Rider-Hopkins Farm and Olmsted Camp - Table of Contents

Harold L. Olmsted


Click on photos to enlarge

Fireplace and wall effect in the studio of Spencer Kellogg Jr.'s home on Lincoln Parkway designed by Harold L, Olmsted

Detail of previous illustration




Painting by Harold L, Olmsted

Painting by Harold L, Olmsted

See also:
Olmsted painting in

Burchfield Penney Art Center

Painting by Harold L, Olmsted

Painting by Harold L, Olmsted

How House designed by Harold L, Olmsted

See also:
Olmsted biography at

Meibohm Fine Arts: Harold LeRoy Olmsted

The text below is a reprint of the nomination for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places prepared by Olaf W. Shelgren Jr. and Dr. Francis R. Kowsky

The designer of the Olmsted Camp was Harold LeRoy Olmsted (l886-1972) who, throughout his 70 year career, practiced both architectural and landscape design, and was an accomplished artist known especially for his landscape paintings.

Born on Buffalo's 13th Street (renamed Normal Avenue) , he attended the School of Practice of the old
State Normal School and Masten Park High School before going to Harvard where he studied liberal arts, fine arts, and architecture.

In the early 1900s, his father selected a site overlooking the valley of Cattaraugus Creek in Sardinia as a family camp, and Harold Olmsted, at the age of 22, designed and constructed his first building, a summer residence for the camp. In 1908, just after his graduation from Harvard, he designed a lodge for the family at the Sardinia camp. Olmsted once noted that the lodge had all of the good characteristics of a modern ranch house - with more character than the development houses of that nature being built 60 years later (Winebrenner S September 1968, 31).

After college, Olmsted toured around Europe and Africa on a bicycle for l8 months where he where he sketched and painted watercolors of landscape scenes and historic buildings. Upon his return, Olmsted's paintings and sketches of his travels were exhibited in a one-man show at the
Albright Art Gallery, and he had numerous other exhibits there and elsewhere (Winebrenner 8 September 1968, 31).

Olmsted instituted the first art class at the University of Buffalo when it was at Niagara Square. Early in his career, as part of his training, he worked without compensation at the Buffalo architecture firm of Green and Wicks. He also worked for a short time with the landscape architecture firm of Townsend and Fleming. He concentrated largely on domestic work, both architectural and landscape design. For most of his career he worked independently as a freelance designer and also served as a consultant to both landscape and architectural firms including Bley & Lyman; North & Shelgren; Fred Backus; Arnold & Stern; Alling S. DeForest; and Walter H. Cassebeer. Olmsted designed the How House, for example, through the auspices of the architecture firm of North Shelgren & Swift. His friend, Olaf Shelgren, in fact, often sent projects his way (Shelgren 31 July 1996). Olmsted, an unlicensed architect didn't keep an office nor did he actively solicit business, yet he never lacked for work (Buffalo Courier-Express, 20 March 1972, 2).

Olmsted moved from his Buffalo home on Bryant Street to Springville in 1942. A staunch individualist, he was frequently seen walking around Springville in wooden shoes and wearing a cape of Llama wool. His friends called him the "Sage of Springville." (Buffalo Evening News 20 March 1972) .


In 1966 Olmsted was named Man of the Year by the Harvard Club of Buffalo. A citation for the award stated that the "... residences and gardens he designed leave an indelible imprint of beauty over a vast countryside. His refreshing enthusiasm is like a catalyst to originality and direct honest thought" (Buffalo Courier-Express 20 March 1972, 2). Olmsted was the recipient of the Red Jacket Medal Award from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society in 1971. This award was "...in recognition of those qualities that are the true embodiment of the artist, the scholar, the gentleman, and the independent thinker which belong to Harold Olmsted" (Wettlaufer
1971, 9).

He often commented on his concern for preserving the historic building fabric of Buffalo. Olmsted once stated:

You can see the history of architecture in America at Shelton Square. You could build around these fine old buildings. Architects are lazy in imagination if they can't devise ways to do these things. Any redevelopment of Buffalo which wants to remove the County Savings Banks shows a lack of understanding of the real things in living. (Buffalo Courier-Express March 1972, 2).

