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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TheStanford 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Olmsted moves his office north to Boston, and in 1884 sets up a new home and office in Brookline, Massachusetts with his new partner, young John Charles Olmsted.
Once his New York Central Park work and formal partnership with architect Calvert Vaux came to an end, Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO) made substantial changes to his life—and career.
After observing his great success with Central Park across the past two decades, Boston, Buffalo, and other city planners called on Olmsted to design new city parks and outdoor spaces. In addition to the overall transformation of Boston’s Franklin Park, the entire Boston park system—a series of waterside spaces adjacent to nearby neighborhoods and new suburbs—needed Olmsted’s expertise.
Boston, particularly, appealed to Olmsted’s New England roots. In addition, his close friend, architect Henry Hobson Richardson (HHR), had recently moved from New York to Boston for his own commission designing the Trinity Church there. The two had worked on Staten Island community plans as well as the New York State Capitol building in Albany, and enjoyed planning architecture and landscapes together. Perhaps HHR convinced FLO to think about a move up north in the late 1870s, when a bleak summer New York City railroad strike stranded Richardson in New York City and led to visits with Olmsted at his West Side townhouse. Surely the men discussed the possibility.
During the railroad strike, new graduate John Charles Olmsted was touring in England and Europe. His father joined him for a whirlwind 4-month visit to FLO’s favorite established landscapes and architectural masterpieces abroad. It was the architecture which appealed to John Charles, FLO learned, before he wrote his landmark Christmas Day 1877 letter urging John Charles to enter a joint office operation.
With Richardson established in a combined home and office on a hilltop in Brookline, Massachusetts, a leafy suburb outside Boston, Olmsted began to make exploratory visits, renting Brookline properties until an old farmhouse came on the market in the early 1880s, just down the hill from HHR’s office and home. Both men helped one another find clients and work, in a busy first few years for both.
John Charles, as promised, helped his father establish the basics of a new office—and with his father’s expertise, the handsome garden outside, too. He assisted in setting up needed office procedures prior to hiring any staff or interns. They named their new home and office, “Fairsted.”
Soon interns with well-respected local relatives were providing valuable energy—and travel time near and far with the senior Olmsted—while John Charles kept the new office running. Renamed F.L. and J.C. Olmsted in 1884, the revised moniker honored John Charles’ many contributions to the office during those formative years.
Intern Charles Eliot (1859 to 1897) was the son of Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard University from 1869 to 1909. The first office apprentice, young Eliot joined the firm in 1883, after his uncle, architect Roger S. Peabody, introduced him to Olmsted. He worked in Brookline for two years, then left to travel abroad and take Olmsted’s many suggestions on sights to see and absorb. Eliot’s eloquent letters back to his office mates from abroad rival the Olmsteds’ 1877 travel letters, when FLO helped his son discover the best landscapes and park contacts.
Eliot said he hoped to open his own landscape office when he returned to Boston—a temporary blow to the Olmsteds—but it was actually his father’s choice. He relented after the early death of another Fairsted apprentice in 1893, Harry Codman, who died unexpectedly at age 29 during critical Chicago World’s Fair planning. The firm’s name changed again, this time to Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot.
A draftsman, Eliot traveled with Olmsted on important early commissions to the New Jersey campus of the Lawrenceville School, to the Cushing’s Island design project in Maine, and to the U.S. Capitol West Front building and grounds design in progress during the 1880s.
Henry (Harry) Sargent Codman (1864-1893), nephew of Charles Sprague Sargent, director of the nearby Arnold Arboretum for fifty years, joined the firm in 1884 after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was a key associate on the Stanford University campus job from 1886, as he traveled across country to the Palo Alto, California school site with both FLO and son Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to meet with Mr. Stanford.
Meanwhile, John Charles, then in his early 30s while his brother was still a teenager, kept the office records and correspondence flowing on each historic visit, as on-going work at the U.S. Capitol (now in its second decade of Senate committee design decisions), continued at a slow but steady pace. The western entry to the U.S. Capitol, Olmsted insisted, should support a more dignified facade and footing, including a handsome set of terraces designed to strengthen the stone building against the weak grass hill now balancing the building on the hilltop overlooking the Mall. The cost naturally caused great debate in Congress, but eventually Olmsted’s greatest supporters —among the keenest, Vermont Senator Justin Smith Morrill— managed to convince colleagues of needed changes.
During this same decade, new residential work for five Vanderbilt family members’ homes and memorials included the vast Shelburne Farms on the shore of Vermont’s Lake Champlain for Eliza Vanderbilt and her husband, Dr. William Seward Webb. For George Washington Vanderbilt (1862-1914), work began on the North Carolina Biltmore estate. That work continued into the next and final decade of Frederick Law Olmsted’s career, before the sons continued the landscape office and field work.
