We are tracing the activities of this important architect-professor, who employed design as a tool of social justice, designed many buildings on campus and in the community, and was an especially beloved teacher and mentor to generations of Vassar students who have gone on in the fields of architecture and design.
While the Vassar campus has long been characterized by its verdant tree canopy, the central campus was originally a treeless plain, cleared as the site of an earlier racetrack. Matthew Vassar’s original conception for the college called for a varied terrain planted with ornamental trees, conifers, fruit trees, flower gardens, and a Botanical Garden, although these wishes would take decades to materialize. Several research projects are tracing the development of the Vassar campus as arboretum, as initially conceived by Beatrix Farrand; its expansion by Percival Gallagher, partner in Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects; down to the recent accreditation of the campus as an Level II Arboretum by Arbnet.
Striking every hour, on the hour, with two concerts at 12:30 and 5:00 pm, the Vassar Chime has been an essential part of college life since 1904. Although the music that streams from the Chapel tower may seem like an unchanging element of the soundscape, it has been produced by several different types of instruments over the past century, which have played a varied repertoire. This project traces the ongoing history of the Vassar Chime, with new plans afoot for some very different music.
If the involvement of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. at Vassar remains murky, we do know that the next generation of the Olmsted firm was engaged in campus landscape planning: Percival (Percy) Gallagher, partner of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., was Consulting Landscape Architect to Vassar from 1929-33. This is the first study of these projects.
There have long been vague statements that Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the father of American landscape architecture, contributed ideas for the masterplan of Vassar’s bucolic campus. But other than an 1868 letter to his wife saying that he visited Vassar, which has “a miserable plan to be amended,” virtually no evidence of his involvement has come to light. What, if anything, did Olmsted and his colleagues contribute to Vassar’s design?