On this date, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted headed west from Chicago, where he had arrived by train from New York, to a spot about 10 miles from the city. His mission was to inspect 1,600 acres that a group of Eastern businessmen had recently purchased. Olmsted took a carriage to the site, which lay along the Des Plaines River and was graced with thick groves of oak and hickory trees.
"I was ill when I reached Chicago but to keep my engagement, drove 20 miles over open prairie, (in) bleak & raw wind, & walked a good deal," Olmsted wrote his wife, Mary. Olmsted, who was already known for his design of New York's Central Park, had been hired to draw up plans for the property. The resulting village of Riverside was one of the country's first planned communities.In designing Riverside, Olmsted laid out a suburb at a time when the notion of a new kind of community was taking shape. Referring to Chicago, he wrote: "The city, as yet, has no true suburb . . . in which urban and rural advantages are agreeably combined." Olmsted envisioned Riverside as a sylvan retreat where "the conveniences peculiar to the finest modern towns" would be combined with "the domestic advantages of a most charming country."
Unlike Chicago's rigid grid of streets, Riverside's roads followed the natural contours of the land. At intersections, the streets split to form small triangular parks. Seven hundred acres was set aside for open spaces, parks and trails. Yet, with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad running through the site, this oasis would be within easy reach of the city.
The investors, who organized as the Riverside Improvement Co., started to sell lots following Olmsted's plan, but troubles soon clouded the project. In 1870, Olmsted and partner Calvert Vaux pulled out because of financial disputes with the investment company. By 1871, about 50 homes were under construction, but the Chicago Fire in October diverted efforts to the rebuilding of the city. The financial panic of 1873 bankrupted the Riverside Improvement Co. Construction resumed about a decade later, and a total of about 1,000 acres of the original site was completed based on Olmsted's plan. In 1970, most of the village was designated a national historic landmark.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times