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Part 1 of 10: Origins

Utica's park and parkway system originates in the American Rural Cemetery Movement, which began in the 1830s.

Old Granary Burial Ground, BOld Granary Burial Ground, Boston, a good example of an American colonial-era town cemetery, which was crowded and not landscaped to any significant degree.

As strange as it might sound, Utica's park and parkway system originates in the American Rural Cemetery Movement, which began in the 1830s, as Northeastern towns and their simple cemeteries became overcrowded.  The idea was not only to create new cemeteries, but to design ones that seemed more natural than traditional New England ones—even though these new "rural cemeteries" were actually architectural constructions of the human hand.

Forest Hill, the first cemetery of this sort in Central New York, was built in 1848-50.  Its roads followed the natural contours of the landscape, it contained picturesque ponds, and it was decoratively planted with trees, flowers, and shrubs.  In so many ways, it looked like what we'd today consider a park, and that is how many people used it—like a park.

However, developments in larger urban communities were already changing the American idea of what a first-class city should look like.  As Manhattan's population grew by leaps, it offered fewer and fewer open green spaces for its increasingly crowded population.  In the 1840s talk began in Manhattan of creating a large park at least generally comparable to the great parks of Europe.

In 1858, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., won a competition to design this grand new park for Manhattan.  Their approach was to create something much like the rural cemeteries that had gained popularity in the preceding decades:  they designed Central Park to mimic nature, with trees and other plants scattered in irregular and apparently random ways, and trails designed seemingly to fit the natural contours of the land (in reality, they rebuilt parts of the existing landscape to make it look as they wanted it to look).

Central Park was unlike most European urban parks, in which paths, trees, and flower beds (containing showy, often exotic plants), were laid out along symmetrical and geometric patterns--that is, in ways that made it very clear that such European parks were human creations.  In designing Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux created a new model for American urban living.  They also helped to pave the way for what is known as the City Beautiful movement, which also inspired the creation of Utica's park and parkway system.