Today, May 8, 2021, join The Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie for a historical walk through Cadwalader Park. Starting at 12:30 p.m., historian David Bosted will spend an hour walking participants through the development of one of Trenton’s most iconic parks.
This spring “Tree Walk” will celebrate the well-known Father of Landscape Architecture in America, Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO) and his historic visit to Trenton, NJ in 1891. At that time, it was FLO’s decision whether to approve or disapprove a park for the city. FLO decided the site was suitable and that he would take the job. The resulting Cadwalader Park turned out to be his last great urban park.
Today’s walk will kick off a yearlong celebration leading up to 200th anniversary of FLO’s birth. Bosted will discuss Olmsted’s plan for the park, the species of trees and shrubs he selected and the way the artfully arranged plantings create vistas that are closed and then revealed.
“The United States would be all gridlines and patterns if it wasn’t for the Olmsteds,” said Bosted. “Who would have known that somebody could come in with a new design concept and revolutionize everything?”
Bosted, who has lectured on Olmsted in many venues since his first lecture on the topic at Ramapo College in 1975, has been fascinated by FLO and his family legacy for decades. He designed and acquired land for a park system for Martha’s Vineyard Island as Director of the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank in the mid-1980s. Locally, Bosted served four terms as President of the Island Civic Association in Trenton and twelve years as a member of the Trenton City Zoning Board of Adjustment, including serving as Chairman of the Board. He is a Trustee of the Trenton Museum Society and Chairman of the Lawrence Township Shade Tree Advisory Committee.
Bosted is also a retired attorney who served as a State Deputy Attorney General in New Jersey. He has a master’s degree in urban planning from Rutgers University, where he initially discovered the complex history of the Olmsted family.
“In the early 70’s, it was the 150th anniversary of Olmsted’s birth, he was born in 1822, so there was a lot of interest in trying to put together a definitive biography of Olmsted, which did not exist at the time,” said Bosted. “There was so much research, and the researcher kind of got bogged down in the early years, and the thought was she wouldn’t be able to finish. So, that was the subject of discussion in the landscape architecture community because it was said to be absolutely crucial to finish that biography.”
According to Bosted, two individuals ended up documenting FLO in two separate biographies. However there was controversy over which report was more accurate.
One thing is certain, however – the designer believed that the public realm should be a respite, a place to retreat from the stress of urban life. He believed that public open space should be accessible to all people. By the time FLO began to design Cadwalader Park in 1890, he had been planning parks in this country’s leading cities for over 30 years. Cadwalader Park, notable as the only park in New Jersey personally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, turned out to be his last great urban park design.
“He came up with some innovations that were, in retrospect, mindblowing.” said Bosted. “In the city, at the time, there was no easy way to get from what’s now West State Street up to Ewing. It was blocked by the D&R canal. There’s a rivulet, a little stream, that runs on the side of the property, and the city had the idea that they would put that stream in a conduit or drain and run the future Parkside Avenue up overtop of the drain.”
However, as Bosted pointed out, Olmsted objected the city’s vision for the drain.
“Olmsted said, ‘no, that’s the real feature of the park and that will be the boundary of the park.’ So, if you go up Parkside now, on your left, you’ll see the key feature of the park,” said Bosted. “That’s only there because he saw the potential in that”
According to Bosted, nobody knew at the time that Olmsted’s health was rapidly declining and that Cadwalader Park would be his last urban park. However, the sheer passion FLO put into his designs, including this Trenton park, left FLO to be one of the top architectural influencers in America, so much so that Bosted believes we should all learn about his work, admire his designs and preserve them while we can.
“The landscapes that he did are so beautiful that people are always trying to wreck them; they always want to put something new or additional into the landscape,” said Bosted. “If Olmsted’s theory was right, that parks are the lungs of the city, that they have a restorative effect on people that visit the parks, and that the nature they bring to the city is important, then you’ve got to keep those parks!”
Participants should meet at Ellarslie. The activity will cost $5 for the public and $3 for members to be paid at the door. Participants should be capable of walking for one hour and should wear comfortable, durable walking shoes. Wear masks and maintain social distancing. For more information, visit https://ellarslie.org/bosted-on-olmsted-may-cadwalader-park-tour/