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Stories behind Washington State’s remarkable round barns

Photograph - exterior of the Manning Barn

Only a tiny percentage of the approximately 3,000 barns in Washington State are round. Enchanted by their beauty, complexity, and historical significance, Tom and Helen Bartuska have been researching, visiting, and photographing the Pacific Northwest’s round barns since the 1960s, shortly after Tom accepted a teaching position at Washington State University’s architecture department. “Barns—especially round barns—are unfortunately vanishing from the rural landscape, yet they have an important and fascinating tale to convey.  They are beautiful icons of our country’s landscape and are an important part of our history and cultural heritage,” the Bartuskas say.  Focusing on agricultural structures over 50 years old with at least two stories, the pair eventually compiled a list of 21 buildings and made it their mission to create a comprehensive inventory—recording who built each one and when, original and current uses, individual characteristics, construction details, and anecdotes they learned along the way. They compiled their work into a new book, Washington State’s Round Barns: Preserving a Vanishing Rural Heritage.

Since most of the barns were constructed in the early 1900s, the couple explored archives to gather historic photographs and paperwork. When possible, they also took interior and exterior photographs and talked with owners about each structure’s story, revisiting several sites to document how the barns changed over time. For example, Washington’s oldest known round barn was originally located on a hill overlooking Cathlamet and the Columbia River, but now sits in a field behind the town’s cemetery. It was built around a large live tree. After completion the tree was removed, but the cut-off trunk remains as an integral part of the roof.

In addition, the Bartuskas researched round barns’ fascinating history and development across the United States—including similarities and differences, various construction methods and designs, advantages and disadvantages, and the reasons they were built.  Perhaps surprisingly, one is that they were cheaper. Utilizing shared labor from extended family and neighbors made materials costs the largest expense. One early 1900s report calculated total materials savings for a 60-foot diameter round barn versus an equivalent sized plank-framed rectangular barn as $378.77, or 36%.

Sadly, the structures continue to succumb to economic and technological changes, as well as to fire, disrepair, and the forces of nature. Seven of the documented Washington barns no longer exist, and several of the remaining fourteen are in peril. Hoping to inspire others to help maintain, preserve, and restore these unique cultural icons, the authors added examples of successful re-use and creative conservation nationwide, along with ongoing efforts to save other types of barns, buildings, and rural communities.

Cover of Washington State's Round Barns

About the authors:

Tom and Helen Bartuska have been interested in round barns and reanimating rural buildings and communities since their college days. Avid world travelers, they spent a year in Afghanistan after Tom received a Fulbright Award to teach at Kabul University. While there, Helen taught at an international primary school. They now reside in the Pacific Northwest and volunteer at IslandWood, a school nationally recognized for its outdoor programs and contemporary sustainable design. Tom received his Bachelor and Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois, and completed post graduate studies at the University of Manchester. After a forty-year teaching career, he is now a professor emeritus at Washington State University’s School of Architecture and Construction Management. Helen attended the University of Illinois and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, and holds a BA in Home Economics, Child and Family Studies. She received her Montessori certification from England’s St. Nicholas Montessori Training Center, and taught young children for over two decades.

WSU Press publishes what is likely the first poetry collection from the Muckleshoot

close up of cover art from A Muckleshoot Poetry Anthology

Our new poetry collection, A Muckleshoot Poetry Anthology: At the Confluence of the Green and White Rivers, curated by Susan Landgraf and just published by Washington State University Press, originated from a grant and more than a dozen workshops. The book showcases the work of two artists and more than fifty poets from different tribal heritages living on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation.

Expressive and moving, the participants’ pieces are about searching and belonging, loss and finding. Many are stories of “what happened” and “why.” All share a common theme—a reaching back and a reaching forward—sometimes in the same poem. Composed by writers who range in age from elementary school to adult, they highlight Muckleshoot history and culture, but also spotlight individual histories, lessons, and beliefs.

“I had heard about a call for proposals from the Academy of American Poets and because I was Poet Laureate of Auburn, Washington, at that time, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity—but I had no project in mind. A week before the deadline, I woke up one morning with the thought that it was right here in my backyard, ‘We are the Muckleshoot,’” Landgraf explains. “I wanted to know more about who the Muckleshoot people are. I wanted to hear their voices in poetry, since I am a poet. To my knowledge, no one had published an anthology of poetry by people of the Tribe. So I applied. I got the request sent off four hours before the deadline,” Landgraf says. She received the grant in June 2020, just as the Covid 19 shutdown started, so it took several months to get the word out about the workshops and anthology. She finished curating the manuscript fourteen months later, in August 2021, and says her favorite parts were conducting the poetry workshops and having the poems come in. “It was like Valentine’s Day every time I found a new poet in my email.”

