Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.
– Daniel Burnham, 1910
What artist, so noble … as he who with far-reaching conception of beauty and designing power, sketches the outlines, writes the colours, and directs the shadows of a picture so great that Nature shall be employed upon it for generations…
– Fredrick Law Olmsted, 1852
It is on paper still, but, from having been one of Buffalo’s vague and almost hopelessly cherished dreams, it has now taken definite form, and that is much.
– David Gray, Editor, Courier 1869
Among the most popular articles on this site are the “big reveal,” when the community gets its first look at the renderings or site plans of a big public project or development proposal. Sometimes the reactions are “ooo”s and “aah”s, as with the recent unveiling of the plan to transform LaSalle Park into Ralph Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park. Sometimes just the opposite, as with the epic brickbatting of the 500 Pearl Street megabox. This being Buffalo, it’s not unusual to have a “big reveal” of projects that never leave paper, consigned forever to display in the Buffalo Museum of Renderings (tagline: BMOR, Buffalo!).
But perhaps no “big reveal” in Buffalo’s history has ever been – or ever will be – as big as that of a civic project that changed the face of Buffalo forever and still has a powerful effect on the city today, 150 years later. That project, of course, was the audacious-yet-realistic park-and-parkway plan by Olmsted and Vaux.
Today, the park-and-parkway system is part of Buffalo’s planning DNA, and has survived despite incredible depredations in the 20th century. Over the last generation there has been a remarkable revival of interest in both the plan and the parks themselves. In recent years, Dr. Frank Kowsky’s book, The Best-Planned City in the World: Olmsted, Vaux, and the Buffalo Park System, has given us a great leap forward in our understanding of and appreciation for this incredible legacy. Unlike so many city plans – with their own “big reveals” – that have come and gone since, it remains a touchstone and a guide star.
But all that is with the knowledge of a century and a half. What was the biggest reveal like to the Buffalonians of 150 years ago? If there had been a Buffalo Rising in 1869, how would it have covered this remarkable, ambitious plan? Very much like the Courier did at the time, I think, under its publisher Joseph Warren and its editor David Gray – both unabashed Buffalo boosters and advocates for the park plan. Like Buffalo Rising, they didn’t just publish news about the city, but were boosters, and got directly involved. Warren, in fact, was appointed to the board of park commissioners that oversaw the planning and development of the park system.
Dr. Kowsky’s book has a profile of Warren and Gray. If you don’t have a copy (and you should), you can find a PDF of the chapter here, courtesy of the author and the Buffalo Architecture and History website. The year 1869 was so critical to the establishment of Buffalo’s park system that Kowsky devotes nearly ten pages to the rapidly unfolding events, which you can read in the same chapter. Briefly, in the spring of the year Assemblyman Asher Nichols got state legislation passed to authorize the park system and the formation of an independent board of park commissioners. That board met a month later and hired Olmsted and Vaux to prepare a detailed plan based on their original proposal made the previous fall. That plan was completed by August, and revealed to the public in September. On November 25, one hundred fifty years and one month ago, after a contentious debate – Buffalo has always loved those, too – common council approved the park plan. History would be made.
In his chapter on this, Dr. Kowsky quotes extensively from the article in the September 11, 1869 Courier (also carried that evening in the Courier & Republic, also owned by Warren and edited by Gray) that described the park system that was just revealed. Also revealed in the article, for the first time, are the names of the parks and parkways and other features. Although there is no byline, Kowsky attributes it to Gray. Below is the full text from that article, of which I have kept the original spelling, punctuation, grammar, and as much of the layout as possible.
The Courier also published a map of the city showing the new park system that was included in the city directory, also published by Warren. The lead image on this article shows a version of the map published in the 1870 directory, reproduced with permission of the Grosvenor Room of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (full acknowledgment at the end). I have interspersed sections from this map in the text of the Courier article. Also interspersed [in square brackets] are references to notes that I made at the bottom.
T H E P A R K.
THE LONG CHERISHED PROJECT
Plan Of the Public Park—“The
Front,” “The Park,” “The Parade”
—The Features Picturesque, Popular
and Utilitarian—Suburban Rail-roads.
&c., &c., &c.
From the Courier of this morning.
