Growing up Riverside, I was not familiar with the name Olmsted. I knew there was a street by that name, but that was about it. It wasn’t until much later that I learned just how important the man named Frederick Law Olmsted was not only to Riverside but many other parts of the world.
The famous landscape architect and left his mark on some of the biggest cities in North America, but also on a small suburb of Chicago named Riverside. As his name and work became more familiar to me, I began to learn and appreciate my hometown.
My appreciation deepened when I was appointed to be a commissioner on the Riverside Historical Commission. However, we never met in person or as a commission, which was not what I signed up for. As I was preparing to resign, I was informed that a new chair was set to be named — Harriet Kweton, the granddaughter of A.F. Ames. Yes, that Ames, the school here in town. I happened to attend kindergarten there and my daughter, Tina Duve now teaches at the school.
With Harriet Kweton as chairwoman we became a working group and the name Olmsted was an important part of our work.
Dorothy Unger was a diligent member of the commission who had a particular interest in Olmsted. She set upon a quest to have a stamp printed in honor of the man, researching everything she could find on Olmsted. She also sought to find any living Olmsted relatives. Unfortunately, she was not successful in that quest, but her diligence and fondness will long be remembered.
These days we all know more about Olmsted and his relationship to Riverside. The Olmsted Society was formed and continues to perpetuate many of the ideas of the famed landscape architect through programs and hands-on workdays help to preserve many of the lovely parks and areas for which Riverside has become known. One can only hope he would be pleased with the legacy he left and how it has been perpetuated by the Olmsted Society of Riverside and its residents.
In honor of the 200th anniversary of Olmsted’s birth, a party is being planned in his honor by the Olmsted Society on April 26 at the downtown train station. Although the guest of honor will not be present we only need to look around to see what he’s meant to Riverside.
More information on the celebration will be forthcoming in the Landmark.