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Blog - Olmsted and Piedmont Park

Olmsted and Piedmont Park History

Here are five fun facts about the Olmsted family and its influence on Piedmont Park.

  • Frederick Law Olmsted was the co-designer and builder of Central Park.  He was the foremost Landscape Architect of the last half of the 1800’s and did many major commissions including the grounds of the US Capitol, the 1893 Columbian Expo in Chicago (setting of Devil in the White City) and the grounds of Biltmore House in Asheville. Other prominent projects include Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, and the campuses of Wellesley, Smith, and Stanford.  He was an early voice for conservation and contributed to the plans for Niagara Falls and Yosemite.
  • Olmsted designed the Druid Hills neighborhood in Atlanta and the Linear Parks along Ponce still maintain his plan.  While in Atlanta in 1894, Olmsted consulted with the planners of the Cotton States Expo. (Landscape Architect Grant Wilkins is credited with the design as built.)
  • The city of Atlanta purchased the derelict Expo grounds for a city park in 1904. In 1911, the city hired Olmsted’s sons to draw up a master plan for Piedmont Park.  Their firm wasn’t hired to build the plan, but much of the Olmsted Brothers’ design was implemented through the years, including the Park Drive Bridge of 1916, and it heavily influenced the Master Plan approved in 1993.
1912 Olmsted Plan

Olmsted Brothers’ 1912 Piedmont Park Master Plan

  • Olmsted principles of park design can be seen in Piedmont Park’s meandering roads and paths which curve and cross each other, making triangles.  The winding walks and changes of elevation provide interest with ever-changing views.  Wide open fields are interspersed with trees, lakes and natural plantings.  Different areas of the park host varieties of activities. Olmsted’s ideas continue to be highly influential.  He has been called the Father of Landscape Architecture.
  • Olmsted’s scenic, relaxed pastoral style made the enjoyment of nature a benefit available to everyone and a respite from the stresses of city life.  Olmsted believed in parks as a social good providing relaxation and improved health for people of all levels of education and income. (Compare to parks with straight paths and formal gardens, originally available  only to the wealthy, showing dominance over nature.)

Parks are the only places where vast numbers of persons are brought closely together, poor and rich, young and old, each individual adding by his mere presence to the pleasure of others.

– Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870

This quote is engraved in one of the blocks in the horseshoe-shaped donor monument in front of Dockside (historically known as the Visitor Center, Ladies’ Comfort Station).

Author: Ginny Connelly, Piedmont Park Conservancy Docent

Want to learn more about Piedmont Park’s history? Join us for a tour which features Olmsted’s influence and many other stories along the years. Tour Webpage

In March and April of 2022, Piedmont Park Conservancy is a proud partner of the #Olmsted200 Celebration and will be offering guided history tours focused on Olmsted’s influence. Learn more at Olmsted200.org.

Story Behind Sidney Lanier Monument

In 1866, Sue Harper, a 23-year-old from Brandon, Mississippi with a “shell-like complexion and violet eyes” met Civil War Veteran Livingston Mims from Jackson, Mississippi. They fell in love and were soon married.

The couple moved to Savannah, Georgia in 1876. After visiting Atlanta, Mrs. Mims fell in love with the city and persuaded her husband to move his business, the Southern Department of the New York Life Insurance Company, to Atlanta.  In 1879, the couple moved into their Queen Anne-style house at the corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce DeLeon Avenue.

Guests to their house, named “Heartsease”, included President Grover Cleveland (twice), President William McKinley and Jefferson Davis.

In 1901, Major Livingston Mims became Mayor of the City of Atlanta.

Mrs. Mims’ love of literature guided her to start the first Shakespeare Club in Atlanta, as well as the Browning Society. She also became the first president of the Home for the Friendless which aided deserted children.

Upon her death, Sue Harper Mims bequeathed money obtained from the sale of her jewels be used to erect a monument to Sidney Lanier in Piedmont Park.

Sidney Lanier, a friend of the Mims and frequent visitor to their home, was considered one of America’s greatest poets whose poems expressed the social concerns of that day. His more famous works are “The Song of The Chattahoochee” and “The Marshes of Glynn.”

Author: Patrick Teague, Piedmont Park Conservancy Docent


Cover Photo Credit: Marcia Brandes

Aerial View Active Oval

The First Georgia vs. Auburn Football Game in 1892

Cool weather, changing trees and tailgates are all the recipe for a perfect fall season. No matter what team you’re rooting for, college football is a part of southern culture. In the South, our fall seasons are filled with traditions, and when it comes to college football, our traditions are dutifully upheld.

Whether you are the biggest Georgia Bulldog fan in the south, an Auburn War Eagle, or somewhere in between, it’s hard to escape the South’s oldest rivalry. While Athens might be a far step from Atlanta, one of the Bulldog’s oldest traditions originated in the heart of Atlanta at Piedmont Park. 

In the middle of winter on February 20, 1892, the University of Georgia (UGA) and the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama (now known as Auburn) met head-to-head for the very first time [1][2] on what is now the Piedmont Park Active Oval. While football might have looked a bit different back then, the rivalry has always been strong. Georgia Bulldog fans might be sad to learn that they lost the game 10-0, but for Auburn, legend has it that the famous “War Eagle” cheer started at this game[1].

2020-Blog GeorgiaAuburnShare

So far, the traditional game has only been missed five times making it one of the oldest and most played traditions in sports history[1].

While many Georgia and Auburn fans won’t be in Sanford Stadium cheering on their team, they are still keeping the spirit of this traditional game alive from their living rooms.

Whether you yell “Sick ‘Em” or “War Eagle,” don’t forget about this game’s humble beginnings right in the heart of Atlanta at Piedmont Park.

Visit our Piedmont Park History page for more interesting information about the Park’s past!

Author: Olivia O’Brien

[1] NCAA.com, Brenden Welper. (2019, November 16). Georgia vs. Auburn football: All-time series history, scores, notable games. NCAA.com. https://www.ncaa.com/news/football/article/2019-11-16/georgia-vs-auburn-football-all-time-series-history-scores-notable 

[2] Wikipedia contributors. (2020, May 31). Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_South%27s_Oldest_Rivalry