Essex County Park System

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Newark, NJ
United States
Essex County Park System

In 1867 Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and Calvert Vaux were invited to explore possible parkland for Newark, a growing industrial city in Essex County across the river from their pioneering Central Park. For the New Jersey site, they chose a 420-acre tract with scenic potential, some of the acreage of which would eventually become Branch Brook Park. The proposed land acquisition was initially rejected by the county in 1870 as too costly for a single park. However, Charles Eliot’s concept for a metropolitan-based system emerging around Boston proved a feasible model, and in 1895, the newly formed Essex County Park Commission again solicited advice from the Olmsted office, among other firms. John Charles Olmsted, of Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot, submitted a comprehensive report detailing the public health and economic benefits of a park system as well as the duties of a park commission, and praised the county’s scenic opportunities. Nevertheless, the park commission initially chose the firm of Bogart and Barrett to lay out the countywide park system.

Two years later, the commission returned to the Olmsted firm, by then called Olmsted Brothers. John Charles Olmsted developed and implemented a comprehensive and viable system, respectful of natural resources while meeting community needs. Olmsted Brothers’ involvement in Essex County would span six decades, involving the development of park sites across the county, from small city squares to parks of all sizes and characters, including extensive scenic reservations. Their intended network of connective parkways, however, was only minimally implemented, with much acreage gradually being acquired by state highways.

Today the system encompasses more than 6,000 acres, with thirty parks and reservations, a series of waterways, scenic overlooks, and a network of trails. Though natural in appearance, many of the system’s expansive views and landscape features, including landforms, lakes, and plant materials, were designed by Olmsted Brothers. Although the system is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places in its entirety, a number of individual parks are, including Anderson (listed in 2009), Branch Brook (1981), Lincoln (1984), Military (2004), Riverbank (1998), Washington (1978), and Weequahic Parks (2003).