December 13, 2011





With the colors of Fall foliage a recent and vivid memory, we focus  on NMAI’s Frederick Law Olmsted Park (FLOP). The Park was founded by Judy and Laurence Cutler in 1998. It comprises three acres, formerly known as the 'Stoneacre' estate, opposite NMAI's Main Gates on Victoria Avenue. The F.L. Olmsted Park is one city block wide and fronts directly on famed Bellevue Avenue, acknowleged as "America's most beautiful street." 

It was originally designed by Olmsted  as a "parklike setting"  for its owner, John W. Ellis, a Cincinnati banker and director of the Northern Pacific Railroad. On Olmsted's naturalistically sculpted grounds stood a Gilded Age Shingle Style mansion 'Stoneacre,' designed for Mr. Ellis by architect William Potter. In 1883, Potter recommended Olmsted (1822-1903) to plan a naturalistic landscape as a setting for Stoneacre. Completed in 1884, this was Olmsted’s first com­mission after naming the profession ‘Landscape Architecture,’ arguably the first Landscape Architectural project! In 1998, NMAI's founders purchased Stoneacre when acquiring Vernon Court, as a glorious adjunct to the Museum. Their vision was to create a memorial park designed by Olmsted to honor him - America’s first and most noted landscape architect. There is no other such memorial to Olmsted or any other landscape architect.



Subsequent to the demolition of the Stoneacre mansion in 1962, its site fell into a decrepit  and unkempt state. Used as a neighborhood dump for decades, it had rusting autos, junk of all types, debris dumped by neighboring estate gardeners, and was a major eyesore and nuisance location harboring varmints including deer, racoons, rats, skunks, and rabbits.

In 1998, after excavating through 36 years of dumping, the site was  discovered to have asphalt covering  more than 1/3 of the property. It  had  apparently served as a parking lot for over 100 automobiles for the faculty and  administrative staff of Vernon Court Junior College until its bankruptcy in 1973. The situation necessitated an even more extensive clean-up and major landscaping  to revitalize the grounds to appear as they had when Olmsted’s plans were first realized, more than a century earlier. Those original plans were located amongst the archival records at Fairsted, Olmsted's home and office on Warren Street in Brookline, MA, now the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (Job #01015 - 40 drawings prepared between 1883-1886).


Today, it is pristine, with each tree  identified with both Latin and English species nomenclature. The Olmsted Park is monitored by a full-time caretaker  assisted by licensed arborists, botanists, and gardeners. It boasts the largest and oldest known Japanese Zelkovas, Yeddo Spruce, and Japanese Maple in the USA, and other unique specimens personally planted by FL Olmsted. He created a tasteful, domestic setting, and to make the site parklike without the use of extravagant materials.



The art of the garden reached its height at the fin de siecle, when American tastes turned towards naturalistic plans as well as to its antithesis - historical revivalism (Renaissance Revival). At Stoneacre, Olmsted contoured the topography from absolutely flat to small swales, creating a rolling perspec­tive, a more naturalistic appearance than Mother Nature intended. Olmsted conceived of a “parklike setting” with a variety of foreign and native trees, including: Purple  Beech, Japanese Maple, European Linden, Tulip Trees, Silver Maple, and Sweet Gum.





Lucius D. Davis opined on Stoneacre in Gardens and Gardening (Dec. 1895), “The design was almost wholly for park ef­fects and it was pretty thoroughly carried into execution.” In 1980, Richard Champlin commented in Newport History, “To surround his Bellevue Avenue villa, John Ellis aimed at creating a park furnished with trees both native and exotic...a notable specimen   of  Cucumber Tree stands near Bellevue Avenue...”



Olmsted was able to take advantage of the recent introduction of many species of trees previously only found in Japan that had been brought to the United States by a Bristol, RI physician-turned-businessman and horticulturalist: Dr. George Rogers Hall. Dr. Hall had spent the early 1860s in Yokohama Japan, assembling a collection of flora in his garden that he shipped to Boston, and later brought with him upon his return to the United States. Consequently, for the first time ever in tNorth America, many of these species were planted in landscape projects throughout the country, Olmsted’s Stoneacre among them. Olmsted sought Dr. Hall out at his North Farm estate in nearby Bristol, and was overjoyed at the prospect of being  among the first to plant some of the rare gems collected by the noted Dr. Hall.

The Japanese Zelkovas are the largest and oldest in the United States and were recently declared ‘Champion Trees of America.’ The Japanese Yeddo Spruce is likewise the largest in the nation, and the Cucumber Tree is a rarity for its huge size. The grounds have been re-contoured to Olmsted’s original plan.


On July 4, 2003, a replica of a ‘Gilded Age’ four-faced Seth Thomas street clock was dedicated on the corner of Victoria and Bellevue Avenues. This clock was gifted to the NMAI for the park by the late Giulio Cesare Carani.  The clock faces are lighted at night, provided accurate time-keeping via satellite for those in its vicinity day and night.  The only such street clock on Bellevue Avenue, it is also a convenient landmark for Museum visitors looking for the entrance.


Olmsted was internationally renowned for having designed the photo_1_0013nation's most be­loved parks and grounds including New York City’s Central Park, United States Capitol, Winterthur Museum, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, and Newport’s Master Plan as well as 16 other Newport estates. The Olmsted firm completed over 6,000 projects  between 1857-1979, across the USA and Canada. With the restoration of  Stoneacre complete, Olmsted’s legacy is now honored by this small private park in his memory. The Frederick Law Olmsted Park is a member of the National Association for Olmsted Parks.








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For Reservations:

Eric Brocklehurst
National Museum of American Illustration

492 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI 02840
T: 401-851-8949 ext. 18, F: 401-851-8974 


The Museum is open Fridays from 2pm to 5pm with a guided tour at 3pm sharp, and year-round for visitors and Group Tours by advance reservations. Open for General Admissions weekends 11am to 5pm from May 28 through September 4. 



Adults: $18; Seniors (60+) & Military: $16; Students: $12; Children ages 5 to 12: $8. Children ages 5 to 12 are permitted only if they are vouchsafed by parents or guardians as being 'well-behaved.'



The National Museum of American Illustration is a nonprofit, independent, educational and aesthetic organization. It is located in Newport, RI, on Bellevue Avenue at Vernon Court (1898), a Carrére and Hastings designed Beaux-Arts adaptation of an 18th century French chateau. It is the first national museum devoted exclusively to American illustration art. Illustration consists of original artwork created to be reproduced in books, magazines, newspapers, and advertisements. 'Golden Age' paintings by such luminaries as Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, NC Wyeth, JC Leyendecker, and 150 others are displayed in 'Gilded Age' architecture, creating a unique union of architecture and art - a national treasure. The Museum is administered by the American Civilization Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the goal to present the best possible venue for appreciating the greatest collection of illustration art - the most American of American art.



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