Recently Marquand Park board members Evie Timberlake and Becca Flemer completed a short form HALS (Historic American Landscape Survey) report for Cadwalader Park in Trenton. The HALS program along with HABS and HAER are run by the National Park Service in with consultation form the American Association of Landscape Architects. Collectively called Heritage Documentation Programs, they are the only surviving programs still operating from the WPA (Works Progress Association). Their website states: *Heritage Documentation Programs administers the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), the Federal Government's oldest preservation program, and its companion programs: the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) and Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS). Documentation produced through the programs constitutes the nation's largest archive of historic architectural, engineering, and landscape documentation. The HABS/HAER/HALS Collection is housed at the Library of Congress. *
Why didn’t we work on one for Marquand Park? This year the HALS program is promoting a HALS challenge recognizing the work of Frederick Law Olmsted in connection with the 200th anniversary of his birth. The challenge, which encourages documentation with a different theme every year, aims to build public awareness of historic landscapes. Long Form HALS reports are much more involved including large format photography, measured drawings, and more detailed historic narratives. For the short form HALS we consulted with two board members: Historian David Bosted and Landscape Architect Randy Baum of the Trenton Museum Society and The Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion.
Although there is no direct connection to Marquand Park, we found many similarities with the two parks. Both were designed in the nineteenth century in the picturesque style, that is winding paths with varied vistas and more focus on trees than flower beds. Marquand Park was recognized in the sixth edition of Andrew Jackson Downing’s A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America. The park, then known as Woodlawn, exemplified Downing’s principles which were hugely influential for Olmsted. In fact, Downing first championed Olmsted as he embarked on his Landscape Design career.
Frederick Law Olmsted's Preliminary Plan of Cadwalader Park, 1891
John Notman's Plan for Woodlawn, Later, Marquand Park
Both parks began as private properties with elegant Italianate houses designed by noted Philadelphia architect John Notman. Ellarslie Mansion at Cadwalader Park is now the Trenton City Museum while Guernsey Hall, formerly the home of the Marquand family, is now a private residence. This combination of Italianate mansion and picturesque landscape is a hallmark of mid-nineteenth century design and the height of fashion before the Civil War. Today both parks are treasured resources for their communities providing the respite of nature Olmsted envisioned.
Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park is now The Trenton City Museum. Built in 1845 it is now on the National Register of Historic Places. From 5x7 inch glass negatives. Photographs taken by A .L. Opdyke of 106 E. Hanover Street, Trenton, NJ. (1907-1918). https://www.flickr.com/people/63490482@N03
East side of Guernsey Hall, before 1912. Historical Society of Princeton. http://princeton.pastperfectonline.com/Photo/5DE155A0-6A7E-4255-92FE-495419952228
On a sunny spring day children play in the sand pit at Marquand Park. They drive the ever-evolving collection of misfit Tonka trucks over and around the surrounding small boulders. This may seem like a simple play space, however it is a carefully constructed playground which reflects current trends in children’s play design despite being conceived decades ago.
Eleanor Forsyth (1928-1983), a member of the Marquand family, designed the space in the early 1970s. She worked with local architect Jerry Ford carefully selecting stones from local rivers and streams to define the space. A preschool teacher at the Institute for Advanced Study, Forsyth was a thoughtful educator who understood how young children play and explore the world around them.
These days, buzzwords such as “risky play,” “nature-based challenging play,” “malleable, non-static and child-owned experiences” perfectly match the way generations of children have played in the sand pit. Children are free to experiment with jumping off boulders and digging in the sand. Their imagination is allowed to run free while at the same time they learn to focus on a task in an immersive activity. All while their parents and care-givers sit close by or join in the fun.
A recent design guide published by the San Francisco Children and Nature focus group states:
Through play and in learning each child is pushing the boundaries on their cognitive abilities, which are essential for formative development of executive function and language skills. A child develops these essential skills while developing self-control, flexible thinking and working memory. Without executive function, a child may have difficulty focusing, following directions or handling emotions. Additional cognitive and intellectual skills include problem solving, risk assessment, design, construction, organizational skills, planning and sequencing.
We also see young people developing important skills in the Children’s Arboretum. Some of the activities include drawing on our chalkboard table, building forts with sticks and branches, and digging in the soil transplanting seedlings. We often leave rounds from fallen trees for kids to play with. Here we can find the principles promoted by educators and playground designers in so-called “Loose parts play.” Inspiring Scotland’s Loose Parts Toolkit Guide this is defined as:
Loose parts create richer environments for children, allowing them to do what they need to do, to follow their interests and go where their curiosity takes them. Environments full of loose parts lend themselves to a blurring of distinctions between learning and playing, allowing children to experiment, enjoy and find things out for themselves.
At Marquand Park visitors are always learning, whether it’s toddlers in the sand pit, young visitors in the Children’s Arboretum. or adults exploring our collection of rare trees. After all, our park is named for a renowned educator and his family who strive to continue this mission.
On October 16th we held our second in person OAKtober Festival. Last year we offered a virtual tour on Google Earth which you can view here. This year's event featured a scavenger hunt where visitors could find oak trees in the park. We gave out delicious oak leaf and acorn cookies to all who participated. Everyone had an opportunity to take home a white or scarlet oak.
We had great weather - luckily the rain held off until later in the day.
Our event was featured in the Town Topics with the question of the week. Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate the oak tree and enjoy the park!
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