Calvert Vaux
Born(1824-12-20)December 20, 1824
DiedNovember 19, 1895(1895-11-19) (aged 70)
Spouse(s)Mary Swan McEntee
ProjectsCentral Park, Prospect Park

Calvert Vaux (/vɔːks/; December 20, 1824 – November 19, 1895) was a British architect and landscape designer, best known as the co-designer, along with his protégé and junior partner Frederick Law Olmsted, of what would become New York City's Central Park.

Vaux, on his own and in various partnerships, designed and created dozens of parks across the United States. He introduced new ideas about the significance of public parks in America during a hectic time of urbanization. This industrialization of the cityscape inspired Vaux 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.

Early life

Born in London to a physician, Vaux was baptized at St Benet Gracechurch on February 9, 1825. He trained as an apprentice under the architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham, a leader of the Gothic Revival movement. Vaux trained under Cottingham until the age of twenty-six.

First partnership

In 1851, Vaux exhibited a series of watercolor landscapes that he made while en route to the United States that caught the attention of Andrew Jackson Downing, a noted landscape architect. Downing traveled to London in search of an architect, who would complement his architectural vision. He believed that architecture should be visually integrated into the surrounding landscape, and wanted to work with someone who was equally passionate. Vaux accepted the opportunity and subsequently moved to the United States.

Vaux worked with Downing for two years and became a firm partner. Together, they designed many projects such as the White House grounds and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Vaux's work on the Smithsonian inspired him to write an article in 1852 for The Horticulturalist, of which Downing was the editor. In his publication, he argued that the government should recognize and support the arts. Shortly afterward, Downing died in a steamboat accident.

Vaux and Withers

After Downing's death, Vaux gained control of the firm. As a partner, he hired Frederick Clarke Withers, who was already working at the company.[1] The business lasted four years and their projects included the Jefferson Market Library and the Rice Building, although the Rice project has been attributed in other scholarship to George B. Post.

U.S. citizenship, affiliations, and publishing

In 1856, he gained U.S. citizenship and became identified with New York 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.

Collaboration with Olmsted

New York City's Central Park
New York City's Central Park
Olana, a collaboration with Frederic Church
Olana, a collaboration with Frederic Church

In 1857, Vaux recruited Frederick Law Olmsted, who had never before designed a landscape plan, to help with the Greensward Plan, which would become New York City's Central Park. They obtained the commission through the Greensward Plan, an excellent presentation that drew upon Vaux's talents in landscape drawing to include 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.

In 1865, Vaux and Olmsted founded Olmsted, Vaux and Company, which went on to design 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 K. Radford and Samuel Parsons. In that same year he worked on Olana, the home of artist Frederic Edwin Church, who collaborated with Vaux on the mansion's design.[2]

He returned to working with Olmsted in 1889 for one last collaboration: designing the City of Newburgh's Downing Park as a memorial to their mentor.

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 in Towson, Maryland.

Less familiar are twelve projects Vaux designed for the Children's Aid Society in partnership with Radford; the Fourteenth Ward Industrial School (1889), 256-58 Mott Street, facing the churchyard of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral,[3] and the Elizabeth Home for Girls (1892), 307 East 12th Street, both survive and are landmarked.[4]


On November 19, 1895, Vaux accidentally drowned in Gravesend Bay in Brooklyn while visiting his son, Downing. He is buried in Kingston, New York's Montrepose Cemetery. In 1998, the city of New York dedicated Calvert Vaux Park, situated in Gravesend overlooking the bay, to him.[5]

Personal life

In 1854, Vaux married Mary Swan McEntee, the sister of Jervis McEntee, a Hudson River School painter. They had two sons (Calvert and Downing) and two daughters (Helen and Julia).


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ryan, James Anthony (2011). Frederic Church's Olana: Architecture and Landscape as Art. Hensonville, New York: Black Dome Press. ISBN 978-1-883789-28-2.
  3. ^ New York Mott Street; The Masterpiece next door: Fourteenth Ward Industrial School Archived 2012-04-06 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Calvert Vaux Park, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Accessed September 8, 2007.