Sunday, May 5, 2013

Walkways in Early American Public Spaces

Public Walks in Early America

Detail of Walk on John Street in New York City near the United Methodist Church. 1768. Joseph Beekman.

Often growing towns, as well as established cities, would plan walkways for public gathering & promenading around a square, riverside, or shoreline. Placing walks along the side of a roadway offered a clean pedestrian path away from messy horse & carriage roads, which could certainly ruin one of those elegant long dresses. Walkways were constructed of gravel, dirt, shells, grass, and occasionally bricks. Walkways separated the pedestrians from often muddy roads, where horse-drawn carriages transported people & goods and from herds of animals being transported to market. On pleasant days walkways served as promenades to see and be seen by strolling contemporaries. City walkways presented the possiblities for healthy exercise, beauty, and catching up on the local news with neighbors.

As early as 1724, Hugh Jones wrote of the walkways for the public at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia, "beautified with Gates, fine Gardens, Offices, Walks, a fine Canal, Orchards..."

College of William & Mary. Detail of Bodleian Plate.  England. 1740. Three early buildings at the College of William and Mary—the Brafferton, the Wren Building, and the President's House—are seen in the full size of this copy of a mid-18th-century copperplate.

When Ebenezer Hazard visited in 1777 the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, he wrote in his journal, "At this Front of the College is a large Court Yard, ornamented with Walks, Trees cut into different Forms, & Grass."

Landscape Plan of the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia, as restore by Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn & Arthur A Shurcliff, Landscape Architect.

Yale in 1786

At Yale in 1792, John Trumbull suggested, "The ground in front of the Buildings to be divided by two broad walks leading up to the Chapel and Lecture Rooms, and the sides of the walks to be planted with Elms or other Forest Trees..."

Boston 1768 Sidney L. Smith after Christian Remick A Prospective View of Part of the Commons 1902 after a drawing from 1768 Engraving Concord Museum MA

Lt. John Enys reported on Boston's Mall in the winter of 1787 & 1789, "After Dinner we took a walk on the Mall as it is called which is a very excellent Gravel walk about half a Mile in Length with Trees on each side which is kept in very good order and is by far the best thing of the kind I have yet seen in America...On the west side of the town is the mall, a very beautiful public walk, adorned with rows of trees, and in view of the common, which is always open to refreshing breezes."

In 1794, Henry Wansey also reported on the Mall in Boston, "On the south west side of the town, there is a pleasant promenade, called the Mall, adjoining to Boston Common, consisting of a long walk shaded by trees, about half the length of the Mall in St. James's Park. At one end you have a fine view of the sea. The Common itself is a pleasant green field, with a gradual ascent from the sea shore, till it ends in Beacon Hill, a high point of land, commanding a very fine view of the country."

John Drayton also visited Boston's Mall in 1794, "There is a public walk in Boston, called the mall; which is very beautiful. It is upwards of half a mile long; and offers to your choice both a gravel and turf walk; shaded by beautiful elm trees. A street runs parallel with it on one side; and on the other a large common; where hundreds of cattle feed during the day."

Walks on State Street in Boston in 1801. James Brown Marston.

Enys also visited New York City in 1789, reporting that, "Water-street and Queen-street, which occupy the banks of East River, are very conveniently situated for business, but they are low and too narrow; not admitting, in some places, of walks on the sides for foot passengers."

Battery Park in New York City in 1793

John Drayton described Battery Park in New York City in 1793, "Between the guns and the water is a public walk; made by a gentle decline from the platform...Some little distance behind the guns, two rows of elm trees are planted; which in a short time will afford an agreeable shade."

Lydia Medford described walking to the Battery in 1800, We went on toward the Battery. This is a large promenade by the shore of the North River: there are rows and clusters of trees in every part, and a large walk along the shore, almost over the water, gives you such a fresh delightful air, that every evening in summer it is crowded with company.

1790s Walk in Front of President George Washington's House in Philadelphia.

Lord Adam Gordon wrote in 1765, of Philadelphia, "...everyone of note has a residence in Town, which is all built of brick, and well paved, with flat foot walks in each side the streets."

In his 1789 Geography, Jedidiah Morse reported on Philadelphia, "The state house yard, is a neat elegant and spacious public walk, ornamented with rows of trees; but a high brick wall, which encloses it, limits the prospect."

Moreau de St. Mery noted in the 1790s Philadelphia, "Several streets have trees, usually elms, planted on the outer edge of the sidewalk...Some persons considered them helpful in hot weather; others believed they prevented the free circulation of air and attracted insects, especially mosquitoes. Since then Italian poplars have been put at both ends of each street, as well as on all sides of the city's principal square on Market Street between the Delaware and the Schuylkill...Trees have been planted on both sides of every street, the Italian poplar being the one most in favor."