The project of establishing in Buffalo a Public Park is one which, from its inception, has commanded our most ardent championship, and we have not failed to keep our readers fully informed as to its progress, or to point out, as occasion offered, the various advantages and blessings to be anticipated from its final success. Since we last dealt at length with the subject a notable step in advance has been taken, and we propose now to describe carefully the condition in which the long talked of Park project stands.
It is not necessary to refer to the law passed by the legislature last winter [see Note 1], under which the project became a chartered one, further than to recall the fact that, upon a Commission appointed by the Mayor, was devolved the task of obtaining plans and locating the requisite lands for park purposes, the lands taken to be thereafter appraised by appraisers holding authority from the courts.
To aid them in the difficult duty of locating the park, the Commissioners called in the best talent the country affords in this line. Messrs. Olmsted & Vaux, park architects and landscape gardeners [see Note 2], whose ability is proclaimed in the parks of New York, Brooklyn, Hartford and other cities, were employed to examine the facilities offered by our city and to report what they should deem the best possible scheme compatible with the restrictions of the law. Their report, on careful consideration, was adopted with but little amendment, and today we have the pleasure to present to our readers two distinct
MAPS OF THE PARK GROUNDS.
Of these maps, one, it will be noticed, is a complete map of the city, while the other represents, on a larger scale, only so much of the city as is necessary to an exhibition of the Park lands. The former, it is due to the COURIER to say, was prepared and printed by ourselves, within a few days after the adoption of the plan, and it was our intention to lay it promptly before our readers. It was withheld, however, in deference to the request of the Commissioners, by whom it was thought best to prepare, at the Commission’s expense, a uniform map, to be furnished gratuitously to the press of the city. Our readers will, therefore, be pleased to accept, with the COURIER’S compliments, the map, which was ready for their use some weeks since. The other will be understood as accompanied by the compliments of the Park Commission. A slight inaccuracy in our own engraving, principally summed up in the omission of the circular “Look-out” to the north of Fort Porter, is due to the haste with which it was prepared [see Note 3]. Perhaps for minute examination and comparison the larger plan of the Commission will be found the most reliable, while the COURIER map will better display the relation held by the Park scheme to the city at large.
Before proceeding to describe the details of the scheme, a word concerning
THE PARK PLAN AS A WHOLE.
On examining the circle of the suburbs of Buffalo with reference to a park, some notable difficulties as well as facilities quickly came into view. For example, in order that the park should came up to its true ideal, as a place, of easy access and healthful resort to the people, it was necessary that at least a part of the grounds should be close to the centers of population. But the only large tracts of land available at reasonable expense, were found to lie outside a circle of at least three miles from the churches. This difficulty, at the map demonstrates, has been ingeniously overcome, and even turned to good account. From the Park proper extend two widely diverging arms, or antennæ, at the end of each of which is located a lesser park. On the west the miner park not only commands the glorious river and lake view, but lies in the very midst of a rapidly populating portion of the city, while by the Niagara and Main street railroad It is easily accessible to the most southern districts. On the east, meanwhile, a still larger body of land extends itself to the threshold of the thickly inhabited German quarter of the city. These will stand connected with the Park proper by broad and inviting “park-ways,” and thus we have a scheme which at once lends itself to the needs of the mass of the population, and affords to the favored minority, who do their locomotion by horse power, a drive, in one direct sweep of nearly ten miles. We should point out also the fact that by this plan a much larger portion of the city’s suburbs is beautified and improved, than would have been the case had the park been laid out in a single block. Literally our park, when finished, will be an arc of health and beauty bent around a full half of suburban Buffalo.
We mention last, under this general head, that the Park grounds in the aggregate cover about four hundred and ninety-five acres, one hundred and two of which, in accordance with the law, are located east of the line of Jefferson street, extended.
