The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department of Rush Rhees Library is sponsoring a special exhibit to show off Rochester’s Olmsted parks. The exhibit, entitled “Our Olmsted Parks: Implementing His Vision in Rochester,” is designed to showcase some of the rare photographs and documents that the university has in its possession.

“I tried to find documents and images that have not already been shown. That was my challenge,” Archivist and Rochester Collections Librarian Nancy Martin said.

Martin, who was in charge of putting the exhibit together, sorted through many old photographs of and documents about the parks.

The F.L. Olmsted and Company Landscape Architects was world- renowned for the parks built around the turn of the century. They are most famous for the design of New York City’s Central Park. They designed Rochester area’s Seneca and Highland Parks.

“In the 19th century cities were thought to be unhealthy for people,” Martin said, commenting on what spurred creation of parks at that time.

“The natural environment was physically and mentally helpful,” she said.

The exhibit features a reproduction of Olmsted’s original design for the park – the original is too fragile for display.

“Olmsted always began his design with a topographical map,” Martin said. “Anyone looking at the exhibit can see the before and after, what he did with the land.”

Beneath the reproduction lies an original 1893 topographical map of Seneca Park, drawn up by Calvin C. Laney, who was in charge of executing Olmsted’s designs in Rochester.

Also on display are many rare photographs display showing some of the different aspects unique to Olmsted’s park designs.

Many features of Olmsted’s designs, such as pavilions and rustic bridges, are common in his parks.

“I soon learned that they weren’t unique to Rochester,” Martin said of Olmsted’s signature features. “That was kind of an eye opener.”

The photographs and memorabilia in the exhibit show the former grandeur and beauty of the parks.

“It is like a world we have lost, a peek into the way life was lived 60 or 70 years ago,” Martin said, noting the loss of some original park structures, such as the Children’s Pavilion in Highland Park, due to lack of maintenance.

“It is very important that the Olmsted vision doesn’t deteriorate.”

The exhibit runs in the Great Hall of Rush Rhees Library until late spring of 2004.

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