Roads designed for pleasure: British influences on the American Motor Parkway
Marriott, Paul Daniel
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By 1800 the idea of pleasure driving, traveling through the landscape in a vehicle to appreciate nature and scenery, became not only popular, but also practical. What began in Britain as a recreational pastime for the upper classes soon found its way to the public parks of America and became the “Sunday Drive” of the early automobile era. This thesis demonstrates that a critical convergence of science and theory at the end of the eighteenth century propelled the development of the first roads constructed for no purpose other than driving for pleasure. Leading this movement was the renowned landscape gardener Humphry Repton. This thesis will examine the convergence of theory and science, using Repton as the central historical figure. By tracing the dissemination of his writings on roads, it will demonstrate his influence on the design of pleasure roads in nineteenth century America and, by extension, the automobile parkways of the early twentieth century. To do so, it will focus on the transatlantic conversations of four men: John Claudius Loudon, Andrew Jackson Downing, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, during a period which saw the ascendency of the profession of landscape architecture in America with the development of the rural cemetery and New York’s Central Park. Beginning with Brooklyn’s Prospect Park it will establish the physical and philosophical origins of the first “park-‐ways” created to address metropolitan growth and pleasure driving, and assess the impact of the public health movement, through river reclamation, in defining the serpentine alignment that would come to distinguish the parkway form. Lastly, it will trace the legacy of these influences as American landscape architects designed a new class of pleasure roads expressly for the motorcar—culminating in 1925 with the Bronx River Parkway in Westchester County, New York—the first automobile parkway in the world.