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Based on years of original research, Eric Burnette's engrossing history of Louisville's Olmsted Parks weaves a tale of artistry and ecology, wealth and power, dirty politics and public service, whose echoes reverberate to this day.
When Frederick Law Olmsted first came to Louisville, it was a cramped, chaotic city, shrouded in a haze of coal smoke. There had been many public park plans over the years. All of them failed. And then a Scottish-born New Yorker and former Union colonel named Andrew Cowan came along. Years before Olmsted put drafting pencil to paper for the Louisville parks, their seeds were germinating in the mind of Cowan, a wealthy carpetbagger. Cowan was the one who led the drive for parks anyone could enjoy, rich or poor. And he knew exactly who he wanted to design them - Frederick Law Olmsted.
But it wouldn't happen easily. To make his vision a reality, Cowan would need to keep greed, corruption, and resurgent Confederate sympathies from ruining everything. He would need to fight, cajole, and persuade everyone from his rich friends to the powerful gas company to the corrupt mayor to a former Confederate colonel named John Breckinridge Castleman, who became the chairman of the park commission in order to enrich himself.
Cowan would not always succeed. But the parks were resilient. And through it all, they became Louisville's greatest amenity.
About the Author
Eric Burnette is a writer with a law degree and Master's of Urban Planning from the University of Louisville. He lives in Louisville with his wife and two children. They visit the parks regularly.