Muckleshoot is the Native name for the prairie on which the 6.128 square-mile reservation was established in 1857. Federally recognized as descendants of the Duwamish and Upper Puyallup people who inhabited Central Puget Sound thousands of years before non-Indian settlement, approximately 3,600 people live on the reservation located near the original confluence of the Green and White rivers. The two vital tributaries held the sacred salmon and served as “highways” for the people. Tribal members view the land as linked to their heritage, stating, “What we were lasts only as long as we carry the memory.” This new work helps carry the memory.

Poet and journalist Susan Landgraf’s next title, Journey of Trees, is set to be released in 2024. She taught at Highline College and Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, as well as at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference. She served as Poet Laureate of Auburn, Washington, from 2018 to 2020.

 

Washington State University Press invites manuscripts for a new book series

New Histories of the American West logo

Washington State University Press invites manuscripts for a new book series, New Histories of the American West, edited by Clay S. Jenkinson.

We are looking for new voices, new perspectives, new authors (and established authors too) for books about exploration, the American frontier, Native Americans, cultural encounters, the environment, bioregionalism, and of course Lewis and Clark.

We have a particular interest in projects that take the approach of James Ronda’s groundbreaking work, Lewis and Clark Among the Indians (1984).  We encourage manuscripts by Native Americans on:

  • Lewis and Clark Among the Osage
  • Among the Lakota
  • Among the Mandan and Hidatsa
  • Among the Shoshone
  • Among the Clatsops
  • Among the Blackfeet

About the series editor:

Clay Jenkinson is a historian and humanities scholar based in North Dakota. He is founder of both the Theodore Roosevelt Center and Listening to America. Clay received a BA from the University of Minnesota, and an MA from Oxford where he was a Rhodes and Danforth Scholar. He is the author of thirteen books, most recently, The Language of Cottonwoods: Essays on the Future of North Dakota. He has appeared in several of Ken Burns’ documentary films.

Clay portrays such historical figures as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and J. Robert Oppenheimer. He lives and works on the plains of North Dakota. He is the founder of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in western North Dakota, dedicated to the digitization of all of Theodore Roosevelt’s Papers.

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The Shocking Story of the Washington Territorial Justice Appointed to the Bench While Indicted for Murder

Man of Treacherous Charm cover

HOW ONE WASHINGTON TERRITORIAL JUSTICE EXPLOITED HIS NETWORKS TO INFLUENCE THE REGION’S LEGAL AND SOCIAL HISTORY

“Perhaps the single most enlightening takeaway for me was the stark contrast between the legal landscape of Fitzhugh’s time and that of my own. No current judge would even consider hearing, on appeal, a case over which they had presided as the trial judge…an entertaining and educational read.”—Chuck Snyder, retired Whatcom County Superior Court Judge

Along with his privileged education, Edmund C. Fitzhugh was deeply shaped by his Virginia family’s history and ethics. “From the moment Fitzhugh’s tall leather boots struck the mud flats in front of the Roeder-Peabody Mill in 1854, the effects of the charismatic man on the infant community and Washington Territory were wide, and for some people, destructive,” says Candace A. Wellman, author of the new book, Man of Treacherous Charm: Territorial Justice Edmund C. Fitzhugh, the first full biography of a Washington Territory justice. His life offers insights into the people, politics, and legal practices—vastly different from today—of the territory and 19th century American West. “Fitzhugh was appointed to the federal bench while under indictment for murder. He made measured judicial decisions, helped organize the early Democratic Party machine in California and Washington, helped run a national presidential campaign, and fought heroically in the Civil War. And yet he died alone in a dingy hotel,” she adds.

Wellman’s interest in Fitzhugh began while she volunteered at the Washington State Archives and started to research her first book about indigenous womens’ roles in early Pacific Northwest history. One of the women married Fitzhugh, and Wellman noted his influence on the region’s legal and social history, along with his participation in important events in gold rush era San Francisco and Civil War Virginia. She decided to tell his story, traveling to Virginia to conduct research in Fitzhugh’s hometown and state repositories, as well as to the National Archives, San Francisco’s library, and multiple Washington State collections. Across two decades, she worked with dozens of collaborators.

