Andrew Jackson Downing
Andrew Jackson Downing (October 30, 1815 – July 28, 1852) was an American landscape designer, horticulturalist, and writer, a prominent advocate of the Gothic Revival in the United States, and editor of The Horticulturist magazine (1846–52). Downing is considered to be a founder of American landscape architecture.
|Andrew Jackson Downing|
October 31, 1815|
Newburgh, New York
|Died||July 28, 1852
Hudson River, New York
|Cause of death||boat fire|
|Occupation||landscape gardener (later to be called landscape architect), horticulturist|
Downing was born in Newburgh, New York, United States, to Samuel Downing (a nurseryman and wheelwright) and Eunice Bridge. After finishing his schooling at 16, he worked in his father's nursery in the Town of Newburgh, and gradually became interested in landscape gardening and architecture. He began writing on botany and landscape gardening and then undertook to educate himself thoroughly in these subjects. He married Caroline DeWint in 1838.
His official writing career started when he began writing articles for various newspapers and horticultural journals in the 1830s. In 1841 his first book, A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America, was published to a great success; it was the first book of its kind published in the United States.
In 1842 Downing collaborated with Alexander Jackson Davis on the book Cottage Residences, a highly influential pattern book of houses that mixed romantic architecture with the English countryside's pastoral picturesque, derived in large part from the writings of John Claudius Loudon. The book was widely read and consulted, doing much to spread the so-called "Carpenter Gothic" and Hudson River Bracketed architectural styles among Victorian builders, both commercial and private.
With his brother Charles, he wrote Fruits and Fruit Trees of America (1845), long a standard work. In the early 1850s, Downing called the "Jonathan's Fine Winter" apple the "Imperial of Keepers", which led to it being renamed the York Imperial apple. This was followed by The Architecture of Country Houses (1850), another influential pattern book.
By the mid-1840s Downing's reputation was impeccable and he was, in a way, a celebrity of his day. This afforded him a friendship with Luther Tucker— publisher and printer of Albany, New York – who hired Downing to edit a new journal. "The Horticulturist", and "Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste" was first published under Downing's editorship in the summer of 1846; he remained editor of this journal until his death in 1852. The journal was his most frequent influence on society and operated under the premises of horticulture, pomology, botany, entomology, rural architecture, landscape gardening, and, unofficially, premises dedicated public welfare in various forms. It was in this journal that Downing first argued for a New York Park, which in time became Central Park. It was in this publication that Downing argued for state agricultural schools, which eventually gave rise. And it was here that Downing worked diligently to educate and influence his readers on refined tastes regarding architecture, landscape design, and even various moral issues.
In 1850, as Downing traveled in Europe, an exhibition of continental landscape watercolors by Englishman Calvert Vaux captured his attention. He encouraged Vaux to emigrate to the United States, and opened what was to be a thriving practice in Newburgh. Frederick Clarke Withers (1828–1901) joined the firm during its second year. Downing and Vaux worked together for two years, and during those two years, he made Vaux a partner. Together they designed many significant projects, including the grounds in the White House and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Vaux's work on the Smithsonian inspired an article he wrote for The Horticulturist, in which he stated his view that it was time the government should recognize and support the arts.
In 1846, the Smithsonian Institution was established, and soon a building to house the new institution was started on the Mall. James Renwick's Norman-style building stimulated a move to landscape the Mall in a manner consistent with the romantic character of the Smithsonian's building. President Millard Fillmore commissioned Downing to create a plan that would redeem the Mall from its physical neglect.
Downing's plan was a radical departure from the geometric, classical design of Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant's. Instead of one "Grand Avenue," Downing envisioned four individual parks, with connecting curvilinear walks and drives defined with trees of various types. His objective was to form a national park that would serve as a model for the nation, as an influential example of the "natural style of landscape gardening" and as a "public museum of living trees and shrubs."
President Fillmore endorsed two-thirds of Downing's plan in 1851, but Congress found it to be too expensive and released only enough funds to develop the area around the Smithsonian. In 1853, Congress eventually cut off all funds so that the plan was never entirely completed.
In 1845, Downing was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician.
- People's pride in their country is connected to pride in their home. If they can decorate and build their homes to symbolize the values they hope to embody, such as prosperity, education and patriotism, they will be happier people and better citizens.
- "A good house will lead to a good civilization."
- The "individual home has a great value to a people."
- "There is a moral influence in a country home."
- A good home will encourage its inhabitants to pursue a moral existence.
