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[Detail] Yosemite National Park, Mirror Lake and Mt. Watkin

Historical Comprehension: The Country Place Era

In the late nineteenth century, wealthy American industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller and Edsel Ford commissioned private country estates, creating what has come to be known as the Country Place Era in landscape and architectural design. The era lasted until about 1920 when the Great Depression chilled estate building, and designers' attentions were turned toward the public projects that were sponsored by the federal government.

Wells Estate, Allee

Wells Estate, AlleƩ, Newport, RI.

Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC.

This collection contains images of hundreds of private estates, including the country estates commissioned by entrepreneurs such as George Washington Vanderbilt, Henry F. du Pont, and William Gwinn Mather, as well as John D. Rockefeller and J. B. Ford. Search on these names to locate images of their estates. Or, use the Name Index to find examples of the work of the Era's leading designers, such as Charles Sargent Sprague, Beatrix Ferrand, Fletcher Steele, Frederick L. Olmsted, Charles Platt, Warren H. Manning, Jens Jensen, Ellen Shipman, and Marian Crugger Coffin. Finally, you may also browse images of estates using the links to houses and gardens on the collection homepage. These images convey a sense of the immense wealth of the period, as well as of the characteristics and tastes behind the Country Place Era.

  • Estate gardens were typically divided into "garden rooms," separated by walls and gates and joined by corridors. What effect would this create? How would it feel to be in such a garden or one of its rooms?
  • If you owned this estate, why would you go to the garden? How would you use it? Who else would use it?
  • How much attention is given to formality and to naturalism in these gardens? What does this suggest about the tastes of the owners and designers?
  • The landscape architecture of the Country Place Era is characterized by a mixture of Italian, French, and English influences. Why would entrepreneurs of the age want to reference European tastes and traditions?
  • What do these estates suggest about their owners and their roles in society?
  • Gardens on these estates mimicked the axial arrangements, reflecting pools, and fountains of European palaces, such as Versailles. What does this suggest about the owners and what they wanted to convey through their estates?
  • The Country Place Era was also an era of rapid urbanization. Explain the creation of these country estates within the context of social change caused by the growing American metropolis.
  • Why might there have been so many women in the field of landscape design as compared to other professions at the time?