For the over-wrought people of the great town that is to be

June 17, 2009

“There is one large American town, in which it may happen that a man of any class shall say to his wife, when he is going out in the morning:  ‘My dear, when the children come home from school, put some bread and butter and salad in a basket, and go to the spring under the chestnut-tree where we found the Johnsons last week.  I will join you there as soon as I can get away from the office.  We will walk to the dairy-man’s cottage and get some tea, and some fresh milk for the children, and take our supper by the brook-side;’ and this shall be no joke, but the most refreshing earnestness.

photo taken between 1900 and 1910

Central Park boys' playground. Photo taken between 1900 and 1910.

“There will be room in Brooklyn Park, when it is finished, for several thousand little family and neighborly parties to bivouac at frequent intervals through the summer, without discommoding one another, or interfering with any other purpose, to say nothing of those who can be drawn out to make a day of it, as many thousand were last year…  Often they would bring a fiddle, flude, and harp, or other music.  Tables, seats, shade, turf, swings, cool spring-water, and a pleasing rural prospect, stretching off half a mile or more each way, unbroken by a carriage road or the slightest evidence of the vicinity of the town, were supplied them without charge…  In all my life I have never seen such joyous collections of people.  I have, in fact, more than once observed tears of gratitude in the eyes of poor women, as they watched their children thus enjoying themselves… When the arrangements are complete, I see no reason why thousands should not come every day…to use them; and if so, who can measure the value, generation after generation, of such provisions for recreation to the over-wrought, much confined people of the great town that is to be?”

[Frederick Law Olmsted, from his essay, Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns, 1870]

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