April Is A Time for Historic Landscapes


View of pond at Wilcox Park , Westerly, RI.  the 2016 HALS merit award project. Image by Ben Congdon (URI BLA 2017)

by Elena M. Pascarella, RLA, ASLA of Landscape Elements LLC

This April, RIASLA focuses on historic landscapes.  This is an appropriate time to present information on historic landscapes for a number of reasons.

April 26th is the birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted.  Olmsted is considered the “founding father” of our profession and the body of his work presents a very impressive historic record of historic landscapes in the United States.  Consider that some of his iconic work includes Central Park in New York, the Fens in Boston, the Buffalo, New York park system, the Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina.  Locally Olmsted and his firm provided designs for Wilcox Park, Westerly, RI, subdivisions in Watch Hill and Newport, Blackstone Boulevard in Providence, RI and Goddard State Park, Warwick, RI. As we look to celebrate his 196th birthday (April 26, 1822), we might consider taking a walk through one of his local landscapes and take the time to really look at his legacy.

April 26 thru April 28 is the RI Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) 33rd Annual Historic Preservation Conference. This will be an Encuentro which joins the 33rd Annual R.I. Statewide Historic Preservation Conference and the 3rd National Convening of Latinos in Heritage Conservation. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the Commission. Save the date and plan to attend! Click here for more information and to register.

Also, the RIHPHC has been busy with national register nominations and they recently completed a nomination for the historic quadrangle and surrounding buildings at the University of Rhode Island. Joanna Doherty, Architectural historian, has provided us with an overview of this nomination project and its significance as a campus landscape.

The Providence Preservation Society has been working to raise awareness about threatened historic properties in Providence.  The PPS joined forces with RI Chapter ASLA in 2017 to submit the State House landscape for listing on the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s 2018 Landslide List as a “threatened” historic landscape. (https://tclf.org/stewardship/about-landslide.) PPS Executive Director, Brent Runyon has provided us with an article on the issues surrounding the State House grounds.

Brent is also spearheading a new Landscape Survey initiative for Rhode Island.  This initiative will start with an online survey for Newport and Providence and then expand to other communities in Rhode Island.  The rationale for starting with these 2 cities lies in the fact that they are both experiencing a great increase in new development projects that pose threats to existing open spaces and some historic properties.  The PPS hopes that this survey will help to fairly evaluate potential threatened properties and provide appropriate recommendations.

Please support PPS and their preservation efforts  at www.ppsri.org.

The Preservation Society of Newport County (PSNC) is in the process of restoring and renovating the landscape at the Breakers, one of their signature historic properties.  The PSNC mission is as follows:

The Preservation Society of Newport County is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, and present an exceptional collection of house museums and landscapes in one of the most historically intact cities in America. 

Kaity Ryan, assistant to the executive director at the PSNC has provided us with an overview of the work that is being done at The Breakers to restore it.

And finally, the RI Chapter ASLA is in the process of preparing another Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) Challenge documentation.  Our chapter submitted a HALS Challenge documentation in 2016 with the assistance of URI Professor Richard Sheridan and his junior landscape studio.  The documentation was done for Wilcox Park, Westerly, RI which met the 2016 theme of National Register landscapes.  It was Rhode Island’s first HALS documentation and we earned a merit award out of 48 national submissions.

In 2017, RI Chapter ASLA submitted a HALS Challenge documentation for Eisenhower Park/Washington Square, Newport, RI.  The theme for 2017 was town and municipal parks. The documentation was completed with the assistance of Tanya Kelly and her staff at Place Studio as well as Jon Stevens (Cumberland, RI town planner and history buff) and his daughter Arcadia Stevens, a recent Wheaton College graduate in Classics. Out of 28 submissions, Rhode Island earned another merit recognition.

For 2018, the RIASLA will be submitting another documentation.  This year’s theme is Memorials of the Great War (WWI).  Tanya Kelly and I will be working on the nomination for Miantonomi Park, Newport, RI. If anyone would like to become involved, please contact me at emp@landscapeelementsllc.com