Utica's Olmsted Trail
"To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., National Park Service Organic Act (1916)
When heading across Upstate New York’s east-west corridor by car, bike, or boat, consider stopping in Utica, a small city with an outsized architectural heritage—in addition to an array of marvelous restaurants and one of the finest small art museums in the country.
Utica is a town of 62,000 people on which Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the preeminent landscape architect of the first half of the twentieth century, left an unusually large and impressive mark: a sprawling park and parkway system and nearly a half dozen neighborhoods laid out under his personal supervision by his firm, Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts.
Utica is also home to an impressive collection of structures and artistic works created by Olmsted’s peers—contemporaries who were also widely considered leading people in their fields in the period between 1900 and 1930, and left behind more famous works in New York City and Washington, D.C. These sites from Utica’s heyday as an important textile center made it something much more than a typical mill town.
As a premier landscape architect, environmental planner, educator and conservationist, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.'s accomplishments spanned the country and made an indelible mark in the realm of American city planning, including
~Founder of Harvard’s Landscape Architecture program;
Olmsted, Jr. also created planned neighborhoods like Forest Hills Gardens in Queens (New York City), as well as Utica’s Ridgewood, Proctor Boulevard, Sherman Gardens, and Talcott Road neighborhoods.
The Olmsted Trail consists of two interlocking corridors that are easily accessible from the Thruway and the Empire State Trail, and since Utica is not a very large city, the entire trail covers only 8 miles—traversing a few or even all of the four suggested itineraries will not require too much of your time. Together they tell the story of a prosperous and proud little industrial city in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that was home to civic-minded patrons.
However, Utica’s past wasn’t simply the work of well-heeled local patricians. Immigrants also played a key role in building Utica and making it a distinctive place. In the early nineteenth century, immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and Wales powerfully influenced the development of the local culture and culture. In Utica’s Olmsted Era (1900-1930), immigrants from southern and eastern Europe—predominantly Italians and Poles—provided the labor that made Utica’s past industrial success possible.
The traces of their cultural heritage, along with the physical heritage Olmsted and his contemporaries left behind, link Utica’s past and present. Today’s immigrants, very largely comprised of refugees, constitute another such link to that past, in that their contributions are helping to preserve Utica’s physical heritage, contribute to its economy, and further enrich a distinctive local culture.
Together, all these aspects of Utica’s past and present make it a place worth visiting and an interesting and rewarding place to live.
Accessing The Trail
The Olmsted Trail is located on (or immediately adjacent) to two intersecting streets: Genesee Street and the Parkway. Coming from the east or west, you can easily access Genesee Street from the New York State Thurway or the Empire State Trail. When approaching by bike on the Empire State Trail from the east, you can easily enter access the Olmsted trail by heading southward onto Dyke Road in Schuyler, follow bridges over the New York State Thruway and the Mohawk River, head right (or west) on Bleecker Street, and then left (or south) onto Culver Avenue, which will bring you to the first of Utica’s Olmsted parks—F.T. Proctor Park—and Utica’s beautiful Olmsted-designed Parkway. If you opt to come in by bike from the East, we would suggest using Itinerary 2 as your first guide into the city.