Born into a wealthy, slave-owning colonial Virginia clan, Fitzhugh learned to focus on accumulating wealth and power. Following his West Point expulsion, he became a small-town lawyer and legislator before seeking fortune in San Francisco, where he associated with prominent attorneys and California Democrats. After coal was discovered in Washington Territory, a newly formed syndicate sent Fitzhugh north to open and manage a Bellingham Bay coal mine, and to sway that region’s Democrats. Elected Whatcom County’s first auditor, he used his position as the territory’s largest employer to benefit himself and the mine. He married two important indigenous women who brought their own kind of wealth and influence. He also exploited family, personal, and political networks to become the first local Indian agent during the Treaty War, a military aide to Governor Isaac Stevens, a district and supreme court justice, and a member of Brigadier General Eppa Hunton’s Civil War staff. After Fitzhugh kidnapped his two children and sent them to a distant white family, his indigenous wives deserted him. Two later marriages to women from prominent colonial families also did not last.

 

Man of Treacherous Charm cover

 

 

 

A Nostalgic Look at a Life Few People Have Known

Idaho once had close to one thousand fire lookout towers—more than any other state in the Pacific Northwest. Today, that number has dropped dramatically as fire management increasingly relies on infrared and drone technology over human power. A new book, The Last Lookout on Dunn Peak: Fire Spotting in Idaho’s St. Joe National Forest by Nancy Sule Hammond, captures that lost era and recounts a life few will now experience—serving as a United Forest Service fire lookout.

When married high school sweethearts Don and Nancy arrived at his first post eight miles northwest of Avery, Idaho, in 1972, Nancy was puzzled. “I’d expected to find majestic conifers, lots of them,” she says. “But every mountain for miles around was covered in stubby scrub brush and weeds. Now I understood why that other lookout had quit. He was embarrassed to work in a forest without trees.” Their first task was to lug provisions and water up the Dunn Peak Lookout’s steep stairs to the fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cab two stories above the forest floor. The sparse furnishings included a single bed, small bookcase, cabinet, table, and a wood stove. There was no electricity or running water. A battery powered two-way Motorola radio was their only connection to the outside world. That night—engulfed by thunderbolts and filled with adrenalin—they faced their first storm. “It stalled right over our heads. I jumped at each lightning strike,” Nancy recalls.

Unless it was foggy or raining while he was on duty, the Forest Service required Don to conduct binocular searches from the catwalk for at least twenty minutes of every hour. He watched for smoke during the day and the glow of fire at night, and learned to distinguish between blue smoke plumes and white wisps of fog. Despite the primitive conditions, Don, Nancy, and their Dalmatian, Misty, settled in and came to love their lookout adventure. They spotted wildfires, were startled by their first cougar scream, encountered a wide variety of human and animal visitors, discovered delectable huckleberry patches, and simply enjoyed the enchanting beauty all around them.

Don was the last fire spotter to work there. The following year, the Forest Service decided to close the Dunn Peak Lookout, so the couple spent the summer of 1973 at the Middle Sister Peak tower, ten miles southeast of Avery. In The Last Lookout, Nancy shares stories from those two exciting, magical fire seasons, along with their return as volunteers 37 years later. Interspersing her accounts with regional fire history as well as dangers and details of the work, she journeys back to the narrow catwalks and stunning panoramas—a place where storms are building, the landscape is dry, and any lightning strike could ignite a raging wildfire.

The Last Lookout on Dunn Peak cover

Montana Modernists a finalist for two additional book awards

Montana Modernist artwork

Cover of Montana Modernists

Already a Montana State Book Award honor selection, Montana Modernists: Shifting Perceptions of Western Art written by Michele Corriel and published by Washington State University Press, is a finalist for two additional book awards, the 2023 High Plains Book Award in Art & Photography, and the 2023 Big Sky Award. Held in conjunction with the High Plains BookFest, the High Plains Book Awards recognize regional authors and/or literary works in a variety of categories that examine and reflect life on the High Plains. Introduced in 2019, the Big Sky Award is a special prize for the overall best book by a Montana author. Winners for all Book Awards will be announced at an awards event to be held in October 2023 in Billings, Montana. Each winner will receive $500 and a commemorative plaque.

