Residents gathered at Anderson Park on Saturday, May 14, celebrating the legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted.
The National Association for Olmsted Parks is honoring Olmsted this year on the 200th anniversary of his birth, with the Friends of Anderson Park holding its own celebration in Montclair.
Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park, is known not only for the beauty of his designs, but also for his philosophy that nature and public spaces should be available to anyone. In Montclair, Olmsted’s successor firm, Olmsted Brothers, designed Anderson, Glenfield and Brookdale parks, and the Mills and Eagle Rock reservations.
“In some cases, as with Anderson Park, the lead designer was Frederick Law Olmsted’s stepson, John Charles Olmsted. In other cases, it was Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., or someone else in the Olmsted firm,” Lisanne Renner, historian and co-founder of Friends of Anderson Park, told Montclair Local.
Anderson Park was the first Essex County Olmsted-designed park to be built in Montclair, and the land for it was donated the same year Olmsted Sr. died, Renner said.
Essex County Commissioners Carlos M. Pomares, Patricia Sebold, and Brendan W. Gill presented a proclamation to Friends of Anderson Park, recognizing both the celebration of Olmsted’s birthday and the work of Friends of Anderson Park.
“Today we are here to recognize the 200th anniversary of Frederick Law Olmsted and what he meant not only to Essex County but to this entire region,” Gill said, thanking the Friends of Anderson Park for being the stewards of the park. “And it strikes me that I’m sure even at that time as he was pioneering the design of open spaces and protecting open spaces and probably met with a decent amount of resistance — you know, if you really look back at that history — he was not only thinking about himself. He was thinking about the next generation that we’re joined by here today. And we’ve been the beneficiary of that foresight over many.”
Lisanne Renner, historian and co-founder of Friends of Anderson Park, said the highlight of the celebration was the portrayal of Frederick Law Olmsted by actor Joseph Smith.
“For me, seeing him play Olmsted under the Olmsted Oak and just the beautiful sweep of the branch of the tree framing him on the stage — all that kind of harmonic convergence coming together — I thought was a great moment for Olmsted celebration,” Renner said.
Girl Scout Troop No. 22774 also planted a Princeton elm during a tree-planting ceremony, which the commissioners and Councilmen Bob Russo and Peter Yacobellis attended.
Pomares pointed to the generations that have enjoyed Anderson Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and said future generations will enjoy the park for years to come.
“Hopefully these young ladies will be here with their kids one day and maybe grandkids. And you’ll be talking about this tree that you helped plant and you can inspire them to do the same thing,” Pomares said.
Girl Scout Nina Robinson earned her tree promise badge with Troop 22774, planting the Princeton elm. She said she plans to visit the tree whenever she bikes in Anderson Park with her family.
Friends member Ira Shor served up a cake with a rendition of Anderson Park. He said the group recently bought a copy of the original arborist’s planting blueprint.
Friends of Anderson Park botanist John Colando said members are attempting to reproduce the beds and trees according to the plan from Olmsted’s 1903-1904 plan, but not precisely, because the park was dense with some shrubs, and they don’t want to block views.
“The challenges of the park are really just keeping up with watering, but the county has been nice enough to make water hookups for us to use. So it’s been easier recently. … We’re able to actually have a huge success rate of planting,” Colando said.
The group holds a raffle every September, with funds going toward new plantings, Shor said.
After his performance, Smith told Montclair Local: “We’re all stewards of this park, whether we live here in Montclair or we’re visiting and it belongs to all of us. Olmsted, he wanted to make parks democratic, available to all people. … And during the past two years, we’ve seen how truly important these parks are, and they don’t maintain themselves.”