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What Would Olmsted Do?

If Parcel 5 became a park, it might look like this

It is pretty amazing that Frederick Law Olmsted—the father of landscape design architecture who co-designed Central Park in New York, Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA, the Buffalo Parks System, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the grounds of the White House, and many other revered green spaces—is also responsible for the design of Rochester’s park system.

In 1888, Olmsted was hired by the City of Rochester to create parks out of donated land: Genesee Valley Park, Highland Park, Seneca Park, and Maplewood Park are all Olmsted’s designs. A huge proponent of green space, Olmsted even had the foresight to make the case for parks in terms of monetary value. From 1856 to 1873, he tracked the value of property immediately adjacent to Central Park in order to justify the $13 million spent on its creation. Over that 17-year period, he saw a $209 million dollar increase in the value of the property surrounding the park.

So when discussions started about what should be done with Parcel 5 (the 1.1-acre lot where Midtown Plaza once stood), we couldn’t help but wonder: What would Olmsted do? If Olmstead’s pastoral designs were used as inspiration to create a park, just as he did here more than 100 years ago, what would it look like?

We enlisted John Reddington—a Landscape Architect and Senior Project Manager at Fisher Associates, who was formerly landscape architect with the Central Park Conservancy—to envision a park within Parcel 5 using Olmsted’s principals of design. This is the result, called Parc No. 5.

Parc 5, in the spirit of Frederick Law Olmsted

Parc No. 5, envisioned in the spirit of Frederick Law Olmsted.

THE BACKSTORY

A brief history of green space in Rochester

by Beverly Gibson

Ask most people in Rochester about George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry, founders of Ellwanger and Barry Nursery, and there are often blank stares. That is unfortunate considering the status of their nursery in this country during the Victorian era, their recognition worldwide and the remarkable changes that they made in Rochester because of their work and their philanthropy.

If you walk or drive around Rochester today, you will see evidence of the work of Ellwanger and Barry everywhere. Not many cities have trees such as mature European beeches, ginkgos, dawn redwoods, London plane trees or Japanese maples growing in parks, home landscapes, and street aprons. It is because the Ellwanger and Barry Nursery in Rochester was one of the first nurseries to offer these exotic trees that had traveled the oceans by ship and then the Erie Canal by packet boat to reach their destination. Plants came from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Japan, and China.

George Ellwanger was born in 1816 in Gross-Heppach, Germany, and worked in his father’s vineyards until declining economic conditions prompted him to study horticulture in Stuttgart to prepare himself for a broader career. After completing his studies, he emigrated to the New World in 1835 to seek his fortune in his chosen field. He was first employed by the Reynolds and Bateham Seed Store and Horticultural Repository until he bought the company and seven acres of land on Mt. Hope Ave. in 1838. Patrick Barry was born in 1816 in Ireland. He taught in the Irish national schools before emigrating to Flushing, New York, where he was hired by the Prince Linnean Nursery, one of two prominent nurseries in the country at the time. There he became expert at growing fruits of all kinds, from tree fruits, like apples and pears, to small fruits, like grapes, raspberries, currants, and strawberries, and tree nuts, like walnuts and chestnuts.

In 1840, George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry founded Mt. Hope Botanical and Pomological Gardens, aka Mt. Hope Nurseries of Ellwanger & Barry. The original seven acres grew to 650 acres by 1871, becoming New York’s largest and most famous nursery. Fruit trees, small fruits, ornamental trees and shrubs, roses, bulbs, annual and perennial plants, and even house plants were advertised in the E &B catalog. The public was invited to visit the nursery, where there was a 1,200-foot grass walk bordered by flowering plants, trees, and shrubs as well as a small arboretum. Ellwanger and Barry even encouraged the city to establish a horse-drawn trolley to carry interested patrons to their grounds.

The gift of 20 acres of land near the reservoir was the impetus behind the formation of Rochester’s park system. Ellwanger and Barry wanted to establish an arboretum for the public to enjoy and offered this 20 acres to the city of Rochester in 1883. It was refused twice before 1888, when the city accepted the gift and agreed to form a parks commission to oversee the development of the land.

Because of the success of Buffalo’s park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted—who also co-designed and created Central Park in New York City—the commissioners invited him to design the first park in Rochester. Fortunately for us, Olmsted recognized the potential of land along the Genesee River and suggested that the city purchase more land for additional parks. This resulted in the establishment of Highland Park, an arboretum as requested by Ellwanger and Barry, Genesee Valley Park and Seneca Park.

These parks allowed anyone to escape the noise and odors of the city to relax in the tranquility of open spaces and perhaps gather ideas for their own landscapes. However, the unique collections of exotic trees and shrubs from all over the world gave them even more to ponder. We still have those opportunities today thanks to the stewardship of generations of people in Rochester who recognized the treasures we have in our midst.