Today, both of these Olmsted-designed Vanderbilt estates—Shelburne Farms and the forested hilltop Biltmore Estate—open the public to the lasting legacies of Olmsted ideals—enhancing and preserving the natural beauty of landscapes apart from designed “parks” across America. More than a century later, each original family estate property designed by Olmsted allows visitors to share an interest in nature and to study and savor the designed landscape beauty.
As easy as the Vanderbilt and Boston parks commissioners proved to be as clients—especially after decades of New York City political intrigues—Leland Stanford was one of the most cautious before he finally accepted Olmsted’s ideas and vision. Simply convincing Mr. Stanford that vast green lawns were less appropriate in California than in the East, where Mr. Stanford lived his early years, was difficult, but finally achieved after a tug of ideas. The architects for the Stanford campus were the successors to H.H. Richardson, who died shortly before Olmsted’s first cross-country trip to meet Mr. Stanford in 1886.
Next month: The last decade of Olmsted’s office years in Brookline The final Frederick Law Olmsted works, highlighting his Stanford University campus, the Biltmore Estate and U.S. Capitol designs, along with the Olmsted’s much-admired Chicago World’s Fair site design of 1893, which crowned his landscape design career with a flourish.
Senators ask Olmsted for new design of U.S. Capitol grounds, the state of New York reviews a new Albany Capitol building design, and Buffalo and Boston parks seek advice and plans. FLO campaigns to save Niagara Falls scenery, and gains a lifelong landscape office assistant and partner: his stepson and new Yale graduate, John Charles Olmsted, the son of FLO’s beloved deceased brother John Hull Olmsted.
Although they worked together on single assignments years later, by the early 1870s—after almost 20 years of collaboration—Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux agreed to disband their professional partnership. While Vaux worked alone or with architect colleagues on buildings alongside Central Park—the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum—Olmsted almost immediately received a request from a U.S. Senate committee to begin collaboration on the U.S. Capitol building and surrounding grounds in Washington, D.C.
By 1870, Senator Justin Smith Morrill (1810-1898), the Vermont legislator who introduced the successful U.S. Land Grant College Act of 1862, was a leading member of the Senate Committee on Buildings and Grounds, and held that position from 1870 until 1898. For the next 20 years, he worked with Olmsted to present a grander west front facade and a park design worthy of its hillside site overlooking the Mall and river beyond.
Senator Morrill’s interest in the Capitol grounds, which he had declared as “little better than a common cattle yard,” his longevity on the influential committee, and his own farming operations back in Vermont, made him a natural follower of Olmsted’s landscape ideals. In fact, Morrill was Olmsted’s greatest supporter during the decades of Capitol grounds improvements.
Writing to Senator Morrill and the committee on January 22, 1874, after a visit to the site, Olmsted noted that the old Capitol building and its hilltop locale were inadequate. “Looking from the West…the face of the hillside is broken by two formal terraces which are relatively thin and weak, by no means sustaining in forms the proportions the grandeur of the superimposed mass.” The “weak” earthen terraces now surrounding the new Senate and House additions should be set off, he suggested, with marble staircases and terraces to anchor the hillside and the setting from the western (Mall and Potomac) view.
Olmsted’s previous European trips now came in handy as he offered advice on grand building design. Influenced by old English estates and French palaces, he cited the Tuileries Palace near the Louvre in Paris and the royal palace at Versailles as two examples of impressive building entrances. Both included one carriage entrance (eventually translated to the east front of the Capitol) as well as a second facade reserved for splendid views of architecture and greenery (eventually the new west front of the Capitol facing the Mall and Potomac).
The timing of the ongoing congressional advice coincided with stepson John Charles Olmsted’s (JCO) graduation from Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School. In 1875, JCO joined his stepfather in their townhouse on West 46th Street as an assistant. Why not ask John Charles if he would like to take a trip to Europe to study capitols and parks abroad? On a sultry summer day, JCO seemed uninterested in anything (at a time when not every New York building had cooling capability) but soon enough his mother Mary convinced both to try an overseas graduation visit.
John Charles departed in early fall 1877 for a landing in Liverpool and adventures in London’s library and parks, then to Paris to study landscapes and history, visiting his father’s friends and landmarks along the way. FLO joined him in January 1878. It was an excellent six-month education for the son, and an exhausting four months for the father, but one worth every learning experience.
