Whenever I need my fix of nature and tranquility I know Anderson Park’s trees, plants, flowers and fields are there for me. Last Thursday evening, Lisanne Renner, historian and program director for The Friends of Anderson Park, a non-profit conservancy that partners with the Essex County Park System to maintain and beautify the space, shared the park’s history and features that make it so special. The talk was the last in a series of lectures presented by the Friends of Bellevue Avenue Library (more presentations to come in February/March 2013.)
In 1903, Charles Anderson, Montclair resident, insurance executive (he sold life insurance policies to three Standard Oil presidents), commuter, local real estate developer/owner who is credited with bringing the Tudor style design to Upper Montclair where he constructed several buildings and philanthropist, and his wife Annie deeded approximately 15 acres of land to Essex County (no one is sure why he wouldn’t donate the land to Montclair, which formed its own park system around 1906.) After some hesitance due to the cost of creating and maintaining the park, the County accepted the land, and it became part of the Essex County Park Commission system, the nation’s first county-wide park system.
Inspired by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s commitment to creating beautiful spaces for everyone in society, Montclair’s population growth thanks to the commuter trains and against the backdrop of civic beautification initiatives in response to urban issues such as poverty and disease, lead designer John Charles Olmsted, F.L.O.’s stepson, nephew and part of the Olmstead Brothers landscape architecture firm, planned Anderson Park.
He hauled in 17,000 plants, trees and shrubs, six 20,000 year-old boulders and tons of dirt to create meadows, exercise areas (there was a grass tennis court circa. 1909), and pathways that connect the park with the surrounding neighborhood. Since Anderson owned the land west of the park on North Mountain Avenue, Olmsted proposed to his wife in a letter that Anderson knew the park would increase property values and this was part of the reason he wanted to create it.
The park opened in 1905 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. Today, The Friends of Anderson Park’s landscape historian, botanist and other volunteers consult Olmsted’s original planting guides to ensure the designer’s vision remains intact. “Although the park looks very natural, it’s really not. It’s highly engineered,” says Renner.
Photos courtesy of Lisanne Renner.