How Many People Did it Take to Plant a Tree in Prospect Park in 1867?

Photo via the Prospect Park Archives

    by

    It is hard to imagine today when the tree shaded pathways and groves of Prospect Park seem to have always existed, but the bucolic landscape was a carefully planned, massive undertaking.

    Construction on the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux began in the summer of 1866 with a huge team of stonemasons, carpenters, gardeners and engineers.

    A hefty 43,292 trees and shrubs were planted in the landscape in 1867 alone, according to Prospect Park: Olmsted & Vaux’s Brooklyn Masterpiece, a history of the park by David P. Colley.

    vintage brooklyn prospect park trees illustration

    Illustration from the 1869 Annual Report of the Brooklyn Park Commissioners via Prospect Park Archives

    Many of these were not tiny little saplings but large trees with massive root balls. To tackle the enormous task, engineer John Y. Culyer, who had previously worked with Olmsted in Central Park, designed what he called a “tree-moving machine.”

    While it looks like a regular wooden horse-drawn wagon, just compare the size of one of the men in the picture above with the size of the wheels — it was enormous and required a small crew to operate. Several of the wagons were built and, according to the 1871 Annual Report of the Brooklyn Park Commissioners, 843 trees were moved in the park in 1870 using either Culyer’s machines or other methods.

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