We begin detailed description at the Fort Porter extremity. For the grounds proposed to be taken here the appropriate name of “The Front,” has been selected. They comprise about twenty-eight acres, lying between Sixth street and the canal, and Vermont and York streets. A small circle of land is also taken, at the junction of Massachusetts, Sixth and Niagara, this being the cliff bank overhanging the present Water Works, and an invaluable spot for the magnificent river and Canadian view It commands. We may hope, with reason, that “The Front” as now laid out, is but the nucleus of what it will become, for the Commission have already taken steps to obtain permission from the United States government to pass walks, &c., through the Fort grounds and thus secure the present park advantages of this beautiful site. Should the government ever feel liberal enough to cede this property to the City, some eighty acres of as fine park ground as the country contains, would be added to the present system. The time will doubtless come, also, when the sandy beach stretching from the canal to the lake shore—the greater part of which is owned by the state—will be taken and utilized. A lake shore with bathing and boating facilities will form a part of the park scheme of the coming generation, if not of our own [see Note 4].
In laying out The Front the idea of Mr. Olmsted is to make of it a sort of esplanade, trees to be planted so as to conceal the unsightly features of the view and enhance those which nature has made beautiful.
From the York and Sixth street corner of The Front a park-way, one hundred feet wide, and to be planted with trees, extends, following the broadened line of York street, and skirting
THE PROSPECT HILL PARKS.
These, two in number, are already, as everybody knows, very prettily planted, and how they break the monotony of Niagara Street, on either side of that thoroughfare we do not need to describe. They will be incorporated with the grand scheme, of which they may be considered, in one sense, the humble germ, and will be completed and opened more fully to the public.
From York street, near the St. Joseph’s College, the park-way strikes across the junction of North and Rogers streets, where [see Note 5]
of about six acres in area is to be pleasantly laid out with trees, gardens, &c. This circle, or Rond Point, as the Parisians would call it, will form an agreeable invitation to the further charms of the Park, of which, we daresay, the growing district lying in the angle north of North and west of Delaware streets will duly feel the attraction. North street is now one of the most delightful Streets in the City and one of two or three which are available at present in a pleasure drive. We think Mr. Olmsted exercised fine judgment, therefore, in making the Park scheme, so to speak, announce itself on that thoroughfare.
The park-way, from this circle, follows the line of Rogers street. A hundred feet is still its width, and the monotony of the ground traversed will be relieved as well as possible by trees. At Bouck avenue [see Note 6] we arrive at the westerly of
THE TWO PLAZAS,
which form an important feature in Mr. Olmsted’s system. Those squares, or plazas [see Note 7], have an area of about five acres each. The easterly one, which lies at the intersection of Bouck and Delaware, is intended to provide a dignified and picturesque termination for Delaware, and the twain, taken together, are artistically designed to heighten the effect of the grand approach to the park proper. We say “termination” in speaking of Delaware street, for that avenue, so far as the park is concerned, really ends at Bouck. Up to that point it is to the park a noble approach already prepared, but beyond, it appears no more [see Note 8]. The street will necessarily, for purposes of traffic, be continued open, but it is proposed, from the point where it intersects the park, to lead it, on a sunken level, close by the side of the Cemetery. For this the nature of the ground near the creek and cemetery affords peculiar facilities, and the difficult problem—how to dispose of a thoroughfare too important to be blockaded, so that its passage shall not mar the solitude and beauty of the park, is, we think, very happily solved.
From each of the plazas described, converging park-ways advance to
THE CENTRAL CIRCLE,
laid down in the map as mainly between Clinton and Bird avenues. The park-ways leading from the plazas to this point are two hundred feet wide, or double the width of those we have before traversed. The circle itself comprises an area of eight acres, and, approached as it will be by these noble converging ways, each of which sweeps through agreeable patches of woods, it will form a very essential and artistic part of the plan. It is the centre of this ample and beautiful area that has been universally conceded to be the true site [see Note 9] for the
which Buffalo is yet to raise to the memory of her fallen heroes. It may not be generally known, but it is a fact, that the fund available for this worthy purpose now amounts to about $26,000. Part of this is appropriation by the city, part was contributed by the county, and a portion was raised by private subscription. With this sum it would not be difficult to command, at the hands of the greatest of living sculptors, a group in marble or bronze, which would at once express the sentiment of patriotic gratitude, and stand to future ages as a memorial of the city’s taste and liberality.
