Staten Island farmhouse where Olmsted envisioned Central Park nominated for historic designation

Posted On Tue, September 15, 2020 By

Posted On Tue, September 15, 2020 By In Historic Homes, Staten Island

Photos courtesy of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

The farmhouse once owned by one of the most famous landscape architects in the United States could soon become a national landmark. The New York State Board for Historic Preservation this week recommended Frederick Law Olmsted’s former two-story home in the South Shore of Staten Island for the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Once part of a 130-acre farm, the property is significant for the role it played in Olmsted’s discovery of landscape design and parks as a public good, which later influenced his ideas for Central Park and Prospect Park. Despite its designation as a New York City landmark in 1967, the house, while intact, has deteriorated over the years and requires significant restoration work.

The house in 1937; Photo courtesy of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

Originally a one-room farmhouse built in 1695 and surrounded by 130 acres of farm, the property underwent a number of alterations and enlargements and was home to a series of different owners. But mid-19th-century elements like original moldings, stairs, and finishes, that existed when Olmsted lived at the property from 1848 to 1855, have been preserved.

During his nearly seven-year tenure at the property, Olmsted, who renamed the property Tosomock Farm, experimented with scientific farming, ran a nursery, started an agricultural improvement society on Staten Island, and planted thousands of trees. Although the farm was seen as an economic failure, it became where Olmsted developed his own ideas about public parks and the government’s duty to provide green space to citizens.

According to the state’s parks department, it was during his time living at the farmhouse when Olmsted “fully embraced the social aims of landscape design” and the importance of nature in promoting the health and welfare of citizens.

Although the development of Staten Island in the 20th century changed the makeup of the surrounding land, the farmhouse “retains integrity of location, feeling, and a strong association with its most significant inhabitant,” according to a report by the New York State Parks Department.

“It is the most important and sole surviving building associated with this significant period in Olmsted’s life; it is substantially intact to the Olmsted period, and it would be clearly recognizable to him and his family,” according to the report.

Photos courtesy of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

In addition to its connection with Olmsted, who designed Central and Prospect Parks, grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and other notable projects, the farmhouse is one of the first landmarks to be recognized in New York. In 1967, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the house as an individual landmark, just two years after the commission formed.

The home was sold in 2006 to the New York City Parks Department, which had plans to preserve the farmhouse and create a public park on the grounds around it. But 14 years later, the house remains abandoned.

In 2017, the New York Landmarks Conservancy began its push to save the property from neglect and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fundraise for much-needed stabilization work. Thanks to a number of grants, the group was able to complete mortar restoration work on the stone foundation this year.

If approved for both the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places, the Olmsted-Beil House could become eligible for more grants and historic rehabilitation tax credits.

The state’s Board for Historic Preservation this week recommended 17 other properties, including a historic Black community on Long Island, a village in the Hudson Valley associated with a once-booming violet industry, and other celebrated structures.

“The nominations highlight the broad diversity of our state, its people, and their stories,” Erik Kulleseid, commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said. “This recognition helps support ongoing efforts made by many people over the years to protect and appreciate New York’s fascinating history.”

Nominations must be approved by the state historic preservation officer to be placed on the New York State Register of Historic Places. Then, properties are nominated for the National Register.


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