Courtesy of the National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

One of the first planned communities in the U.S.—Riverside, IL (Project Number 00607)—is said to be the realization of Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of the ideal suburb. Riverside was designed by Olmsted to be a place of tranquility, combining the best of the city and the country. In 1869, Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux produced a plan for the new community west of Chicago. The village, which remains preserved today, features curved roads, village greens, and gas streetlights with many streets named after botanists, landscape designers, authors, and others who influenced Olmsted’s work and landscape philosophy. 

In contrast to the grid street design of Chicago, Olmsted employed the natural landscape along the Des Plaines River to develop Riverside, highlighting the beauty of the country instead of building over it. He created roads with continuous and gradual curves designed to achieve “comfort … of movement.” Riverside was one of the first communities to offer both the convenience of the city and the idyllic open spaces of the countryside. 

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, Riverside’s design and architecture are steeped in history. Many of the structures were designed by prominent architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. Some of the town’s distinctive buildings—such as Wright’s Avery Coonley estate—are also National Landmarks. William LeBaron Jenney’s iconic water tower and the town hall exemplify Riverside’s distinctive architecture and impressive preservation efforts.

Due to strict zoning requirements and the efforts of Riverside’s Frederick Law Olmsted Society and other preservationists, the community has adhered to Olmsted’s plans over time to protect the village design. Riverside’s well-preserved historic district offers residents and visitors a step back in time with its quaint roads and abundant greenery. Riverside is one of the best places to learn about Olmsted’s legacy, with the public library boasting an extensive collection of books and materials relating to Olmsted’s work. 
For more information, visit the Frederick Law Olmsted Society of Riverside’s website.