From this Soldiers’ Circle the park-way extends, still in width two hundred feet, in a direct line to
proper. It will be seen that we have been led to the entrance of this, by a system of approaches, rather than a single, simple path. The effect of this will be not only to extend to a largo portion of outside territory the attractive presence of the park, but to enhance the visitor’s idea of the importance end dignity of that to which he is thus graciously invited. Something remotely similar in effect was obtained by the Parisian architect who laid out the approaches to the famous and beautiful Bois de Boulogne; for, to our Park, the Soldiers’ Circle will hold some such relation as, to the pleasure forests of Paris, is held by the superb space in the centre of whose converging avenues towers the Arch of the Star [see Note 10].
The reception prepared for the entering visitor, will not, we think, be unworthy of the approach by which he has been led. The park proper covers about three hundred and twenty-five acres of land even now picturesque and diversified in no small degree. But the main feature presented to the eye of the incomer will be
For the formation of this no finer opportunities could be desired. A patch of swamp land, with high and agreeably wooded banks, already marks out the forty or fifty acres which nature obviously meant to lend to art for this very purpose. We understand Mr. Olmsted to have said that nowhere in his park-making experience has he found facilities so ample and cheap for the artificial introduction of water into landscape. The Scajaquada Creek, flowing through the Park, gives abundance of clear water, and the marsh ground is such that islands, promontories, and an artistic line of shore can easily be obtained. The outlet of the lake will also give a fine chance for the creation of miniature cascades, rapids, &c [see Note 11].
From the entrance, and the lake, the grounds of the Park sweep off in a northeasterly direction, taking in a piece of country which is really almost
A PARK READY MADE.
Its surface is undulating, and, what is a supremely fortunate circumstance, it is already fairly supplied with woods of nature’s planting. Such trees as the oaks, elms, beeches and maples, which now adorn the Park of Buffalo, New York would gladly have purchased for her Central Park at a price greater than the land will cost us, trees and all. Indeed the value of these sylvan old settlers in our public domain can scarcely be estimated. They enable us to discount by at least thirty years the treasure of beauty which trees alone can give. They leave only the making of roads and the putting on of the minor touches of park architecture to be done, in order that we may enter into the enjoyment of a finished piece of Park scenery.
The Park proper has still other features which will further enhance its value and interest. For instance within its limits are at least two valuable
We have not at hand an analysis of the waters of these, but we understand that they have decided medical value. Besides these medicated contributions, nature has also provided, within the Park, several springs of aqua pura, wholesome and sweet as the thirsty soul could desire. Each of these will doubtless be turned to good purpose by the Park architect [see Note 12].
THE TWO WILLOWS.
Near the northern boundary of the main grounds, in the centre of what is now one of the well-cultivated fields of B. R. Jewett, Esq., stand two large and beautiful willows. They are twins, obviously, in point of age and size, and they stand side by side, like a couple of hob-nobbing old Druids, in that suggestive way which leads one instinctively to suspect that they must have a history. The suspicion happens to be a correct one, and the story the old willows have to tell is one that sorrowfully harmonizes with their own emblematic character. They are, in fact, mourners of some fifty-six years’ standing. A vast sepulchre is that over which their long branches sway, and an event well worthy of commemoration is that of which they stand the witnesses and memorial. The history is so clearly stated in an inscription, composed by Mr. E. R. Jewett, that we do not need to rehearse it in words of our own. Suffice it to say, that the monograph subjoined will be carved on a tablet of marble, to be built into a monumental pile or cairn between the willows. The building of the cairn, with its marble legend, Mr. Jewett has long accepted as a duty incumbent on himself, and he will carry out his design, now all the more admirable and appropriate because its celebration of a historic event is to become the property of the people. The following is the proposed inscription:
In the winter of 1813–14, of the small portion of the army of our country encamped in the adjoining field, (then called Flint Hill), seventy-one officers and men died of a terrible epidemic and were hurriedly interred there. In the following spring their remains, by order of the general government, were collected and burled here, in one common grave; and Dr. Daniel Chapin planted these trees to mark the hallowed grounds.
In 1869, Elam R. Jewett, then the owner of the land, reverently erected this simple monument and dedicated the spot forever.
“REST, PATRIOTS REST.”
