Maplewood Memorial Park, Maplewood NJ #07045
Type:Parks, Parkways & Recreation Areas
Located adjacent to the town center, Maplewood Memorial Park captures the Olmsted Brothers initial vision of “...a pleasant place of meeting, an attractive place to pass through from one part of town to another”
Located adjacent to the town center, Maplewood Memorial Park captures the Olmsted Brothers initial vision of “...a pleasant place of meeting, an attractive place to pass through from one part of town to another” [A Memorandum on the design of Maplewood Park_1923-02-08__LOC-OAR-B_07045-im.10]. Even though other designers were involved in the final execution of the park’s construction, the Olmsted Brothers were influential in its underlying design.
Community leaders in Maplewood, originally a part of South Orange, NJ, were eager to create a dedicated recreation area. In 1915, the township acquired an uninhabitable swampy pasture near the train station. They constructed a playground and ice-skating rink on the property, and a year later, secured the adjacent piece of land to build a park.
In 1922, the township committee sought counsel from the Olmsted Brothers. The first evidence of collaboration is in a letter, dated July 6, from the firm’s project manager, Percival Gallagher, to the Township Committee Chair, John S. DeHart. The Olmsted Brothers produced a general study (07045-6) which included a pond, playfields, tennis courts, and a memorial mound for World War I soldiers. These ideas were revised and expanded in the December 13th Preliminary Plan, showing the above features in more detail and providing a basic plan for tree plantings (07045-8). After it was published in the South Orange Record in April 1923, a grading and planting plan were then produced (07045-9) (07045-11).
It appears work based on these plans did occur. Correspondence between Township Committee member, George K. Thompson, and the Olmsted Brothers, indicate the plantings began in 1923, but were not completed until 1925. This likely was the only aspect of the Olmsted design that was implemented in the park. A Maplewood Record report from March 1924 notes that a contractor proposed to start excavating the property’s pond. However, the project was interrupted as the proposed layout of the pond does not match its current shape.
Differing opinions surrounding design choices may have affected the relationship between the Olmsted Brothers and Maplewood. For example, a letter to the Olmsted Brothers from the Chairman of the Memorial Committee, reveals he requested the firm’s opinion on using a large boulder for the base of the World War I memorial. The firm responded that a simple piece of granite would be more desirable. Despite this suggestion, a boulder was used in the final memorial design. This is the last recorded correspondence with the firm.
Brinley and Holbrook, a notable firm based in New York City and Morristown, took over design of the park in 1926. Before the Olmsted Brothers were involved in the project, an unattributed published plan may have been by Brinley and Holbrook as well. Their 1928 plans most closely match the park today, though the general layouts are very similar. Many elements from the plans are currently visible at the park, including the Civic House, amphitheater, lighting, and foot bridges. Their General Planting Plan can be found at the North Jersey History & Genealogy Center, The Morristown and Morris Township Library.
Another influential contributor to the park was Richard Walter, the Maplewood Supervisor of Parks and Shade Trees from 1935 until 1970. A well-respected horticulturist, Walter rethought the traditional planting palette of a municipal park and included a variety of novel plants such as Dawn Redwoods, Chinese Chestnut, American Persimmon, and the Flowering Dogwood. Today, the park retains elements of a botanic garden due to his influence.
Through their early plans and concept for the park, the Olmsted Brothers firm, under Percival Gallagher, recognized the value of the site and provided the foundation of the design seen today.