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Frederick Law Olmsted Society of Riverside


Frederick Law Olmsted, the renaissance man: voyager, writer, publisher, gold miner, abolitionist, preservationist, father of American landscape architecture.

In 1868, eastern businessmen wanted to develop a countryside community near Chicago. Land by the Des Plaines River, nine miles from Chicago, was selected, and the Riverside Improvement Company (RIC) founded. That same year, RIC hired Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner, Calvert Vaux, to plan the community, based on their reputations for developing New York City's Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

Olmsted wanted to create a community that combined rural with urban advantages. Olmsted and Vaux set out to create one of the first modern American suburbs.

In 1869, the plan was unveiled, which including divided roads to the city and curved roadways, eschewing a traditional grid of streets. The streets had drainage, too (cobblestone gutters), and the modern conveniences of sewers, water and gas lines, and gas street lamps.

To kept it rural, half the land was set aside for public use, two large common areas and river frontage. Large residential lots were plotted, with two trees in each front yard.

In 1968, 100 years after Olmsted began planning the community, the Frederick Law Olmsted Society of Riverside was founded and Riverside became a National Historic Landscape District in 1970. The society promotes the preservation of Riverside's heritage and actively supports historical studies within the village.

Olmsted, of course, is considered the father of American landscape architecture, and like many great figures of the 19th century, he was a renaissance man. He traveled to China on a merchant ship when he was 21; explored and wrote about the Texas frontier; co-founded Nation magazine; inveighed against slavery; managed a large gold mine in California, and helped preserve Yosemite and Niagara Falls as national parks.


The 1829 plan map for Riverside, Illinois, created by Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner, Calvert Vaux.

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