At various points in the main park, a capital chance is afforded for the production of the
which landscape gardeners so highly value and which. In the absence of natural facilities, are often secured at immense expense. For example, within a short distance of each other at the east side of the park, are two extensive quarry excavations in the limestone. These it is proposed to unite, either by an artificial gorge in the rock, or by a tunnel which, in skillful hands, will be made to answer all the purposes of a first-class, natural grotto. The quarries themselves can be planted and their rocky sides partially draped with creepers so as to produce the most unique and charming effects. Persons who have visited the famous Latomiæ, of ancient Syracuse, which are in fact the quarries whence the stone of the old city was obtained, will readily realize what quaint and effective things may be done with these now unsightly excavations [see Note 13].
The abundant supply of stone on the domain, will also be turned to good advantage in the construction, of roads, &c. A vast economy is permitted by the presence of this convenient supply.
Much more might be said in description of the natural advantages of the lands taken for the main park, and of the artistic strategy by which it is proposed to make the utmost of these. We have not space, however, to do more at present than simply call attention to the beautiful and thickly wooded knoll which has been secured by extending the park line beyond Amherst Road, as shown on the map. This forest horizon by which the most northerly portion of the Park is bounded, suggests what will yet be done with other parts of the Park confines. By judicious planting along the line of these, not only the desirable effect of seclusion may be obtained, but a vast apparent enlargement of the Park is effected.
We make our
from the main park, at its south-easterly extremity, by a park-way two hundred feet in width. This, avenue, or boulevard, is taken across Main street at the junction of Steele street [see Note 14], a short distance to the north of the tollgate, and sweeps in a noble curve through several pieces of wood, until it crosses the creek and skirts the eastern boundary of
THE DRIVING PARK.
By this contact the popular institution of our horse-loving population is, in a manner, brought into and incorporated with the park system. Persons driving in the public grounds who feel inclined to try the mettle of their steeds, have only to swing into the racing track from the public parkway in order to obtain free scope for their tastes [see Note 15].
From our local hippodrome the park-way holds southward and speedily enters the
PARK GROUNDS AT THE EAST.
They are located on the north of the Best street plank road, and have an area of about sixty-two acres. The purpose is to make a Parade Ground one of the chief features of this tract. We understand that “The Parade” is the name by which this part of the public estate will be known. The grounds here can readily be made to combine all the essentials of a place of popular reunion. The land slopes so as to afford a fine view over the city, while the eye at the same time can range to the hill horizon of our own and Chautauqua counties [see Note 16]. A fine grove will give shade for picnic parties, &c., and on some portion of the property it is proposed to famish all necessary facilities for game players of various kinds, from the base-ballists of America to the Turners of Father-land. We imagine that if the latter wished to erect one of their gymnasiums in this quarter, the Park Commission would gladly recognize the compatibility of their desire with the general idea of which this part of the park system is to be an embodiment.
To enhance the popular and gemuethlich character of “The Parade,” it is proposed to locate here the only
which will be permitted on the public grounds.
We have thus sketched in detail the principal features of the project. It is on paper still, but, from having been one of Buffalo’s vague and almost hopelessly cherished dreams, it has now taken definite form, and that is much. Next spring, we trust, will see a beginning made to the project’s realization.
In connection with the subject, it remains for us only to speak of certain projected modifications of the railroad,system centering in this city, which point to
SUBURBAN RAILWAY ARRANGEMENTS
likely to have an important bearing on the Park. The establishment of a connection between their main line and the Niagara Falls branch, has long been considered a desideratum by the New York Central company, To accomplish this it is proposed to lay a double track around the eastern and northern suburbs of the city, to join the Niagara Falls road in the vicinity of Black Rock. The new track will diverge from the main line at a point on the eastern verge of the city, and pursue a northerly course to about the junction of Genesee street and the Best street plank road [see Note 17]. Here it is proposed to have a station, accommodating all comers to “The Parade.” Farther north, another station is contemplated, giving convenient debarcation for passengers to the Driving Park. Another park station at Main- street, and a fourth at Delaware street are spoken of, to complete what will thus be a perfect suburban railway system—a circumnavigation of the city’s limits such as London enjoys in her Metropolitan railway, and like that which New York has so long log-rolled and hoped for.