An autumn 1877 letter before FLO set off to join his son reveals a true interest in each other’s success, in the future of the landscape architecture profession, and in foreign travel to enlighten past and future design.
In contrast, FLO’s letters from the same decade to his son Harry, born in 1870 and soon to be renamed Frederick (Rick) Law Olmsted Jr.—while nowhere near the level of intellect and advice on landscape architecture—reveal a fondness and hope for this younger lad, too, whose company he clearly enjoyed. On May 13, 1875, while the family was away traveling in Massachusetts, FLO wrote:
The cats keep coming into the yard, six of them every day, and Quiz [perhaps the family dog] drives them out.
If I should send Quiz to you to drive the cows away from your rhubarb he would not be here to drive the cats out of the yard. If six cats should keep coming into the yard every day and not go out, in a week there would be 42 of them and in a month 180 and before you came back before next November, 1260. Then if there should be 1260 cats in the yard before next November half of them at least would have kittens…
Your affectionate father
His older son, John Charles, packing for his European trip in the fall of 1877, received this long and more serious note:
To be read over and committed to memory while at sea, re-read in London and again in Paris.
When you have been out a while write to your mother giving a good account of your voyage and experiences, your ship mates, your sufferings, appetite and news of life. Fill out with P.S. and mail from Cork [Ireland].
If you meet with any accident, of consequence, telegraph.
First business in Liverpool is to see if Mr. Field is in town…
After suggesting additional people to contact abroad, Olmsted advises that John Charles observe the following four directives for his entire trip abroad:
First, You are to search all parks and public grounds for me, taking full notes and writing careful and specific reports…This is not discretionary.
Second, You are to examine zoological gardens and learn the conditions and good arrangements & plans of buildings, paddocks and accommodations for visitors…take notes and be prepared to answer questions when hereafter required. No written report, all discretionary.
Third, Everywhere you are to examine closely and accurately all small architectural objects adapted to park work, pavillions, lodges, entrances, chalets, refreshment stalls, bridges, conservatories, plant stands, fountains, drinking fountains, lamps, flagstaffs, seats, railings, parapets…if you find anything novel and good, especially in plan and arrangement, take sketches and notes and in particular, on return, to make full drawings, all discretionary, of course.
Fourth, Observe general architecture, public and private, with a practical student’s eye, as much as in such a way as (without interfering with other purposes) you will wish you had if you came to be an architect. Discretion.
Three and a half more pages followed the four most important instructions. They included advice on what to look for and bring back to New York (images, maps, analysis and personal reflections of best parks, public and private, keeping in mind the Olmsted’s current work on four Buffalo parks mentioned specifically, as well as French books on landscape design).
It was a tall order for a boy just out of college, but these notes would do for any graduate student just starting in either landscape design or architecture. Fortunately, John Charles saved most of the two dozen 1877 letters (and many more) from his father. JCO’s daughter donated them to the Harvard Graduate School of Design (Loeb) Library for students to still see and study more than a century later.
In his September 14 letter to John Charles, FLO regretted his firmness and inflexible tone. “I am apprehensive that I have [handed out] too much for you to do,” he apologized. His tone was warmer on September 21, asking for JCO’s help to research and find the best examples for the U.S. Capitol work. “I shall have to revise or make an entirely new plan for the terrace and approaches for Capitol over the winter. Get all pictures you can showing terraces, staircases and outbuildings,” he requested.
By October 7, JCO’s first letters from abroad arrived at the New York brownstone home and office on West 46th Street, and his father was most pleased indeed.
I have just reached home from Canada and the East and read your letters from ship board and Chester (latest 23rd). They are in all respects admirable and give us great pleasure…They show that you were well prepared to profit by the journey; better than I had supposed, and I am now sure that it will be of great profit to you in every way. Your notes are just what I want, full and nothing redundant. I look with great interest for what are to follow. I read them all aloud to the family at breakfast this morning.”
Two decades later, after their father’s retirement in the 1890s and working together in the Olmsted Brothers firm in Brookline, Massachusetts, the two sons created the landscape architecture profession within the new American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). John Charles accepted an invitation as the first ASLA president and soon after traveled to the Pacific Northwest, where he spent the next decade designing parks and park systems in Portland, Seattle, and Spokane, as well as work even farther afield in Canada.
With the passage of a groundbreaking land-grant act, Olmsted and Vaux advise college presidents and trustees
Back in his New York office, architect Calvert Vaux waited for his now-seasoned Central Park partner, Frederick Law Olmsted, to return from California, to begin not only the promised Prospect Park design in Brooklyn, but also new U.S. agriculture college campus design mandates emerging from the Morrill Land Grant legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Lincoln in 1862. Introduced by Vermont’s Justin Smith Morrill, his U.S. legislation gave each state a land-grant agricultural college campus.
