Andrew Jackson Downing (1815 - 1852)

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Andrew Jackson Downing's Geni Profile

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Birthplace: Newburgh, Orange County, New York, United States
Death: Died in Yonkers, Westchester, NY, USA
Managed by: James Reid Gilmore
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Immediate Family

About Andrew Jackson Downing

Andrew Jackson Downing (October 31, 1815 – July 28, 1852) [1] was an American landscape designer, horticulturalist, and writer, a prominent advocate of the Gothic Revival style in the United States, and editor of The Horticulturist magazine (1846–52). Many scholars consider Downing to be "The Father of American Landscape Architecture," although some scholars have bestowed that title upon Frederick Law Olmsted.

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4][5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

In 1845, Downing was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician.


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Andrew Jackson Downing's Timeline

October 31, 1815
Newburgh, Orange County, New York, United States
July 28, 1852
Age 36
Yonkers, Westchester, NY, USA