early Years and Today

Read more HERE: https://birminghamhistoricalsociety.com/the-olmsted-vision-parks-for-birmingham/