Morrill tended his own thriving farm, now well preserved and open to the public, in Strafford, Vermont. He hoped to educate future farmers and scientists in best farming practices in each state of the union. Olmsted, who had owned farms on the Connecticut shoreline’s rocky soil and on Staten Island, immediately understood Morrill’s goal to educate future farmers of America, and was one of Morrill’s most enthusiastic supporters. The two New Englanders were of like minds, working together with shared goals for future landscapes. A decade later, Morrill again called on Olmsted to come to Washington, DC, and help design the grounds of the new U.S. Capitol building.
New England Ag schools seek advice
College presidents soon came to call on Olmsted and Vaux for design and practical advice, with nearby northeast schools the first to seek help interpreting the new national legislation. Olmsted and Vaux found themselves on the front line of advising and designing new college campuses. With help from literary and newspaper publicity, word soon spread of Morrill’s ideas.
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, along with the University of Maine in Orono, were the first to seek advice, followed by Ezra Cornell and his partners at the new Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York.
The great debate on whether to include the new ag college campuses within the boundaries of existing colleges, or create new campuses nearby, began and had far-ranging solutions.
Olmsted produced a primer on “A Few Things to be Thought of before Proceeding to Plan Buildings for the National Agricultural Colleges” (December 1866) and then printed a version in the Springfield Republican (Massachusetts newspaper) which attracted national attention at the time of the debate.
Morrill and Olmsted—both practical farmers past and present—presented original ideas quite apart from traditional school trustee ideas, which created great debates at college trustee meetings in the years after passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Act.
The trustees of the Massachusetts Agriculture School (now renamed UMass Amherst and the flagship of the Massachusetts schools) shared his ideas for the new campus site in the summer of 1866.
The Ag College building committee chairman Henry Flagg French (attorney, farmer, writer on agriculture subjects, and father of sculptor Daniel Chester French), invited Olmsted to appear before the building committee. Olmsted argued that ag colleges needed smaller, more intimate building settings for success, resembling American farm town ties, connecting farmers to their communities. He cited his earlier written observations of isolated but grand southern cotton plantations, cut off from civilization and separate from nearby communities, as a guide.
French agreed with Olmsted about smaller college buildings for the new campuses. Six existing farms were chosen for purchase by the university ag school site.
The full Mass Ag board, however, disagreed with French and refused to submit Olmsted’s report for publication or debate. French then (with another trustee) resigned his position on the board, and suggested Olmsted print a copy of his report in the nearby Springfield Republican newspaper for other schools to debate the merits. Clips from Olmsted’s report appeared in December 1866.
Reactions poured in. Yale Sheffield Scientific School professor of agriculture, William Henry Brewer, another lifelong friend made during California years, responded: “I was decidedly interested in that portion of your report which corresponded with my own opinions…in regard to the size of buildings for such institutions. The rage for very large buildings is to me extraordinary in view of the experience of other corporations—it is a mania almost…”
Olmsted’s ability to find and keep friends with similar views was remarkable, given his changing priorities and client demands.
Meanwhile, in the older established village of Amherst, Massachusetts, a few miles away, Amherst College president William Augustus Stearns invited Olmsted to report on building and landscape plans for the private campus established in 1821 on the hillside above town. The village was slowly encroaching on the hillside leading up to the campus, and Olmsted gave the president advice on fitting the school expansion onto the Amherst landscape.
Amherst villagers nearby approved of Olmsted’s approach to saving campus landscapes while gently expanding the campus, making FLO’s visits to the village of Amherst more pleasant than his rancorous trustee visits to the newer UMass Ag school campus down the road.
Amherst College treasurer Austin Dickinson (who inherited the post from his father, and brother of poet Emily Dickinson, who lived next door on one of the main streets) invited Olmsted to visit with old and new friends, author Polly Longsworth writes in her 1965 book, Austin and Mabel.
Dinner guests included Springfield Republican newspaper editor Samuel Bowles, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ward Beecher, and “the governor of the state and the most convivial of the college trustees,” Longsworth reports in her book, based on diaries of Olmsted’s visiting days to Amherst during the 1870s.
Austin and Olmsted together explored the countryside by carriage rides looking for native tree species to add to the Amherst College campus, then searched together for a school gymnasium site.
