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Parkways and Park Agencies





National Parks and the National Park Service

Westward expansion of the country brought about questions about the process of growing. Particular landscapes made America stand out in relation to its European counterparts. The unspoiled land was unequaled in the old world. The uncharted wilderness became a national symbol or national identity.

Around the 1830’s and ‘American Picturesque Movement’ was sparked and kept alive by writers and artists. Painters used as subject matter, many of the picturesque places in America.


Thomas Cole

Asher B. Durand

Thomas Moran

Albert Bierstadt

Expressions of wilderness by the painters and others influenced an attitude about places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone. The attitude shift in the quickly growing west was toward conservation of public land, sponsored by the federal government.

In 1864, a federal grant was made “for public use, resort and recreation,” rather than the common practice of settlement, or railroad alignment. The land grant of 1864 was about 10 square miles of wilderness land in the Yosemite Valley. The state of California received the land for the enjoyment of the people.

In 1872, the nations first national park was created. President Grant signed a bill for the protection of two million acres of wilderness in northern Wyoming to be “reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale . . . and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground, ” instructions included a declaration to “provide for the preservation . . . of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities or wonders within said park . . . in their natural condition.” The land called Yellowstone National Park was the first wilderness area with provisions for the protection of nature from the ‘improvements of man.’

The new public parks were very successful and brought about such high visitation that businesses began to follow. The success led to the destruction of some of the wild character of the parks, and showed that regulations needed to be put into place. Behavior of the visitors had to be controlled – an idea in direct opposition to the democratic basis of the parks. Railroads even petitioned to obtain right of way through the wilderness areas.

In 1916, the National Park Service was created to manage the parks, the visitors, and the land. Included in the statement of mission about the park service was writing by Frederick Law Olmsted. The park service was “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” By 1916, there were 15 national parks and more than 30 national monuments.



American parkways introduced the idea of a roadway moving through the center of a park. The Character of the new parkways could be that of a very formal nature to somewhat picturesque and at times wilderness. Improved transportation technology allowed road travel to become pleasure travel.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were initially responsible for the idea of integrating roadways with parks, in their work with urban parks.

Three major categories:

Urban Parkways. Formal connections between parks in the urban areas.

Suburban Parkways. Parkways to turn parks into a plan for city growth. One could live 4, 5, up to 10 miles from their place of work and commute comfortably.

National Parkways. Intended purely for recreation.


Some Examples:

Urban Parkways.

Olmsted and Charles Elliot created the Emerald Necklace in Boston, between the years 1894 – 1902. The Emerald necklace was a continuous circle of parks and parkways surrounding the city of Boston. The result was a continuous circle for pedestrians and vehicles that linked old with new and formed the parkways of “Arborway, Jamaicaway, Riverway and Fenway.”

The urban parkways fueled the idea of suburbanization.


Suburban Parkways.

The Bronx river Parkway was completed in 1925. The initial emphasis on the clean up of the Bronx River in 1895 was partially responsible for the development of the parkway. The Bronx River Parkway was approximately fifteen and a half miles long and connected the Bronx Botanical Garden to the Kensico Dam in Westchester County. The pleasurable drive led to the suburbanization of the area.

The Henry Hudson Parkway was completed in 1936 by Robert Moses, the park commissioner. Many recreational facilities were added along the route of the Henry Hudson Parkway, including the boat basin at Riverside park.

The Henry Hudson Parkway also became an important commuter route connecting New York City with Westchester county.

The examples in New York quickly led to the introduction of parkways in neighboring states. Some of those are:

The Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, 1938

The Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, 1945

The Palisades Interstate Parkway in New Jersey, 1947


National Parkways.

The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 provided for the construction, repair, and improvement of public highways and parkways. The Blue Ridge Parkway was a result of the act. Built as a scenic parkway connecting the Shenandoah (Virginia) and Great Smoky Mountains (North Carolina) National Parks, it was 400 miles long. The parkway was routed across the peaks of the mountain range and included new rest stops and recreation facilities.

The first cross country highway was called the Lincoln Highway , after Abraham Lincoln, and was built between 1916 and 1919 from New York City to San Francisco, a distance of 3305 miles.

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