Much of Olmsted's architectural and landscape designs focused on private residential projects in Western New York. These largely consisted of renovations to existing homes and garden design although he also designed a small number of new houses and cottages. Many of Olmsted's clients in the early years of career were friends or acquaintances from Harvard. In his later years, he worked for local friends in the Springville area (Oprea January 1997). Examples of Olmsted's work can be found in Buffalo, Williamsville, Clarksburg, Concord, Derby, East Aurora, Eden, Leroy, Sardinia, and Springville, among others. In addition to private residential projects, Olmsted also did some work for private clubs including the Twentieth Century Club in Buffalo and the Willows Country Club in Leroy. A large number of his clients were locally prominent professionals, industrialists, and civic leaders. Distinguished clients of Olmsted included Rudolph B. Flershem, James How, and John P. Wickser of Buffalo; Reginald Taylor of Williamsville; Dr. Nelson Gorham Russell of Clarksburg; Spencer Kellogg of Derby; and Donald and Ernest L. Woodward of Leroy.

The inventiveness of the design and the high quality of craftsmanship of the How House make this one of Olmsted's most distinguished houses. Other examples of new residential designs by Olmsted include the John S.N. Sprague House (1924) at 9757 Knoll Road, Eden, where Olmsted incorporated wood beams salvaged from an old farmhouse and barn into the design of the house and the brick house of Jack and Ruth Ballantyne on Middle Road in Concord.


An inventory of Olmsted's work reveals that a large number of his projects were renovations to existing houses (Oprea January 1997) .In 1954 Olmsted renovated a historic house on a mill race for use as the summer home, "Frog Pond," of Mary Goodyear Ames on Chair Factory Road in Elma. He also prepared the landscape design for this property which featured an attached garden house, a terrace, and a garden wall and gate.

In the 1960s Olmsted made renovations to William Gratwick's summer residence at 1912 York Street in
the Town of York, overlooking the Genesee Valley. This work involved removing the library from the main house and adding it on to a smaller house on the property. He later designed a mosaic fountain for this space. Gratwick was a well-known plantsman, specializing in the propagation of hybrid tree peonies from Japanese stock.

Olmsted designed the renovations to a large stone room at the Dr. Nelson Gorham Russell Residence in Clarksburg in the1950s. The room featured a tall timbered ceiling, a large stone fireplace at one end, and a rose window at the other.

Landscape Designs

One of Olmsted's noteworthy landscape designs was the Italian Gardens created for the Twentieth Century Club at 595 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. The garden is on the Franklin Street side of the club house and features a fountain, high brick walls on three sides, and a trellis.

In 1914 Olmsted designed a ravine garden in Leroy for the Le Furgy family. Olmsted wrote about this landscape design stating that it was "a complete little dell of rocks, waterfalls and planting pockets, all without concrete and in layer after layer of flat stones from the lower Oatka (creek)" (Oprea 1997) .This design included an underground water pipe to simulate a natural source.

In 1923 Olmsted designed a house and gardens for his friend Schuyler Carl Wells at 118 East Main Street, Leroy. On the south side of the stuccoed mansion Olmsted laid out lawns and a fountain pool laid up with flat rocks from Oatka Creek.

Olmsted also designed gardens for the Woodward family of Leroy.

Olmsted designed the English style formal gardens for Spencer Kellogg's "Lockhaven Lawns" in Derby on the Lake Erie shoreline, south of Buffalo.

Olmsted is also credited with the original landscape designs of several Buffalo properties including the Rudolph B. Flershem House at 690 West Ferry Street (1927) and the James F. Foster House (1924) at 12 St. Catherine's Court; and the walled garden of the John P. Wickser Residence at 245 Nottingham Terrace.

Outside of New York State

Olmsted also worked on a few projects outside New York State including the design of the summer home of Welles V. Moot on Thunder Bay, Canada; alterations to the Frederick de Peyster Townsend house in Grand'Mere, Quebec, Canada; consultation and supervision of alterations to a historic brick plantation house in Gordonsville, Virginia; and the design of Cottage on Legate Hill in Leominster, Massachusetts for Burton and Elizabeth Legate, his in-laws.

Photos 2001 Lee Oprea.
Page by
Chuck LaChiusa
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