Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Science, Technology and Society Program


James R. Fleming

Second Advisor

Paul R. Josephson


Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. (1822-1903), renowned landscape architect and journalist, was also a political activist who saw urban parks as a way to facilitate social reform. This study focuses on Olmsted’s role as Superintendent of Central Park (1858-1861), evaluating the impacts of politics throughout his campaign for Superintendent and during the construction of Central Park. Politics, in this study, refers to both the interactions between Republican and Democratic parties, and the interactions between Olmsted and his constituents, in both the government and the intellectual sphere. This study will provide readers with a fuller understanding of how local political disputes, ideas about poverty and access to a public good, and arguments regarding allocation of park-funding shaped the debates surrounding the park and contributed to its final design. In the 1840s and 1850s, New York politics debated widespread poverty, unemployment, and public distrust of local government. This study will demonstrate how Olmsted’s career as a landscape architect began as a result of the political climate of the time, and how politics impacted Olmsted’s work as Superintendent. Through the design of Central Park, Olmsted set the precedent for landscape architecture as a practice.


Frederick Law Olmsted, Central Park, Landscape Architecture, Park Design