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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Olmsted-Beil House

Most of these posts recount successful visits to parks, but it's fun to document failures as well. We heard that the Parks Department had taken over the Olmsted-Beil house on Staten Island, where Frederick Law Olmsted lived and worked, and thus we imagined that it, or at least its grounds, had opened to the public. How wrong we were!

The property is guarded by beefy, barking dogs (thankfully behind a neighbor's fence) and ferocious mosquitoes, so of course we didn't dare intrude beyond the "No Trespassing" sign that hung incongruously with the pleasantly welcoming historical information sign. These photos were taken by my top-secret drone camera. Even so, getting a good view of the house itself through the thick overgrowth isn't really possible.

This beat-up old annex is a little more accessible, if you dare to access it.

In the late 1600s the original land grantee, Petrus Tesschenmakr, built a one-room house which, according to the historical sign, "still survives as part of the basement" of the house that Olmsted inhabited in the mid-19th century. ("Tesschenmakr" might mean "bag-maker" in Dutch, or some old version of Dutch. On the other hand, it might not.) Olmsted called the property "Tosomok" (and what does that mean? I haven't found out, so I'm wildly postulating that Olmsted made up a Native American-sounding version of "Tesschenmakr") and turned what had been a wheat farm into a tree nursery, planting cedars of Lebanon, some of which still grow there, although someone better than I at identifying trees will have to certify whether this gnarly survivor is one of them:

Bobbing around back, my drone camera got a good view of how very un-maintained this property is.

The Parks Department has owned the house since 2006, a very short time in the history of the house but long enough, you'd think, to do some clearing and provide some public access. You'd think. That the "perpetual protection" indicated in the historic sign should be provided by hostile dogs and bloodthirsty insects was a surprise to me. Anyway, for now we'll have to settle for black-ops penetration and satellite views.

If you squint at the lower right corner of the above satellite image, you can see Google offering a "Report a problem" link. I have a problem: the Olmsted-Beil House isn't open. What do you think, should I click?

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