A private project reveals the link between Vestavia and the famous Olmsted brothers
Alan Cosatt practically grew up at the Vestavia Country Club.
His grandfather was one of the first members, and the family’s involvement in the club continued through to Alan. Wanting to use his interest in history and landscape architecture in the service of the club, Cosatt began to research the history of the club.
Last fall, Cosatt received a message from a golf course architect in Sweden who had found an older drawing of the country club’s original layout. When Cosatt asked where the man had found it, he got a surprising answer: in the National Archives, in the Olmsted collection.
After contacting the National Archives, Cosatt found proof of what was, until the end of 2021, just a rumour: one of the most famous names in landscape architecture, the Olmsted brothers, played a leading role in the creation of the first pieces of the city of Vestavia. Hills.
John Olmsted and Fredrick Olmsted Jr. followed in their famous father’s footsteps and helped create some of America’s most recognizable landmarks, while playing a part in the creation of the National Park Service. Young Frederick helped his father design the Biltmore estate in North Carolina.
The brothers designed college campuses, including Washington University in St. Louis and two closer to home, Montevallo University’s Central Campus and Howard College, now known as Samford University. . They also helped create the National Park Service, protecting Niagara Falls and Yosemite Valley. For golf enthusiasts, they’ve helped lend a hand at the nation’s most famous course, Augusta National, home of the Masters, as well as Pasatiempo in California.
The brothers inherited a legacy from their father, who, in addition to the Biltmore, created New York’s Central Park and the grounds of the United States Capitol. Prior to partnering with his brother, Frederick Jr. designed the National Mall, the grounds of the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, and the master plan for Cornell University.
Cosatt said that Frederick Sr. is known as the “father of landscape architecture”.
In his research, Coshatt found the brothers communicating with Vestavia’s first developer, Charles Byrd, for whom Byrd Park is named, about the design and creation of Vestavia Gardens, the city’s first residential development on the former estate of George Ward, as well as the first shopping mall. . The gardens are now the site of the Vestavia Hills Baptist Church, while the mall now includes a number of shops including Tecate and Pet Supermarket. The couple also played a role in the design of the country club. Designs found in the archives detail how Byrd and the Olmsteds drew up plans for a variety of shops to line the newly formed town, as well as plans for a restaurant on Ward’s former estate and nearby residences.
Following a recommendation from a Howard College trustee, JD Pittman of the Pittman Tractor Co., Byrd contacted the Olmsted company on October 29, 1947.
“Gentlemen, I understand that your Mr. CR Parker [Carl Rust Parker, a member of the Olmsted firm] will be in Birmingham around November 10 or 12,” Byrd wrote in a letter included in the archives. “I have a project called Vestavia Garden in Birmingham which I would like to discuss with Mr Parker. If he is able to see me on his trip here, please ask him to write down the date and time.
The pair responded, asking Byrd to send them details. Soon after, work began on the projects and continued for years, Cosatt said.
Byrd eventually established “Vestavia Gardens”, turning George Ward’s former estate into a restaurant before this area became the church it is today. The drawings showing the level of detail created by the Olmsteds are “amazing”, Cosatt said.
“We need to have them all over town,” Cosatt said.
Shelia Bruce, head of the Vestavia Hills Historical Society, said there had always been rumors that the Olmsted brothers were somehow involved in the creation of Vestavia Hills, but no evidence had ever been found until that Coshatt receives this email.
“This is incredible news for the city,” Bruce said.
It’s “incredible” to consider that builders like the Olmsteds, with their expertise and knowledge, helped create the city, she said.
Both Bruce and Cosatt have stated that the Olmsted Archive is one of the best preserved records of any national archive.
It’s obvious from reading the letters that the Olmsteds cared about the aesthetics of the city, Coshatt said. Byrd wanted to build a gas station across from what is now Vestavia City Center. However, the Olmsteds requested that if this happened it would only be a gas station, not a repair shop, as it could impact the aesthetics of the town, Coshatt said.
Cosatt said his love of history led him to take on a project like this.
“I’m kind of a junkie on this stuff,” Cosatt said. “It’s fascinating.”
Understanding the history of Vestavia Hills can impact the city in the future, Bruce said.
“How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?” ” she says.
Cosatt agreed and said this sets Vestavia apart from other cities.
“When you can associate your name with the Olmsted brothers, it raises the profile of who you are,” Cosatt said. “I think it gives credit to our city. … A lot of towns would give anything to have the Olmsted brothers connected to them, and we do.