The first book fully devoted to the topic, Montana Modernists presents stunning artwork and illuminates a little-known art movement. For many, Charles M. Russell’s paintings epitomize life in the West. But in twentieth-century postwar Montana, an avant-garde art movement—Montana Modernism—brewed. Its pioneers—ranchers, teachers, and professors Jessie Wilber, Frances Senska, Bill Stockton, Isabelle Johnson, Robert DeWeese, and Gennie DeWeese—created a community and pedagogy where, in stark contrast to stereotypical romanticized western art and frontier history themes, modernist ideas and art flourished, expanding traditional definitions of Western art.

Michele Corriel holds a Master’s in Art History and a PhD in American Studies/American Art from Montana State University, Bozeman. She has been an art writer for the last 17 years and is on the National Advisory Board for the Bozeman Art Museum.

Montana Modernists is full color, paperback, 10″ x 8″, 180 pages, and lists for $32.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press online at https://wsupress.wsu.edu/product/montana-modernists/ or by phone at 800-354-7360. A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

A Rare Look at Life on an Eastern Washington Sheep Ranch

Photo of lambing time in the corrals.

Noted western writer Wallace Stegner once stated that the most fruitful years for memoirists were those up to age eleven.  Author Richard W. Etulain thought about that statement for a long time before setting out to write his story, Boyhood Among the Woolies: Growing Up on a Basque Sheep Ranch, just released by Basalt Books. It covers his early youth on a sprawling sheep ranch twenty miles east of Ritzville and about seventy miles south of Spokane—eleven years that became the launching point for his later career as a western history professor.

Etulain notes that his experiences markedly differed from those of most young men from the surrounding farms and estates. About 100 miles to the east were the rich wheat ranches of the Palouse Country; to the west, smaller stock ranches and less fertile and more compact wheat ranches. Almost no sheepmen were in this area, save for the Escure brothers, his family’s next-door neighbors. “When I bragged about our 10,000-acre ranch (I didn’t mention that our best crop was rocks) to fellow Ritzville school students, they were convinced I was lying.”

Etulain’s memoir provides a glimpse of the annual patterns of life and activities on a sheep ranch. Lambing began in the coldest months of January and February, the sheep shearers arrived in April or early May, and the “trailing” to the mountains commenced in late May. Their four bands of sheep, totaling up to eight thousand ewes and lambs, grazed for about three months in the verdant mountains on or near the Idaho-Montana border.  Meanwhile, the Etulain family resided in their St. Maries summer home. The boys swam, roamed the neighborhood, and enjoyed getting into trouble.  In October, they returned to the sheep ranch and restarted the yearly routines.

“If the dry grazing lands dominated the ranch setting, the personalities of my Basque Dad and saintly Mother molded our family and home life. An immigrant from Spain, Dad was a driven, nonstop worker who tried, unsuccessfully, to convince his three rascal sons to become gung-ho ranchers. Instead, we preferred sports and ranch games. Mom was the peacemaker, helping her sons with schooling and generally encouraging our interests,” Etulain says. He recounts their experiences in the rural, one-room Lantz School with fewer than ten students, as well as later schools in Ritzville. Trips to town for Saturday shopping, music lessons (he dreaded them), the library (a favorite), and church on Sunday were invigorating breaks from the isolation. He also portrays the lives of their sheep herders and ranch workers, ranch animals, and delightful, frequent pranks. The final chapter traces what Etulain considers the major legacy of early sheep ranch years—his work ethic (from his Dad), interest in books (encouraged by his Mom and grandma), and fascination with history, especially the American West, Abraham Lincoln, and the Basques.

 

Boyhood Among the Woolies cover

WSU Press Book Receives Montana Book Award Honors

Montana Modernist artwork

Cover of Montana Modernists

A Washington State University Press book, Montana Modernists: Shifting Perceptions of Western Art by Michele Corriel, was one of three honor books chosen by the 2022 Montana Book Award Committee. The annual award recognizes literary and/or artistic excellence in a book written or illustrated by someone who lives in Montana, is set in Montana, or deals with Montana themes or issues. Presentations and a reception for the four winning authors will take place on April 12, during the Montana Library Association Conference in Billings, Montana. Other winners include On a Benediction of Wind: Poems and Photographs, which won the main award, as well as Lucky Turtle, and The River You Touch: Making a Life on Moving Water, the other two honor titles.

