Unconscious Influence: Olmsted’s Hartford and an Early Suburban Milieu

Authors: Donald J Poland*, Central Connecticut State University, Geography
Topics: Urban Geography, Historical Geography, United States
Keywords: Olmsted, suburban, urban, history, domesticity, cultural landscape, Bushnell, and Hartford.
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Much has been written about Frederick Law Olmsted, his life, career, and influence on our American urban and suburban history. Recognized as the Father of American Landscape Architecture, Olmsted has left a lasting impression on our American cultural landscape in the form of urban parks, university and institutional campuses, and suburban communities. From the Olmsted Papers and numerous biographies, we are aware of Olmsted’s childhood memories, accounts of his early memories of his mother, his long childhood walks through the Connecticut wilderness, and the family excursions in search of the picturesque. These works contextualize Olmsted’s childhood memories into his deep appreciation for nature. Add to Olmsted’s youth, the teachings of Horace Bushnell in Unconscious Influence, and Olmsted’s “philosophy of public parks as instruments of moral influence and reform” (Scheper, 1989) unfolds. While much is known of Olmsted’s life, little is known of Olmsted’s Hartford. In this paper, I seek to explore Olmsted’s Hartford and the early suburban milieu that emerged in Hartford between 1800 and 1850. In doing so, I explore the unconscious influence of Hartford on Olmsted, his values, and work. Through this approach, I introduce numerous (sub)urban actors—many already known in our (sub)urban histories—who were part of this close-knit Hartford community of social reforms, including Olmsted’s father. Through this contextualized exploration of place, a deeper understanding of Olmsted’s childhood, the unconscious influence of Hartford’s early suburban milieu, and this close-knit group of influential (sub)urban actors who created the American suburban vision (Jackson, 1985) is provided.

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