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Downing's building designs were mostly for single family rural houses built in the Picturesque Gothic and Italianate styles. He believed every American deserved a good home, so he designed homes for three types: villas for the wealthy, cottages for working people and farmhouses for farmers.
Downing believed that architecture and the fine arts could affect the morals of the owners, and that improvement of the external appearance of a home would help "better" all those who had contact with the home. The general good of America was benefited by good taste and beautiful architecture, he wrote. Downing saw that the family home was becoming the place for moral education and the focus of middle class America's search for the meaning of life.
Downing developed his view that country residences should fit into the surrounding landscape and blend with its natural habitat. He also believed that architecture should be functional and that designs for residences should be both beautiful and functional. In the beginning of his Architecture of Country Houses is a lengthy essay on the real meaning of architecture. He wrote that even the simplest form of architecture should be an expression of beauty, but the design should never neglect the useful for the beautiful. He went on to say that "(in) perfect architecture no principle of utility will be sacrificed to beauty, only elevated and ennobled by it." He considered landscape gardening and architecture to be an art.
In Cottage Residences he published the designs for 28 houses; in addition to the house plans, the designs included the plans for laying out the gardens, orchards, grounds and even included various plants to be used. In his Architecture of Country Houses, he included designs for cottages, farmhouses and villas and commented on interiors, furniture and even the best methods of warming and ventilating them. Some of his designs were very simple and affordable so that all classes of society could enjoy life outside the city. His own residence, Highland Gardens, in Newburgh, New York, was quite large with meticulous grounds and many greenhouses with plants and trees from around the world brought to him by his whaling father-in-law.
Through the publication of his designs, he is credited with the popularization of the front porch. He saw the porch as the link from the house to nature. Building porches had just become easier due to the advance in building methods, and these two factors together resulted in the frequency of front porches being built on residences at that time. At the same time, many people were moving from the city to the surrounding countryside because of the advent of railroad and steamship transportation. Downing believed interacting with nature had a healing effect on mankind and wanted all people to be able to experience nature.
By the 1860s, Downing's preferred style had completely overshadowed the earlier Gothic Revival style.
On July 28, 1852, Downing was traveling on the steamer Henry Clay with his wife and extended family. A fire broke out amidships when the ship was just south of Yonkers, New York, on the Hudson River. A boiler explosion quickly spread flames across the wooden vessel and Downing was killed along with 80 others. A few ashen remains and his clothes were recovered days later.
Downing's remains were interred in Cedar Hill Cemetery, in his birthplace of Newburgh, New York.
Following Downing's death, Withers and Vaux took over his architectural practice. After his death, writer and friend Nathaniel Parker Willis referred to Downing as "our country's one solitary promise of a supply for [the]... scarcity of beauty coin in our every-day pockets. He was the one person who could be sent for... to look at fields and woods and tell what could be made out of them".
Downing influenced not only Vaux but also landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted; the two men met at Downing's home in Newburgh. In 1858, their joint design, the Greensward Plan, was selected in a design competition for the new Central Park in New York City. In 1860, Olmsted and Vaux proposed that a bust of Downing be placed in the new park as an "appropriate acknowledgment of the public indebtedness to the labors of the late A. J. Downing, of which we feel the Park itself is one of the direct results." The monument was never built in the park, but a memorial urn honoring Downing stands near the Smithsonian Castle in the Enid A. Haupt Garden in the Smithsonian.
In 1889, the city of Newburgh commissioned a park design from Olmsted and Vaux. They accepted, on the condition that it be named after their former mentor. It opened in 1897, called "Downing Park". It was their last collaboration.
One of the only surviving structures known to have been designed by Downing is the cottage at Springside (Matthew Vassar Estate) in Poughkeepsie, New York. The cottage and the estate's gardens designed by Downing are a National Historic Landmark. The Cedarcliff Gatehouse is also believed to have been designed by him.
Jackson's wife and friends of the family put up a monument to Jackson in the shape of an urn that was at his home in Newburgh, New York. They inscribed on it words that he had written "Plant spacious parks in your cities, and loose their gates as wide as the morning, to the whole people."
Another of Andrew Jackson Downing's surviving structures, and one three of Downing's earliest examples of the Italian Victorian Style, the "Robert Dodge Mansion" still stands today in Georgetown, D.C., however has been significantly altered from when originally constructed The "Robert Dodge Mansion" was an exact opposite of the "Francis Dodge Mansion" (aside from the windows and fenestration/decoration)ornaments. It is also noteworthy to note that Downing's first buildings completed in this Italian Victorian Style were made for the Dodge family.
- A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America, 1841.