The first book fully devoted to the topic, Montana Modernists presents stunning artwork and illuminates a little-known avant-garde movement—Montana Modernism—that began in twentieth-century postwar Montana. Its pioneers—ranchers, teachers, and professors Jessie Wilber, Frances Senska, Bill Stockton, Isabelle Johnson, Robert DeWeese, and Gennie DeWeese—created a community and pedagogy where, in stark contrast to stereotypical romanticized western art and frontier history themes, modernist ideas and art flourished, expanding traditional definitions of Western art. Divided into three parts, Corriel’s exploration concentrates on place, teaching/artistic lineage, and community.

From artist, writer, and Montana Governor’s Arts Award recipient Gordon McConnell’s viewpoint, “This book is singular, a milestone. It illuminates a precinct of western American art history that has been neglected by scholars up until now.” According to former curator of Art and Photography at the Museum of the Rockies Steven Jackson, “Montana Modernists presents important biographical histories of six Montana artists for the first time in one book, and provides valuable context for understanding how modernism evolved in Montana from the influences of artists like Cezanne to the movements of Dada, cubism, abstract expressionism, and the Bauhaus.”

Author Michele Corriel holds a Master’s in Art History and a PhD in American Studies/American Art from Montana State University, Bozeman. She has been an art writer for the last 17 years and is on the National Advisory Board for the Bozeman Art Museum.

Montana Modernists is full color, paperback, 10″ x 8″, 208 pages, and lists for $32.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press online at https://wsupress.wsu.edu/product/montana-modernists/ or by phone at 800-354-7360. A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

A journey from extreme athlete to disability advocate to author

photo of Milwaukee's CBS58newsroom with Tom Haig on a screen

As a youngster growing up in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, suburb, Global Nomad author Tom Haig ran wild with the neighborhood kids. By seventh grade, the thirst for adventure and fearlessness he learned from them led him to springboard diving. “When I was older and experienced, I would feel, deep in my soul, that I was a diver.”

After graduating from the University of Illinois, Tom flew to Luxembourg on his first international trip. Despite being broke, hungry, and far from a flight home, he and his brother Dan headed to Venice, Italy. “Without any warning, the greatest and most powerful epiphany of our lives unfolded. We looked back at the paths we’d chosen to get to this starving moment, and concluded that not only had we made the right choice to stretch things to the limit, we were committed to continue to make those same kinds of decisions the rest of our lives.” And so began The Bridge to Venice Rule.

Living by that pact, Tom started work as a performance high diver in Missouri. Several times a day, he climbed to a small platform, lit himself on fire, and dove seventy miles per hour into a lake. Soon he was traveling all over the world, including to the 1989 Acapulco Cliff Diving Contest. In France he fell in love with cycling and carried a new passion back to Portland, Oregon, until one Sunday morning in September 1996. He crashed headfirst into a truck and found himself living a very different life from a wheelchair. His recovery—mentally, physically, and emotionally—was excruciating. “I’d been in car accidents, fallen from water towers, and landed flat on my back from 70-foot multiple somersaulting dives. No crying. I used to swear, jump up and down, and tell jokes. Anything but cry. I was going to have to learn how to cry again, or I wasn’t going to survive. Then again, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to survive.”

In Global Nomad, Tom shares his early free-wheeling life with its exciting cities and colorful personalities, and his extraordinary post-accident return to The Bridge to Venice Rule—racing in marathons, traveling solo in some of the poorest countries in the world, meeting the Dalai Lama, jamming with jazz great Oscar Klein, holding disability seminars, and starting the International Rehabilitation Forum with his physician brother, Andy. In the process, he bares the unvarnished aftermath and heartbreaking vulnerabilities that follow permanent paralysis, and inspires us all to take risks and live remarkable, generous, lives.

After being interviewed on Milwaukee’s CBS 58, Tom launched his book with about 130 people in the audience at Glendale, Wisconsin’s North Shore Library, an event co-sponsored by Boswell Books. He was interviewed by Mary Schmitt Boyer, former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association. Here’s the fabulous CBS feature story on Tom.

For the next part of his book tour, he stopped at Jack’s West End, in La Grange, Illinois, and is also planning book signings in Portland and Seattle. Watch his web page, tomhaig.com, for details.