With hourly trains running, as has been suggested, on this suburban line, all that is required to bring together the park and the people would be furnished. And, with the development of the city’s borders which would inevitably follow, and the growth of the already strong tendency to suburban residence, it is not too much to think that the passenger traffic in a short time would be such as to vindicate the sagacity of the railroads’ managers. It is fortunate when the interests of a great corporation and a great community are, as in this case, identical, and when the former has the foresight and enterprise to anticipate the needs of the latter. Of the credit which is due in the present instance, we believe a large share belongs to Mr. J. Tillinghast, the general superintendent of the Central. We trust that his far-seeing views may be speedily put in execution and vindicated by the result.
THE ERIE ROAD
has, also, we learn, a scheme in contemplation for building a branch to Niagara Falls. Surveys have been made, and the general direction of the track will not vary much from that indicated for the Central. As to the specific features of the Erie project, however, we are not informed [see Note 18].
1. The bill was introduced in January, 1869 and was passed on April 14. It changed Olmsted’s original concept in a few ways: it cut back the acreage for Delaware Park, it set aside for the State Lunatic Asylum the land west of Elmwood Avenue that Olmsted had wanted to include in the park, and it required the east side park to be located east of Jefferson Avenue.
2. The profession we now know as landscape architecture was once known as landscape gardening, a term Olmsted disliked because it didn’t adequately reflect the level of design work involved.
3. This appears to refer to “The Bank,” the circle at the foot of Massachusetts Street. It is shown on the map included here, which was published in 1870.
4. Note that a century and a half later the lower west side does not have a beach on Lake Erie, but one is included in the plan to transform Lasalle Park into Ralph Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park.
5. St. Joseph’s College is now D’Youville. Rogers Street was extended north and became Richmond Avenue.
6. When Lafayette Presbyterian Church moved from Lafayette Square to its present location, Bouck Street was renamed Lafayette Avenue in its honor. In turn, the church was renamed Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church.
7. These “plazas” in the plan were implemented as circles: Colonial Circle on the west and Gates Circle on the east. Clinton Avenue became Potomac Avenue to avoid confusion with Clinton Avenue downtown.
8. North of this point Delaware Avenue was an unimproved road known as the Tonawanda Road that was almost entirely rural. Because it was one of only two roads to Tonawanda it couldn’t be closed, so in the original park plan Olmsted and Vaux essentially treated it like one of the transverse roads that had to be maintained through Central Park. The original embankment and single-arch bridge designed by Vaux that carried the park over the road resembled the embankments and bridges that carried Central Park over the transverse roads and, like those roads, Delaware Avenue was fenced off entirely from the park it passed through. Not for a decade and a half would the paths and drives in the park be connected with Delaware Avenue, over Superintendent McMillan’s objections.
9. This monument would eventually be erected at Lafayette Square downtown, and Soldiers’ Circle has never hosted a monument befitting its size and central position as intended.
10. The Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Its location was originally known as Place de l’Étoile (star) due to the star formed by the intersection of twelve radiating streets.
11. Note that the exact plan for the park lake doesn’t seem to have been complete at this time, and is not shown on the map. The cascades mentioned, which might have been a picturesque feature in the park, were never created. Instead, a dam was built at the western end of the lake with a bridle path across it.
12. These springs were part of the same underground aquifer that fed the Cold Spring, which supplied early drinking water to the city. Some were, for a time, used to provide drinking water to park users.
14. Steele Street is now the western end of Kensington Avenue.
15. The Buffalo Driving Park predated the park plan. In 1868 it was owned by Cicero Hamlin. It is now the Hamlin Park neighborhood.
16. This appears to be inaccurate information, most likely based on the originally intended location for the east side park, today occupied in part by Masten Park, which did afford such views. The state legislation required locating the east side park farther east, perhaps to placate the east side German-Americans, who were among the opponents of the park project.
17. The New York Central Belt Line, when built, would be several blocks east of The Parade (later Humboldt Park and today Martin Luther King, Jr. Park).
18. The Erie Railroad would eventually build its own belt line around Buffalo, now abandoned. A primary reason railroads were building these belt lines was to access the International Railway Bridge, begun in 1870 and opened in 1873.
NOTE: LEAD IMAGE REPRODUCTION BY PERMISSION OF THE BUFFALO & ERIE COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY, BUFFALO, NEW YORK. Many thanks to Charles Alaimo and Marguerite Cheman for their assistance.