William Russell Birch (1755-1834) Philadelphia State House Garden with serpentine walks

At Philadelphia in 1787, Rev Manasseh Cutler described the State House Yard in Philadelphia, "The numerous walks are well graveled and rolled hard; they are all in a serpentine direction, which heightens the beauty, and affords constant variety.  The painful sameness, commonly to be met with in happily avoided here, for there are no two parts of the Mall that are alike."

Difficult walking on narrow streets in New York City c 1798. Francis Guy. Tontine Coffee House.

Walk in Front of Bridewell & Charity School at Broadway Opposite Chamber Street in New York City. Baroness Hyde de Neuville. 1808.

Walk at a Corner of Greenwich in New York City. 1810. Baroness Hyde de Neuville.\

Smaller towns and institutions were also developing public promenades.  In 1787, Rev Manasseh Cutler described the town walk in Middletown, Connecticut "At the northern end of the city is a walk of two rows of buttonwood trees, from the front gate of a gentleman's house down to a summer-house on the bank of the river, by far the most beautiful I ever saw.  He permits the people of the city to improve it as a mall."

Luigi Castiglioni wrote of Albany, New York in 1785, "The streets...are very wide...some of them furnished with a sidewalk."

In 1800, John Cosens Ogden described a walk in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, "a pleasant walk on the banks of the river Lehigh.  Nature has furnished a shade,  by means of the trees, which grow near the margin.  But it is improved by a row of locust trees between them and the road or walk..."

Walks at Market Square in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1820, Detail. William Britton.

In 1744, Francis Moore had described the Trustees' Gardens in Savannah, Georgia, "The Garden is laid out with Cross-walks planted with Orange-trees, but last winter, a good deal of Snow having fallen, had killed those upon the Top of the Hill."

In Savannah, Georgia in 1803, according to the Columbian Museum and Savannah Advertiser, an ordinace was passed in that city for "the effectual protecting and preserving the trees in this City, and the turf, pavements, and other means which have been used to render the ground firm, and the walks pleasant to the Citizens, a number of posts have been erected and set up...for the purpose of preventing persons with carriages and horses from riding or driving within, or between the posts and trees so planted...and over the turf, pavements, or ways intended for foot passages."

J. L. Bouqueto de Woiseri, Detail of New Orleans "Under My Wings, Everything Prospers," Louisiana Purchase, 1803.

In 1796, Francis Baily wrote of New Orleans, "When I was at New Orleans...The levee which formed its boundary was a handsome raised gravel walk planted with orange trees, and in the summer time served as a mall...and in the evening was always a fashionable resort for the beaux and belles of the place."

However, when John Pintard visited New Orleans in 1801, he wrote back to his daughter, "The only public walk is the leeve, which is externally thronged with all sorts and conditions of people.  It is far from an eligible promenade for the ladies-who are obliged to frequent it for exercise-It is about 8 feet wide, the slope towards the river presents all the shipping in the harbour with their usual concomitants of noisey drunken labourers & sailors."  Pintard was so displeased with the city, that he decided no to settle there.

After George Washington's death, his home became a shrine visited by travelers from at home and abroad. Benjamin Henry Latrobe visited Mount Vernon, noting, "The ground on the West front is laid out in a level lawn bounded on each side with a wide but extremel formal serpentine walk, shaded by weeping Willows."

Nearby, Washington DC was developing as the new nation's capitol.  Here, too, walks were being planned for future generations.  In 1791, Pierre-Charles L'Enfant designed a walk between the White House (he called this the Palace) and the Congress, "a publique walk and avenue."

The 1806 Washington Expositor reported a visitor's views about the building of walkways around the mall open space in Washington, "so as to afford ample walks open at seasonable hours and under proper regulations to the public, it will give to the city, much earlier than there is otherwise reasonable cause to hope for, agreeable promenades, as conducive to the health of the inhabitants, as to the beauty of the places."

Walks in Front of the White House. August Kollner (1813-1906).

Elbridge Gerry Jr noted in his diary in 1813 that at the White House in Washington, D. C., "Lengthways of the house, and thro' the hall, is a walk, which extends on a terrace at each end for some way...The terrace was to communicate to each building connecting the three."

View of the Capitol, by Charles Burton, Watercolor on Paper 1824

This watercolor view of the Capitol was a gift to the Marquis de Lafayette to commemorate his speech delivered in the Hall of the House in 1824. Here workmen are constructing the earthen terraces along the western front, while in the foreground lining the roadway & the walks are the maturing Lombardy poplars planted during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. 

Walk in Front of The Bank of Columbia in Georgetown near Washington, DC August Kollner (1813-1906)

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