Global Nomad is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 340 pages, and lists for $22.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from Basalt Books at 800-354-7360, or online at basaltbooks.wsu.edu. The trade imprint of nonprofit academic publisher Washington State University Press in Pullman, Washington, Basalt Books concentrates on general interest titles about cooking, nature, history, science, and more for young children to older readers—all with a connection to the Northwest.

photo of Tom Haig talking with Mary Schmitt Boyer  photo from the back of a room with Tom Haig and Mary Schmitt Boyer at the front

Longtime Agricultural Economist Recounts 50 Years of WA State’s Tree Fruit Industry

close-up of pink cherry blossoms

Tree Fruit Trade cover

Known for its apples, pears, and sweet cherries, Washington is now one of the world’s most competitive deciduous tree fruit producers, providing more than half the nation’s supply. In the 1970s, the state’s apple growers produced about 40 million cartons. Now they can generate 140 million. But it has never been easy. The industry has suffered from a loss of collective marketing, can be plagued by oversupply, and is moving from local family ownership to one controlled by large outside corporations. In his unique new book filled with personal anecdotes as well as expert observation, investigation, and analysis, Tree Fruit Trade: An Agricultural Economist Reviews Fifty Years of Washington State’s Key Orchard Crops, Desmond O’Rourke covers internal and external challenges and opportunities—from the devastating winter 1969 freeze to the Covid-19 pandemic. He shares his perspective on controversial areas like genetically modified organisms (GMOs), “super foods,” and the “dirty dozen.”

Written as both a tribute to those who served the industry in the past and as a cautionary tale that combines industry, economic, and world-events history with his own personal story, O’Rourke’s accounts help explain Washington’s tremendous success and illuminate emerging threats. They discuss multiple factors—both domestic and worldwide—that disrupt a variety of agricultural commodities, and describe significant changes, players, organizations, and how the tree fruit industry responded. Covered topics include environmental issues, virus problems, China, food trends, the free trade movement, shifting views on pesticides, concerns about labor shortages, retailer growth and failure, technological innovations, and much more.

Desmond O’Rourke has studied and worked in the Washington State fruit industry for more than fifty years—thirty in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Washington State University, and since 2000, as a private consultant. For 24 years, his company, Belrose, has published the World Apple Report. O’Rourke has also published books, monographs, journal articles, and special publications on many aspects of the world fruit trade, and has served on numerous national, state, and university committees, including—at the invitation of five consecutive governors—the Washington State Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.

 Tree Fruit Trade is paperback, 6” x 9”, 294 pages, and lists for $29.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360, or online at wsupress.wsu.edu. A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

Frederick Law Olmsted’s last designs

Rendering of Frederick Law Olmsted's Chicago Fair wooded island

Two Olmsted sons—John Charles and Rick—step in to continue their father’s legacy, and help create the landscape architecture profession in America

___________________________

Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO), now in his 70s, tried unsuccessfully to slow down. Clients kept calling, asking for design help with new university sites and grand private estates from Maine to California. With park work also continuing in Boston and many other cities, his sons back home in the Brookline, Massachusetts, office worried their father was overextended. Then, in the mid-1890s, the focus shifted to the four greatest and most important works of Olmsted’s long career.

The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 design commission came in quietly, but brought lasting fame and success when Olmsted was summoned to Chicago to work with architect Daniel Burnham on the master site design along Lake Michigan.

Chicago Fair architect Daniel Hudson Burnham valued Olmsted’s wooded island and water design and planning additions for the Fair. Olmsted “has been our best advisor….In the highest sense he has been the planner of the Exposition,” Burham told colleagues at a March 1893 New York architects’ dinner in his honor. Soon after, Harvard and Yale each awarded Olmsted an honorary degree.

 

George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore estate, created out of the magnificent Asheville, North Carolina, forest property, occupied FLO’s travel and working days before and after the Chicago World’s Fair opened on May 1, 1893.

The inspiration for Vanderbilt and Hunt’s architectural style came from their recent journey together to the French countryside. Olmsted had helped Vanderbilt build his Bar Harbor Maine summer retreat, but this southern warmer location suited Mr. Vanderbilt for a year-round retreat. Olmsted added educational suggestions—forestry study and an arboretum site before hiring young forester Gifford Pinchot years before he became first head of the U.S. Forest Service. By coincidence, Pinchot, like Olmsted, was also a Connecticut native with ties to Yale University. Later, Pinchot would thank Olmsted for starting him in the United States’ new forestry management career path.

 

The Stanford University campus work came to a close in the early 1890s. An October 2, 1891 New York Times headline read, “Stanford University Opened.” Olmsted wrote Stanford on October 28th, “I congratulate you and Mrs. Stanford with all my heart…I hope that you understand….our connection with your noble undertaking should continue.” Leland Stanford replied on November 9, 1891, thanking Olmsted and adding, “We are gradually improving the grounds in accordance with your plans.” Standford’s response contained no mention of FLO’s offer, and after Stanford’s death in 1893, Mrs. Stanford’s brother Ariel Lathrop came to be firmly in charge of the ground’s western campus improvements. As the campus grew beyond its original bounds, little hope for an Olmsted office reconnection surfaced.