- Cottage Residences: or, A Series of Designs for Rural Cottages and Adapted to North America, 1842; reprinted as Andrew Jackson Downing, Victorian Cottage Residences, Dover Publications, 1981.
- The Architecture of Country Houses: Including Designs for Cottages, and Farm-Houses and Villas, With Remarks on Interiors, Furniture, and the best Modes of Warming and Ventilating, D. Appleton & Company, 1850; reprinted as Andrew Jackson Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, Dover Publications, 1969.
- "On the Moral Influence of Good Houses". 2. Horticulturist. February 1818. pp. 345–47. Archived from the original on July 6, 2010. Retrieved August 30, 2010.
- Find a Grave
- Andrew Jackson Downing American National Biography, accessed 28 April 2015
- "History of Horticulture". Ohio State University. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
- "Andrew Jackson Downing". Fredericklawolmstead.com. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
- "Apple Tree Descriptions". Barkslip's Micro-Nursery. Retrieved 2010-01-02.
- "Marker Details: York Imperial Apple". Explore PA History. Retrieved 2010-01-01.
- L'Enfant identified himself as "Peter Charles L'Enfant" during most of his life, while residing in the United States. He wrote this name on his "Plan of the city intended for the permanent seat of the government of t(he) United States ...." (Washington, D.C.) and on other legal documents. However, during the early 1900s, a French ambassador to the U.S., Jean Jules Jusserand, popularized the use of L'Enfant's birth name, "Pierre Charles L'Enfant". (See: Bowling (2002).) The National Park Service identifies L'Enfant as Major Peter Charles L'Enfant and as Major Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant on its website. The United States Code states in 40 U.S.C. 3309: "(a) In General.—The purposes of this chapter shall be carried out in the District of Columbia as nearly as may be practicable in harmony with the plan of Peter Charles L'Enfant."
- "The Unveiling of A. J. Downing's Victorian Plan for Washington, D.C., 1851," by Heather Wanser, Senior Paper Conservator, Conservation Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540.
- Country Houses
- Henry Clay disaster Archived March 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- "The Henry Clay catastrophe; Removal of the Wreck. More missing passengers. Coroner's Inquest—Testimony of Mr. Radford. Interesting particulars. The Coroner's Inquest at Yonkers. The Dead. List of Passengers Missing. Particulars and Incidents." New York Times, August 4, 1852
- "The Henry Clayu catastrophe; Trial of the Owners and Officers of the Henry Clay. Opening of the defendant's case. Testimony for the accused. United States Circuit Court." New York Times, October 29, 1853
- Callow, James T. Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807–1855. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1967: 216.
- "DOWNING, Andrew Jackson: Urn on the east side of the Arts & Industries Bldg in Washington, D.C.". Retrieved 2016-01-08.
- Townley McElhiney Sharp (August 1980). "National Register of Historic Places Registration:Cedarcliff Gatehouse". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-01-08.
- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Downing, A. J. (Andrew Jackson). "A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, adapted to North America; with a view to the improvement of country residences. Comprising historical notices and general principles of the art, directions for laying out grounds and arranging plantations, the description and cultivation of hardy trees, decorative accompaniments to the house and grounds, the formation of pieces of artificial water, flower gardens, etc. with remarks on rural architecture .. (1841)". Landscape gardening; Architecture, Domestic. New York & London, Wiley and Putnam; Boston, C. C. Little & co. Retrieved August 30, 2010.
- Downing, A. J. (Andrew Jackson). "Cottage residences, or, A series of designs for rural cottages and cottage villas, and their gardens and grounds: adapted to North America (1842)". Architecture, Domestic; Cottages. New York : Wiley and Putnam. Retrieved August 30, 2010.
- Downing, A. J. (Andrew Jackson) (1861). "The architecture of country houses". Architecture, Domestic. New-York, D. Appleton & co. Retrieved August 30, 2010.
- Charles E. Beveridge and David Schulyer, eds., Creating Central Park, 1857–1861.
- David Schuyler, Apostle of Taste: Andrew Jackson Downing, 1815 — 1852.
- Judith K. Major, "To Live in the New World: A. J. Downing and American Landscape Gardening."
- Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar, The Park and the People: A History of Central Park
- Kris A. Hansen, Death Passage on the Hudson: The Wreck of the Henry Clay, Purple Mountain Press, October 2004. ISBN 1-930098-56-1; ISBN 978-1-930098-56-5.
- Sean T. Wright, Railroad and Suburb Development Historian. Descendant of the Nathan Carruth Family and Frank L. Wright Family.