“AS IF THE FOUNTAINS OF THE GREAT DEEP WERE BEING BROKEN UP, AND THAT A NEW DELUGE WERE COMING ON THE WORLD”: GARDNER AND OLMSTED’S 1880 REPORT ON NIAGARA FALLS, WITH SIX FOLDING MAPS
(OLMSTED, Frederick Law and BARKER, George). GARDNER, James T. Special Report of the New York State Survey on the Preservation of the Scenery of Niagara Falls, and Fourth Annual Report on the Triangulation of the State for the Year 1879. Albany: Charles Van Benthuysen & Sons, 1880. Octavo, original gilt-stamped brown cloth. $900.
First edition of the 1880 New York Special Report, octavo edition, proposing preservation of Niagara Falls, substantially authored by Frederick Law Olmsted, with six folding maps (including two maps in the rear pocket), facsimile leaves from Hennepin’s New Discovery (1698), and featuring eight mounted vintage heliotype prints by renowned photographer George Barker.
This 1880 New York State Survey on the future of Niagara Falls, containing six large folding maps (two in the rear pocket) and eight vintage heliotype prints, was led by Frederick Law Olmsted and James T. Gardner. Their efforts came in response to concerns over preservation of the Falls in the 1870s. “Cherishing Niagara Falls as a great national symbol of nature, they called for a publicly owned reservation to safeguard the Niagara landscape… By 1879 Niagara activists began to have reason for optimism” when the governor and “legislature established a state survey ‘to determine the character of such defacements [at Niagara]… The survey, performed by Gardner and Olmsted, began at once and reached the anticipated conclusion that the private parceling of land around the cataract led to the unsightly and distasteful conditions at the Falls” (Irwin, New Niagara, 73).
Key to this Special Report’s power are its brilliant heliotype prints by George Barker, who was “renowned for views of Niagara Falls, in which rock and water spray are invested with spectacular drama” (Rosenblum, 140). It was Barker who especially “helped intensify the movement for a state reservation… [His] haunting photographs accompanying the 1880 survey depicted the starkly disfigured environs of Niagara. Barker’s images of the entrance to Goat Island, the enormous Bath Island paper mill, and the hotels and shops on the river’s edge verified that Niagara was far too disfigured to simply remove the structures and let nature take its course” (Irwin, 83). This is the octavo edition, with eight vintage heliotypes (and facsimile Plate XI), each measuring four-by-seven inches and tipped to heavy card stock, four folding maps (one lettered and outlined in red) and two large folding maps in rear pocket, two illustrated plates (one folding), along with facsimile leaves of selected text, a double-page illustration and the title page from Hennepin’s New Discovery of a Vast County in America (1698), as well as Reports by the Commissioner and the Director, Olmsted’s Notes, and numerous tables. Quarto edition with three maps published the same year, no priority established. Bookplate.
Plates, text and maps fresh, slight edge-wear to original gilt-stamped cloth. A near-fine copy.