The Legacy of Olmsted

By Aaron Henry
e-mail Aaron

Those who have lived in Louisville for any amount of time have probably visited, or heard of its Olmsted Parks.

Frederick Law Olmsted, along with his firm and sons John and Frederick Jr, are responsible for the design of 18 parks within the Metro Louisville. The three most visited of the Olmsted parks in Louisville are Shawnee, Cherokee and Iroquois parks.

Olmsted also had a number of other landscaping successes before coming to Kentucky. You may have seen some of his earlier work if you have ever been to Central Park in New York City. What makes these parks so remarkable is Olmsted founded them in 1890’s. The city was a little more than a hundred years old at the time. Quite literally, they were a part of foundational key point of the expansion of the city.

A remarkable fact about Louisville is it consists of five distinctly different Physiographic Regions. Normally a city has only one type of landscape that makes up the entire area. Olmsted saw this as an opportunity to show the natural beauty and diverse terrain through the city by structuring these parks specific locations.


His project planned allowed Shawnee Park was designed along the Riverine landscape beside the Ohio River. This unique location has developed natural aquifers that produce fresh water by saturation water from the river through the ground. Iroquois Park displays how the Knobs create steep mounds formed on a bedrock of silt. This makes the ground soft and easily erodible. Most likely the most recognized Park is Cherokee with spectacular rolling Outer Bluegrass region provides rolling hills and dense forestry.

On top of developing these parks, Olmsted also devised a way for people to access each of them no matter where they were in the city through various Parkways. Algonquin, Northwestern and Southwestern Parkways provide access to Shawnee Park, while Southern Parkway leads towards Iroquois Park.

There’s also Eastern and Cherokee Parkway that connect with Cherokee Park. The Parkways were strategically built to connect at a central point. This focal point converge around the Belknap campus of the University of Louisville. At the time, these roadways gave people the ability to travel across the city from opposite sides.

Shawnee lake and shelter.jpg
Understanding how these parks function together allows you to see the ideals Olmsted wanted to express within the city. They provide a sense of the diversity and community within Louisville and how it can be shared for generations. This is why it’s important to preserve our parks.


Every park gives an opportunity for people to come together and witness the beauty of nature without having to leave the city. It’s been said before, but maybe you’ll think about it differently when you hear, “Louisville is the city of parks.”

 

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