Olmsted’s Buffalo Legacy

When you’re in Buffalo you walk in the footsteps of the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. When you bike around the Ring Road in Delaware Park, when you watch children splashing in the wading pool at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, or when you head out for a summer evening of Shakespeare in the Park, you’re in Olmsted’s terrain. If your passions take you to the Botanical Gardens, or you can visit the Burchfield-Penney art museums, take a boat ride on Hoyt Lake or wander through the Japanese Garden at the foot of the History Museum—it was Olmsted who made it possible.

In 1868, Olmsted, the man now considered America’s greatest landscape architect, was asked to plan a centralized park somewhere in Buffalo. But he and his partner, Calvert Vaux, came up with much more than a single park — in fact, what they conceived has a special place in the history of American urban planning: the first city-wide park and parkway system in the entire country. The Olmsted firm’s vision included a system of six major parks and traffic circles, linked by pretty parkways (at first called “park ways”). The plan allowed all Buffalonians access to recreation, as it still does to this day.

Today, the Olmsted Parks and boulevards provide the setting for Buffalo events year-round. In spring tourists flock to the Cherry Blossom Festival in the Japanese Garden, soon followed by a dazzling display of color in the Delaware Park Rose Garden where thirty-three rose beds overflow with thousands of All America rose selections and vintage species. Summer includes festivals, races, and farmers’ markets, elegant galas at the Botanical Gardens, and concerts by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. People picnic in the parks, and fortunate diners may be seen gazing over Hoyt Lake—complete with colorful boats and fountain — while at the Terrace Restaurant in the Marcy Casino.

An exploration of Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks is bound to lead visitors to several closely linked historic attractions, including the Richardson Olmsted Campus, formerly home of the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, designed as a therapeutic landscape by Olmsted, Vaux & Company in collaboration with Henry Hobson Richardson.