Young Leland Stanford Jr., on the right, is pictured while traveling abroad with his father and mother just before his death. Five years later, in 1886, Olmsted was asked to design the California college campus in the boy’s honor.

 

The U.S. Capitol building and grounds re-design were also finally finished, but with Olmsted’s greatest supporters (especially Vermont Senator Justin Smith Morrill) still installed on the Senate committee that started Olmsted’s task two decades earlier, the Olmsted firm moved on to their next Washington, DC design suggestions at American University and the National Zoo, and more DC assignments soon followed.

Older son John Charles Olmsted continued managing the growing Brookline office while his father traveled extensively to meet clients and demands. Sadly, new partner Harry Sargent Codman, the lead partner on the Chicago Fair work, fell ill and died during crucial Chicago Fair design planning in 1893, leaving Olmsted to quickly fill in. John Charles Olmsted became an increasingly valuable office manager for his father, keeping office correspondence, apprentices, and the new client demands in order.

At the time of this image, John Charles had worked for his father for almost twenty years, mostly in the Brookline, Massachusetts office.

 

Meanwhile, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., (Rick) continued his Harvard studies, working toward his 1894 magna cum laude degree. FLO hoped to educate his younger son in professional landscape architecture studies before Rick finished at Harvard program—or even took his first Harvard class. In 1890, he asked his Chicago Fair architecture counterpart, Daniel Burnham, if Rick might fit into Burnham’s Chicago office summer internship. Burnham approved and gave Olmsted’s son some summer space in Chicago before the Exposition opened. Following the family tradition of showing his sons European sites, in the summer of 1892 FLO took Rick to old Parisian world’s fair locations and to Thames River waterside sites, studying boating and vegetation for Chicago World’s Fair design ideas.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (born Henry in 1870 but changed years later to Frederick Law, Jr., then Rick) enjoyed the front row landscape architecture education he received from his father.

 

The Chicago Fair eventually settled on a wooded island of Olmsted’s design directly in the middle of the formal architectural buildings lined up along Lake Michigan, where Olmsted’s scenery enhancements would offset their severity. At an architect’s dinner in March 1893, Burnham praised Olmsted and offered credit, “in a broad sense…of the design of the whole work” for the Jackson Park fair site.

From 1977 to 2015, Johns Hopkins University Press produced nine volumes examining the life and accomplishments of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903). Thanks to original editors Charles Capen McLaughlin and Charles E. Beverage, and their successors, the full story has unfolded across these volumes and three later supplements. This volume’s cover features the Olmsted-designed “wooded island”—acclaimed by architects and fair-goers alike—located in the center of the 1893 Chicago Fair site. Olmsted’s addition of floating boats cruising by the “White City” seemed a civilizing and popular gesture in the middle of the bright Lake Michigan building site.

 

Soon park districts across America called on Olmsted for advice and design ideas, and he admitted the public work was of more value to him, personally, than all the private estate work which also increased substantially during his later years. Above all, the Boston park system occupied his last years in Brookline. The one exception was George W. Vanderbilt’s private Biltmore estate, since the final landscape design was also for public education and enjoyment, with the Biltmore Village design addition down the road. Vanderbilt, like Burnham, was an Olmsted admirer. Forty years his senior, Olmsted had a “truly big and lovable nature,” Vanderbilt wrote to Olmsted’s sons years later. Handsome portraits of Olmsted and architect Richard Morris Hunt by artist John Singer Sargent still hang on the wall at Biltmore, Vanderbilt’s last support gesture for the estate’s two designers.

Architect Richard Morris Hunt, one of the most sought-after architects of his generation, had worked with Vanderbilt on the family’s Staten Island memorial, on the Chicago World’s Fair building site, and his grandest showplace, the North Carolina Biltmore estate.

