Calvert Vaux

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Calvert Vaux
Calvert Vaux
Born (1824-12-20)December 20, 1824
Died November 19, 1895(1895-11-19) (aged 70)
Brooklyn, New York
Occupation Architect
An unobtrusive bridge in Central Park, designed by Calvert Vaux, separates pedestrians from the carriage drive.

Calvert Vaux (December 20, 1824 – November 19, 1895) was a British-American architect and landscape designer. He is best remembered as the co-designer of what would become New York's Central Park.

Little is known about Vaux's childhood and upbringing. He was born in London in 1824, and his father was a physician. Due to this social standing, his father was able to provide a comfortable income for his family.

Vaux (rhymes with hawks) attended a private primary school until the age of nine. He then trained as an apprentice under London architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham. Cottingham was a leader of the Gothic Revival movement. He trained Vaux until the age of twenty-six, and as a result, Vaux became a very skilled draftsman.


In 1851, Vaux exhibited in London a collection of landscape watercolors made on a tour to the Continent, and it was this gallery that captured the attention of the American landscape designer and writer Andrew Jackson Downing, who many consider to be "The Father of American Landscape Architecture." Downing had traveled to London in search of an architect who would complement his vision of what a landscape should be. Downing believed that architecture should be visually integrated into the surrounding landscape, and he wanted to work with someone who had as deep an appreciation of art as he did. Vaux readily accepted the job and moved to the United States.

Downing and Vaux worked together for two years, and during those two years, he made Vaux a partner. Together they designed many significant projects, such as 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 Horticulturalist, of which Downing was the editor, in which he stated his view that it was time the government should recognize and support the arts. Shortly after writing this in 1852, Downing died during a fire in a steamboat accident. Vaux took over the partnership, and his later work in Central Park was a fitting memorial to his late partner.

In 1854, he married Mary McEntee, of Kingston, New York, the sister of Jervis McEntee, a Hudson River School painter. They had two sons and two daughters. In 1856, he gained U.S. citizenship and became identified with the city’s artistic community, “the guild,” joining the National Academy of Design, as well as the Century Club. In 1857, he became one of the founding members of the American Institute of Architects. Also in 1857, Vaux published Villas and Cottages, which was an influential pattern book that determined the standards for “Victorian Gothic” architecture. These particular writings revealed his acknowledgment and tribute to Ruskin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as to his former partner Downing. These people, among others, influenced him intellectually and in his design path.


In 1857, Vaux recruited an inexperienced Frederick Law Olmsted, who had never before designed a landscape plan, to help design the Greensward Plan, which would become Central Park. They were able to obtain the commission through an excellent presentation that capitalized on Vaux's talents in landscape drawing and the inclusion of before-and-after sketches of the site. Together, they fought many political battles to make sure their original design remained intact and was carried out. All of the built features of Central Park were of his design. Bethesda Terrace is a good example.

Samuel J. Tilden House (1872), image from L'Architecture Americaine by Albert Levy

In 1865, Vaux called upon Olmsted and they decided to create a partnership. As Olmsted, Vaux and Company, they designed Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, and Morningside Park in Manhattan. In Chicago they planned one of the first suburbs, called the Riverside Improvement Company in 1868. They also were commissioned to design a major park project in Buffalo, New York, which included The Parade (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Park), The Park (now the Delaware Park), and The Front (now simply Front Park). Vaux designed many structures to beautify the parks, but most of these have been demolished. Vaux also designed a large Canadian city park in the city of Saint John, New Brunswick called Rockwood Park it is one of the largest of its kind in Canada. In 1871, the partners designed the grounds of the New York State Hospital for the Insane in Buffalo and the Hudson River State Hospital for the Insane in Poughkeepsie.

In 1872, Vaux dissolved the partnership and went on to form an architectural partnership with George Kent Radford and Samuel Parsons, Jr. He returned to working with Olmsted in 1889 to design the City of Newburgh's Downing Park as a memorial to their mentor. It would be the pair's last collaboration.

Throughout his lifetime, Vaux, while on his own and through various partnerships, designed and created dozens of parks across the country. He introduced new ideas about the significance of public parks in America during a hectic time of urbanization. This industrialization of the cityscape inspired him to focus on an integration of buildings, bridges, and other forms of architecture into their natural surroundings. He favored naturalistic, rustic, and curvilinear lines in his designs, and his design statements contributed much to today’s landscape and architecture.

Other famous New York City buildings Vaux designed are the Jefferson Market Courthouse, the Samuel J. Tilden House, and the original Ruskinian Gothic buildings, now largely invisible from exterior view, of the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to the New York buildings, Vaux also was the designing architect for The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital located in Towson, Maryland.

Less familiar are twelve projects Vaux designed for the Children's Aid Society in partnership with George Kent Radford; the Fourteenth Ward Industrial School (1889), 256-58 Mott Street, facing the churchyard of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral,[1] and the Elizabeth Home for Girls (1892), 307 East 12th Street, both survive and are landmarked.[2]


On a foggy November 19, 1895, Vaux accidentally drowned in Gravesend Bay, while he was visiting his son, Downing Vaux, in Brooklyn. He is buried in Kingston, New York's Montrepose Cemetery. In 1998, the city of New York named a park looking onto Gravesend Bay, as Calvert Vaux Park.[3]


  1. ^ New York Mott Street; The Masterpiece next door: Fourteenth Ward Industrial School
  2. ^ Christopher Gray, "Streetscapes: A House of Refuge, With Stories to Tell", The New York Times, 8 June 2008 accessed 15 April 2010; Gray notes some evidence that the design details were the work of Nicholas Gillesheimer, and that in 1930 the Children's Aid Society sold the building to Benedict Lust.
  3. ^ Calvert Vaux Park, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Accessed September 8, 2007.
  • Rosenzweig, Roy, and Elizabeth Blackmar. The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8014-9751-5.

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