The Olmsted Legacy in Vaux’s Dairy, Central Park

August 17, 2010

Stop by the Dairy in Central Park to catch The Olmsted Legacy, playing on loop, starting today!

[photo via the Central Park Conservancy]

The Dairy, intended by Calvert Vaux to be built as a refreshment stand for children, was meant to sell fresh milk at low prices, during a time when most of the milk in New York made citizens sick.  “Swill milk,” as it was called, was taken from cows who were fed old mash leftover from the beer making process, at a time when the production and sale of milk in New York was not regulated.

Olmsted and Vaux, as a result, hoped to include fresh milk in their park as a kind of alleviating alternative to the other tainted options, and even designed a place for cows to graze and be milked in the vicinity of the Dairy.

The structure, however, underwent a significant transformation during the Tweed administration, and by the time construction was completed, there were no cows to be found.  Olmsted’s sheltering vegetation was uprooted, and a carriage lot was constructed for the introduction of a restaurant for middle-class New Yorkers, which is how the space was used until the 1950s, when the building was virtually abandoned.

Today, the Central Park Conservancy’s brilliant restoration of the building now houses the park’s visitor center and gift shop.  Still a far cry from Vaux’s original intention, but undeniably more useful for today’s park-goers than a lot full of cows!

The Dairy is open Monday-Sunday, 10am to 5pm, and will be continuously playing The Olmsted Legacy, beginning today.  A great way to stay cool in these last days of summer.

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