The Olmsted Parks and Parkways of Buffalo, New York

Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks and Parkways System

The Frederick Law Olmsted designed parks and parkways system of Buffalo, New York, is America’s oldest coordinated system of public parks and parkways. Buffalo’s Olmsted parks and parkways system was created by the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), in concert with his partner Calvert Vaux (1824–1895), and their other subsequent partners.

The pioneering design Olmsted and Vaux prepared for Buffalo consisted of three public grounds: a very large park featuring a naturalistic landscape; a public ceremonial space; and a military drill ground. All three grounds were connected by broad “parkways” which excluded all commercial traffic. They form green corridors which extended the park experience throughout the city. Olmsted began his work in Buffalo in 1868. He continued to design public grounds for the rapidly expanding city’s Board of Park Commissioners during the remainder of his career. After Olmsted’s retirement due to ill health in 1897, his firm continued a relationship with Buffalo. That relationship ran through 1915, when the city’s governmental structure was altered and its independent Board of Park Commissioners was dissolved.

Original Plan of the Parks System - Buffalo's Olmsted Parks

Original Plan of the Parks System

Today the majority of Olmsted’s designs in Buffalo are substantially intact. They represent one of the largest bodies of work by the master landscape architect. The Olmsted designed portions of the Buffalo park system are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Original Park and Parkway System:
    • Parks and Pleasure Grounds:
      • The Park (now Delaware Park)
      • The Front (now Front Park)
      • The Parade (redesigned by Olmsted as Humboldt Park in 1896, now Martin Luther King, Jr. Park)
    • Park Approaches:
      • Parkways:
        • Humboldt Parkway (lost)
        • Lincoln Parkway
        • Chapin Parkway
        • Bidwell Parkway
        • The Avenue (now Richmond Avenue)
        • Porter Avenue
        • Fillmore Avenue (partially completed, removed from Parks Board control and opened to commercial use in 1906)
      • Circles and Places:
        • The Circle (now Symphony Circle)
        • Soldier’s Place (now Soldier’s Circle)
        • Bidwell Place (now Colonial Circle)
        • Chapin Place (now Gates Circle, central portion and fountain redesigned in 1902 by Green & Wicks)
        • Agassiz Place (now Agassiz Circle, heavily modified with the center island lost)
        • Ferry Street Circle (at Richmond Avenue, center island restored in 2002)
        • “The Bank” (at Niagara, Wadsworth and Sixth (now Busti Avenue) Streets and Massachusetts Avenue (lost)
    • Smaller Grounds:
      • Prospect Hill Parks (now Prospect and Columbus Parks)
  • Later Olmsted-designed additions to the system:
    • Minor Parks:
    • Southern Parks:
      • South Side Parks:
      • Southern Park Approaches: (conceptual design by Olmsted, implemented by Buffalo Parks Board staff)
        • Southern Parkways:
          • South Side Parkway (now McKinley Parkway)
          • Red Jacket Parkway
        • Southern Circles:
          • Woodside Circle (now McClellan Circle)
          • South Side Circle (now McKinley Circle, partially constructed, completed in 2002)
      • Northern Parks:
        • Northern Parkways: (conceptual design by Olmsted, partially implemented by Buffalo Parks Board staff)
          • Scajaquada Parkway (lost)
          • Roesch Avenue (not constructed)

      Frederick Law Olmsted and his firm were also involved in a number of other projects in and around Buffalo. They produced designs for parks which for various reasons the Park Board decided not to construct; and they undertook a number of projects in Buffalo which were unrelated to the work with the Board of Park Commissioners. They were also active in designs for nearby cities, including the design of the Niagara Reservation at Niagara Falls, N.Y., Point Chautauqua community in Chautauqua County, N.Y., several Rochester, N.Y. public parks, and Montebello Park in nearby St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

Bulletin: Only one structure remains of the original buildings and supporting structures Calvert Vaux designed for the Buffalo park system. Constructed as part of the fabulous Parade House complex, a small two-story barn was sold and moved from the what is now Martin Luther King park in the late 1890s. There is an opportunity to return it to the park, restore it and return it to use. Of course, funds are needed, so please help the Olmsted Conservancy in what is a very small window of opportunity to save a truly unique structure.

9 Responses to “Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks and Parkways System”

  • Dear Mr. Broderick:

    I have been working on a history of bicycle paths for a number of years and noticed the postcard of Lincoln Parkway in Buffalo showing a bicycle path, If possible, I would very much like to obtain a high-resolution scan of that card for my manuscript. The title of the card is in the actual image and is a little difficult to read. The card appears on your Park Approaches and Parkways site.

    Thank you very much.
    Bob McCullough

    Associate Professor of Historic Preservation
    Graduate Program in Historic Preservation
    University of Vermont
    212 Wheeler House
    133 South Prospect Street
    Burlington, Vermont 05405

  • admin says:

    I will re-scan the postcard this weekend, and email it to you. (Sorry for delay in response … been very busy at work. – smb

  • JenBean says:

    I just want to say how much I love and appreciate that people are as interested in Buffalo and its parks and bike paths as I am. I am a 22 year old Buffalonian and cyclist and so proud of my town. I know and love every nook and cranny and am so happy to hear others do as well.

  • Bruce Jackson says:

    The article says only one original Vaux structure survives, a barn offsete near MLK Park. What about the stone bridge off Rumsey Road?

  • admin says:

    Bruce, the “dell span” was not a Vaux design. The Rumsey Woods section of the park was 1886 addition, and was subsequent to Vaux’ separation from the firm. The viaduct dates to 1887, and is unchanged since installation. I have not personally seen an specific attribution for its design, but Anthony James, Parks Architect for the Conservancy, credits Olmsted himself. I’d not disagree, noting that by that period of time, Olmsted was known to designate elements for the parks, entrusting Wm. McMillan, the Park Superintendent, with the details of actual constructions.
    Vaux did design the original stone viaduct over Delaware Ave for the carriage concourse, but it has been replaced by a newer structure.
    Thanks. Good question!

  • Gerald Kancar says:

    I am a Vietnam Veteran. . .I belong to a group, the Veterans & Friends of Heroes Grove, that is located at Houghton/Stachowski Park on Clinton Street. Does anyone have any photos of the WWII Monument at Houghton Park when it was in front of the tennis courts? We’re in need of one. If you do, please post it or email it to me at . .remember, not where it is now located, but rather when it was at it’s original spot by the courts. . .Thanks.

  • admin says:

    Houghton was not an Olmsted designed park, so out of my area of expertise. Suggest you try the Buffalo History Museum (Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society).

  • Joe Wirtes says:

    Question: Does anyone know of an Olmstead Park that was a very popular swimming and picnic area around 1920 in the Buffalo area? Have family photos with this designation on them.

  • admin says:

    Cazenovia Park would be the most likely.

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