Farther north nearer the New England coast, the Maine Ag College trustees at Orono also sought Olmsted’s advice on campus layout, with existing small farms merging onto one campus site along the Stillwater River. Trustees delayed and debated Olmsted’s detailed report and sketches but never fully carried out his suggestions. The word “agriculture” was never adopted into the college logo.
Maine would eventually become the Olmsted family’s summer retreat, with many client commissions to come on landscapes around the state.
On the emerging Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York, founder and philanthropist Ezra Cornell, with his business partner, college president Andrew Dickinson White, debated in the New York legislature the merits of bringing Senator Morrill’s ideals onto the newly-endowed Ithaca campus.
Olmsted’s correspondence with President White during the next seven years shows how the Morrill Land-Grant legislation was challenging to implement. Whether grand quads or smaller designs ought to prevail, Olmsted was ready with his advice for the newest college campuses debating the future.
The amount of work waiting for Olmsted and Vaux off-campus was astonishing during this period as well. Brooklyn’s Prospect Park—a single design—turned into a city-wide park project to enlarge the scope of one city’s outdoor footprint.
Soon, Buffalo asked Olmsted to come visit and suggest a city-wide approach to outdoor spaces, connecting one neighborhood to another. Both Brooklyn and Buffalo now had the blueprint for future parklands, thanks to Olmsted’s keen eye for landscapes before developments prevented connections. Philadelphia and Chicago followed, asking for park reports from Olmsted and Vaux.
Chicago suburban developers near Riverside offered land lots as compensation for advice and supervision of early neighborhood designs. But only a portion of the Riverside development ever emerged off the drawing board when funds dried up during the financial crunch of 1873.
Tarrytown Heights met with a similar fate after Olmsted and Vaux gave enthusiasm and energy to this development up the Hudson River from New York City. The partners devoted much time and tracing paper for their Tarrytown Heights clients, only to see the entire project financially fail. Suburban designs, however, were now part of the future for landscape work, to plan before intrusions ruined natural landscapes.
The partners finally finished their previously commissioned California reports, as promised, while new work poured in back East. Old and newer California clients, however, missed the presence of Olmsted in their midst.
Daniel Coit Gilman, president of UC Berkeley from 1872 to 1875, learned that Olmsted had once submitted a report for trustees of the earlier California college campus and asked Olmsted in December 1872 for newer advice: “I wish every day that you were here that the university might avail itself of your counsels in the development of the estate. The opportunity is a very fine one and I hope it will not be lost, but we need you or your double in order to get things done just right.” The following day, he wrote again and added: “The only thing to be done is to get you here again.”
Gilman and Olmsted would work together after Gilman became the first president of Johns Hopkins University in 1875.
Olmsted submitted his Golden Gate Park report to the San Francisco Park Board months after his meeting with the mayor, but the city wrote back that the expense of implementing the report was beyond the city’s ability to pay for improvements to the sand dune landscape on the western edge of the city.
For the next twenty years, San Francisco park superintendent William Hammond Hall, chosen to head the San Francisco park development, and an engineer by trade, corresponded with Olmsted pleading for advice on park design, park plants, garden books to read, and the need for any professional park gardeners available to help out west.
Finally, Hall asked for a professional tree report in 1886, to evaluate, along with John McLaren (soon to be park superintendent for the next 40 years), whether new tree plantings in the park were crowding one another or were well-placed. Olmsted was out west again in 1886 visiting the Palo Alto campus site that Leland Stanford intended to create as a memorial to Stanford’s deceased son.
For Olmsted and Vaux, their greatest achievement during the decade was reinstatement of their status as advisors to the Central Park board, after a period of city hall interference with park progress. Horrified by the lack of oversight of their “Greensward” original plan, Olmsted went to work advising his gardeners and park keepers on preserving the original intent of their winning park plan from 1857.
Two family events during this decade caused Frederick Law Olmsted to consider breaking away from his New York ties and find a “country” location to practice his craft, as his Springfield, Massachusetts, newspaper friend Samuel Bowles advised.
In 1870, a son named Henry Perkins Olmsted (renamed seven years later to Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.) was born to Frederick and his wife Mary. In 1873, his brother’s son John Charles Olmsted graduated from Yale Sheffield Scientific School, and it seemed time to start enjoying the children’s company (and talents) and spend more time with his growing family.
Three years later, Olmsted’s beloved father died after slipping on ice in Hartford, Connecticut. Olmsted lost his greatest champion when his father died so suddenly. His father had kept an album of all Frederick’s achievements since leaving home and never failed to financially support his son when needed, and letters between the two were proof of their close ties in good times and trying times.
With Henry’s birth, a new era would begin and eventually complete the family circle of accomplished fellows following in their father’s footsteps.