Fredrick Law Olmstead - the founder of Landscape Architecture


“PEOPLE, PLACES, LAND, AND LIFE; CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE” was the theme for this year’s national convention of the American Society of Landscape Architects held in Boston, Massachusetts that started September 11, 1999.

It was the largest group of landscape architects ever assembled. The street banners were fine. The meeting of friends and professionals from around the country was a warm and invigorating experience. This year, through a series of lectures, displays, and addresses, speakers from various professions gave their insight concerning the relationship of people with the land around them. However, as the song goes, “Gee it’s great to be back home!” After spending most of his life in Scotch Plains next to the Watchung Reservation, Richard Jurgens who attended the event said it was great to see what he considers his backyard reservation appear as a map at one of the seminars in Boston. Faye B. Harwell, is a landscape architect from Virginia with projects around the world, and Dr. Charles E Beveridge from American University, Washington D.C., presented an illustrated educational program depicting Union County’s Watchung Reservation and its integration into the larger picture of connected park resources in Union County. This pattern was expanded to include related New Jersey parks in Essex and Pasaic Counties.

Even prior to his 1971 graduation of Rutgers University’s landscape architecture program where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree, Rich was aware of the uniquely patterned road system in the Watchung reservation. It utilized the natural topography and the vistas [now often overgrown] to create a natural wonderland for a variety of hobbies and activities within the park system. The question he often pondered centered on the names of the visionaries who foresaw the methods for unlocking the beauty of our county’s land so it could be planned and preserved for generations of public enjoyment. Remember that this planning was done at a time when the Ford Model “T” represented the local transportation. Rich learned that the Union County Park System was studied and designed by the office of the designated “father of landscape architecture” Frederick Law Olmsted. He first used the term “landscape architecture” one hundred years ago in 1899 when designing the fantastic Central Park in New York City and Boston’s Emerald Necklace Parks. To commemorate this occasion, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new 33-cent stamp on September 12, 1999 featuring Olmsted and his work at the annual meeting of the American Society of Landscape Architects!

Yes, as a boy Rich remembers roaming the Watchung Reservation years ago observing the old farm houses and recently restored structures in the Deserted Village still situated within the park. Even a lost Model “T” car or two which years ago were spotted where they were left in the woods to rust by local farmers. He remembers attending the zoo at Trailside Museum within the reservation where visitors could stand and gaze at real wildlife close at hand and even boating from the Surprise Lake piers. What he does not remember was what Sean Ryan, landscape architect at the Union County Division of Parks and Recreation, showed me in Boston. In an old 1920’s memorable booklet from the County’s recently organized historical files was an old photo of a hoard of swimmers frolicking on floating rafts in the center of Surprise Lake! Perhaps there is a reader or two who might remember those times when the men wore swim tops.

Thanks to the early county officials who saw beauty and wanted to preserve it for future generations to enjoy. Thanks to the visionary men and woman who looked beyond activities of their day and saw…..Tomorrow. In a world challenged by farmland vs. pavement, buses and trains vs. autos, people vs. ugliness and wastefulness, it’s nice to know that even in those early years there were individuals interested in passing on the glories of a fine natural setting!

Other Resources:

Olmsted - the connection: A look back to see improvement of life in the new millennium.

For more information on Frederick Law Olmstead, please visit:

Richard Jurgens - an inspired member

American Society of Landscape Architects

2666 Sky Top Drive

Scotch Plains, New Jersey 07076

908 232-7700