The Olmsted Parkway System was designed by the firm of preeminent 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The 26-mile (42 km) system was built from the early 1890s through the 1930s, and initially owned by a state-level parks commission, which passed control to the city of Louisville in 1942.
The system was intended to form a circuit around what was then the fringes of the city of Louisville.
Residents along Louisville's historic Olmsted Parkways are part of a unique feature in our urban landscape. Frederick Law Olmsted designed these parkways as linear parks, literally an extension of the beautiful parks that they connect.
Now, they will serve as the spokes to the Louisville Loop connecting from one area to another and linking some of the cities most treasured parks.
The fact that these parkways still exist today is a testament to the hard work and determination of city leaders, non-profit organizations, and - most importantly - Louisville's citizens, who have refused to let the parkways fade into history.
Louisville was a growing industrial city in the 1890s, and wished to reflect the values and culture of the better known and larger northeastern cities. There were no significant parks in the city yet. The leaders of the time believed this type of civic amenity was deserved by its citizens and would serve to better promote Louisville on the national stage, similar to the hopes of the Louisville Loop. To this end, the idea was generated for parks to the east, west, and south of the urban center. Pursuit of a skilled and well-known park designer was the next step.
Creating large community parks on disparate sites that each displayed unique qualities of Louisville’s varied landscapes, and connecting them to the neighborhoods of Louisville with the “ribbons of green” that became the parkways (“ways to the park”), was the fascinating, visionary, and enduring concept brought about by the wisdom and will of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. The three large original regional parks – Cherokee Park, Iroquois Park, and Shawnee Park – are iconic places in the minds and hearts of Louisvillians. Their stories are better known and often retold. The tree-lined parkways, however, have gone unrecognized as the important links in the overall system and the linear parks that they are.
The parkways are primarily used and observed to be arterial collectors of cross-town traffic. With four paved lanes and relatively few traffic lights over their length, motorists, at times, fail to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the designed experience.
We hope you take a little time to appreciate the history of the Olmsted Parkways, the spokes of the Louisville Loop.