Photo of Herbert V. Kohler, Jr. courtesy of the Kohler Company

The National Association for Olmsted Parks and Olmsted 200 mourn the loss of Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., who died Saturday in the Olmsted-designed village he loved.  

While most know HVK as the visionary leader of the Kohler Company, we know him as a great devotee of landscape and sustainable design. Indeed, we venture to say that the planned Village of Kohler— designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm back in the 1920s— helped shape the aesthetic and landscape practices that informed his life and work.  

The Village of Kohler (Job No. 07384), Kohler Family Burial Lot (Job No. 09600), Riverbend (Job. No. 07351), and the Kohler Company (Job. No. 07392) were all designed by the Olmsted firm. And this was a heritage that HVK honored and appreciated. There are, frankly, few companies and few families with such a remarkable and long-standing focus on beautiful design. 

The Kohler Company, Kohler, WI,  Planting Plan for the New Office Building, Olmsted Brothers, March 12, 1925. Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service., Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.  

When HVK joined the Olmsted 200 honorary committee, he noted with pride in a letter to us that:   

Walter J. Kohler intended to develop a ‘garden community at the factory gate.’ This idea was developed with Sir Ebenezer Howard as they toured communities in England and then collaborated with the Olmsted Brothers.

In our committee meetings, HVK consistently touted Kohler as one of the most wonderful places on earth. Today, the Village of Kohler is notable for its curving roadways, parks, and graceful open greenspace which have, over time, been home to memorable community events such as family picnics and a concert by John Philip Sousa.  

Aiming to raise awareness of Kohler’s unique Olmsted heritage, in 2022, HVK spearheaded an array of superb programs marking Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday— including an Olmsted lecture series and an outdoor exhibit on display outside the Waelderhaus. In May, the Foundation sponsored a lecture and special tour of Riverbend, the residential property of HVK’s grandfather Walter Kohler which the Olmsted Brothers designed. The tour featured reproductions of the Olmsted plans and discussion on the current landscape design.   

In April, when Olmsted 200 sponsored a gala birthday party for Olmsted in Central Park, HVK was an engaged participant (as these pictures show).   

At the Central Park Boathouse for the Olmsted 200 Birthday Gala— with “Big Head Fred” and NAOP board chair Philip Schultz 
At the Central Park Boathouse for the Olmsted 200 Birthday Gala— with “Big Head Fred”

He was also one of many who contributed a personal birthday wish for Frederick Law Olmsted.     

We invite people to join Olmsted 200 in a planned walking tour of the Village this coming Sunday, September 11, as a thank you to Mr. Kohler who, like Olmsted, understood the power of beautiful landscapes to foster community and restore the soul.