The 19th century poet behind NYC’s Central Park: a visit to William Cullen Bryant’s boyhood home #CentralPark #WilliamCullenBryant

Who is William Cullen Bryant? The Seattle neighborhood Bryant is named after him. Bryant House at Williams College is named for him. Bryant Woods of Columbia, Maryland is also named after him. The famed Bryant Park in NYC at the intersection of 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue was later renamed for him. He was a mentor of Walt Whitman, friend of Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole, and quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr.

William Cullen Bryant (11/3/1794 – 6/12/1878) was an American romantic poet, journalist, and editor of the New York Evening Post for nearly five decades. He spent most of his adult life as a New Yorker, but had strong roots in New England. His boyhood home, the William Cullen Bryant Homestead is located in Cummington Massachusetts in the Pioneer Valley and is owned and managed by the Trustees of Reservations. This non profit organization aims to preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts. Their website contains a very functional interactive map and locator tool to help visitors and guests find properties that suit their interests, there’s something for everyone. From Dinosaur Footprints in Holyoke, to the Fletcher Steel / McKim, Mead, & White designed property of Naumkeag, this property oversees some of the state’s most iconic landscape from Cape Cod to the NY border.

What caught my eye and peaked my interest about visiting the William Cullen Bryant Homestead was learning about Bryant’s role and influence in jumpstarting efforts to form Central Park in New York City. As editor of the Evening Post (currently called the New York Post), Bryant was the major vocal force in generating a dialog to begin the project. The effort was later advanced by American landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, who echoed the city’s need for a public park beginning in 1844 to rival London’s Hyde Park and Paris’ Bois de Boulogne. According to the Trustees, William Cullen Bryant’s work helped inspire the 19th-century land conservation movement that involved Frederic Law Olmsted at Central Park and Charles Eliot, founder of The Trustees of Reservations.

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Above all, most Americans realize the greatness and significance of Central Park for its sheer scale and anchor of beauty and serenity in the middle of a bustling city. They may not know about the 1857 landscape design contest that commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to developed their Greensward Plan, and they certainly most likely do not know that William Cullen Bryant was an important literary figure at the time who helped the park come to be. Its an interesting fact to pass along and to help us remember the power of persuasion through writing, journalism, and literary expression.

My visit to the Homestead  was peaceful and serene. Bryant was an avid horticulturalist, and it was a pleasure to experience this largely unchanged pastoral landscape. The property very nicely represents the New England vernacular with a functional sugar maple allee drive as well as an impressive stand of white pines. The Rivulet Trail is named for  his 1823 poem, and is a nice assemblage of very old hemlock, a tiny stream, and specimen cherry tree. The main house was converted by Bryant from a two-story farmhouse into a rambling three-story Victorian cottage, while the red barn was altered to store apples and pears from his orchards.

 

 


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