 

But the frequent train travel was exhausting for the senior Olmsted, and by the mid-1890s, his many letters to John Charles and Rick began to show his apprehension and present realistic plans for the firm to continue should he become incapacitated. In a May 10, 1895 letter from Biltmore, FLO hinted to John Charles about the Olmsted firm’s future changing of the guard:

“It has today for the first time, become evident to me that my memory as to recent occurrences is no longer to be trusted…I suppose that I am a little affected physically, as I always have been in previous visits, by the elevation of this place [Biltmore estate] but I do not think that I can rightly conceal from you the fact that I am more distrustful of myself than I have ever before been…”

He then asked John Charles for partner help on jobs of “considerable importance.” The end was near and if possible, his sons were ready to help their father retire with dignity. At first, keeping FLO away from the office was awkward. A brief stay on Deer Isle, Maine, followed by a European winter with members of his family, failed to permanently solve the problem of their father’s failing memory. From Deer Isle, FLO wrote his partners:

“My will was drawn up some ten years ago…You, John are dealt with as my elder son, partner, and designated successor. Rick’s professional education is provided for and it is presumed that he will be partner with you…”

Indeed, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. did eventually join his brother in the firm, renamed Olmsted Brothers after the turn of the century, and both helped create the professional standing of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Later, each brother found new landscape work on the West Coast—John Charles in the Pacific Northwest, and Rick on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California. After a half-century of carrying on his father’s legacy, Rick retired permanently to Palo Alto, where in 1886, he and his father had traveled by cross-country train to visit the Stanford University campus site. During his West Coast travels, John Charles sent vivid letters home chronicling his landscape architecture successes. He married a Brookline neighbor in 1899 and finally retired to the same Massachusetts suburb where in 1874, he and his father had created a new office briefly called F.L. and J.C. Olmsted—just one of many monikers. Prior to his death in 1903, Frederick Law Olmsted lived his quiet last years at the McLean Hospital in nearby Belmont, Massachusetts.

Now a National Park Service property, the original Brookline, Massachusetts, Olmsted office is accessible to visitors, preserving FLO’s—and his sons’—life’s work.

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By Joan Hockaday, author of Greenscapes: Olmsted’s Pacific Northwest

 

The Untold Story Behind Steptoe Butte’s Luxury Hotel

artwork from a 1904 postcard featuring the Steptoe Butte hotel

James “Cashup” Davis was a puny kid with a quick smile, a brilliant mind, and a dream of traveling from his home in England to the American West. The British immigrant combined eccentricity, intelligence, and unstoppable drive, and left everything to come to the very edge of western settlement. More than 100 years later, his apple trees still bear fruit and his legacy lives on. After hearing about Cashup’s Steptoe Butte hotel since he was a boy, his great grandson, successful businessman Gordon W. Davis, decided to research the story. He reveals it in the new Basalt Books biography, Cashup Davis: The Inspiring Life of a Secret Mentor.

With his wife Mary Ann and nine of his eleven children, Cashup was among the first to plow the Palouse in 1870. Living at first in a simple sod house, they turned their bunchgrass acreage into a farm, built the first house in St. John, befriended Native Americans despite a war ignited by the U.S. government’s treaty violations, and eventually opened an immensely popular and prosperous stagecoach stop. Cashup was a regional celebrity, but he had another dream—one that may have sprouted from the English castles he saw as boy. Despite his advancing age, he was determined to build a luxury hotel on one of the region’s highest points. People told him it was a ridiculous idea, but obsessed, nothing could stop him. He faced extreme snow and rain, a cricket invasion, money woes, manpower shortages, construction site disasters, and more.

Against all odds, Cashup’s opulent Steptoe Butte hotel opened on July 4, 1888—a sensation reported in newspapers throughout the region. He reveled in entertaining, and hosted acclaimed parties with a decadence that belied the place and time. He featured magic shows of smoke and light, a telescope that peered beyond the horizon, and delicacies that partygoers had never seen before. Soon, Cashup became one of Washington’s first national celebrities—until it all came crashing down. Abandoned, the hotel burned to the ground in a spectacular 1911 blaze.

To uncover the details, Gordon, along with award-winning investigative television reporter Jeff Burnside, combed the archives of small-town museums, scoured burial records, sifted through countless newspaper articles and family records, and searched obscure digital archives. The pair used drones, and even put up posters in eastern Washington farm towns with the question, “Is Cashup Davis in your attic?”—all with the hope of finding additional photos, documents, letters, and artifacts to lend insight into the story. Eventually Jeff formed The Cashup Crew, an informal squad of people interested in unearthing as much as they could about the unlikely hotel’s builder. And it worked.

(Image above is artwork from a 1904 postcard featuring the Steptoe Butte hotel.)