What would later be known as, “America’s Best Idea,” the formation of our country’s national parks has long been associated with our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, but in reality, this idea and implementation took place long before his time. While the West is recognized as having some of the most scenic and monumental landscapes, the root of this grand idea started East- right here in New York to be exact, with some of its most prominent footprints in the Queen City.
At its formation, America couldn’t quite match the grandeur of architecture found in European castles and cathedrals, but what we did have were these incredible landscapes and nature scenes, opening way to an entirely new type of art form. Dennis Drabelle, the author of “The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks,” writes about the man who helped bring about the change to create and protect our national parks- Frederick Law Olmsted.
For most New Yorkers, the name “Olmsted ” isn’t unfamiliar to our vocabulary, but what many may not have known is that Buffalo became a place where Olmsted made history!
With a background in journalism, it wasn’t until his travel to England in 1850 that left Olmsted marveling in the formation of public gardens and maintained park systems like what he saw throughout his travels; This idea later fueling the fire for his dedication (bordering on obsession) with bringing this beauty to America. His first valiant effort turned monumental after his success in designing one of America’s most prized parks, Central Park, and then again with Prospect Park in Brooklyn. While these remain two of his most popular and well-known projects, his most ambitious endeavor happened right here in Buffalo at one of the most iconic stops in the Queen City-Delaware Park. The size of the park was similar to Central Park, but the concept was entirely different, making this project a whole new ballgame for Olmsted. As opposed to previously done park designs, Delaware Park would consist of 24 pieces of greenery including parks and parkways making Buffalo the first interconnected urban park system in the entire country.
Not only did he design many of these incredible nature spaces, but he also was influential in protecting and paving the way for the creation of some of America’s most prized wonders. Olmsted worked in turning his belief that government protection was key and over development could be disastrous, into what would become the charter for another jewel- Yosemite National Park later leading to the formation of Yellowstone National Park.
Olmsted believed in our nation’s park systems not only as works of art, but also as democratic spaces welcoming of everyone. With his 200th birthday coming up this spring, it’s important for all of us to get outside and enjoy nature, especially for those lucky enough to live right around the corner from Delaware Park. Buffalonians, stop for a moment and take a look at the handiwork of a man whose legacy shaped the future of our city, and with our help in preserving it, will live on for generations to come.
For more information on Olmsted and his influence on our park systems, check out this CBS News special featuring Buffalo’s very own Delaware Park!