A Founder of American Lanscape Architecture
Today is the birthday of Andrew Jackson Downing, who was born on this day in 1815.
Downing was an American horticulturist and the author of The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, which came out in 1845. He also served as the editor of a magazine called The Horticulturist.
Regarded as one of the founders of American Landscape Architecture, Downing used his work in The Horticulturist magazine as a platform for advancing his pet causes. It was Downing who first came up with the idea for a New York park. His dream became the park we know today: Central Park. Downing also advocated for individual states to create schools devoted to agriculture - that hope became a reality as well.
In 1846, when the National Mall in Washington DC was run down and neglected, it was Downing who came up with plans to revive the space. Downing's plans were in vivid contrast to the original plans for the mall. When the Frenchman Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed the mall in 1791, he had envisioned a grand avenue. Downing’s vision was simpler. He was not a fan of the rigidity or formality found in European gardens. Downin g wanted to create a public museum of living trees and shrubs, or at least that’s what he called it. Instead of a grand avenue, Downing designed four separate parks that were connected by curving walkways and featuring many different trees.
Sadly, Downing's plans were never fully funded or carried out. In the summer of 1852, Downing boarded a steamship called The Henry Clay. At some point, the steamship got into a race with another boat called The Armenia. When the steamship began to overheat, a fire broke out in the engine room. Onboard The Henry Clay happened to be a woman Downing had dated before his marriage. When he jumped in the water to save this woman, she panicked and couldn't stop flailing around, and they both drowned.
Before Downing had attempted to save the woman, he had thrown deck chairs off of the top of the boat. Downing thought the chairs could be used by people as flotation devices. He was right. As fate would have it, Downing‘s wife Carolyn survived the disaster by holding on to one of those deck chairs. It was a small consolation to her for the loss of her husband.
Downing was just 36 years old when he died.