What Did Olmsted Do Before Creating Central Park?
It might be easier to answer the question: what didn’t Olmsted do before designing Central Park?
To say he was a late-bloomer is an understatement. He bounced from one failed career to another well into his thirties. Add to that his entrenched restlessness, and you have a formula for a near endless array of attempted occupations.
I count at least eight: student (he dropped in and out of school for at least a decade), farmer (attempted twice, then abandoned altogether), sailor (all the way to China and back on a merchant vessel that almost mutinied), writer (books ranging from his travels in England to slavery in the South of the US), head of the United States Sanitary Commission (the precursor to the Red Cross that aided the wounded Union soldiers in the Civil War), mining supervisor (until the company went belly-up in a scandal) and, last but not least, landscape architect.
Since there was no profession that went by the name of landscape architecture in the mid-nineteenth century (Olmsted’s son, Rick, spearheaded the first graduate program of landscape architecture long after his father’s death) then you can add to the list of Olmsted’s occupations, artist and engineer, both wrapped into one.
To help illustrate Olmsted’s circuitous career path, I have Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, run through a similar maze of adventure that echo what Olmsted attempted during his own lifetime.