Frederick Law Olmsted’s lesser-known partner in “Olmsted & Vaux” was Calvert Vaux, who designed many of the Buffalo park system’s early buildings and structures, including the Farmstead, which was built in 1875 “to be used as a residence and office by the General Superintendent” of the parks.
The house and barns stood in what is now the Buffalo Zoo’s parking lot.
An 1877 report states, “Beside the dwelling house, a roomy stable, a fowl house, several enclosed sheds for the steam roller, the water sprinklers and the mowing machines, and for the storage of all the implements and tools in general use on the parks.”
All of the limestone used in the construction of the Farmstead buildings was mined from the neighboring park quarry — a now-filled-in area in front of the Parkside Lodge and Delaware Park golf course starter’s area.
Later, a barn was built to “give storage room for hay and stable room for a good flock of sheep, which we hope to keep hereafter, of sufficient number to graze the large meadow.”
Parks leaders experimented with having sheep graze what is now the Delaware Park golf course, instead of mechanically mowing the vast lawns. Besides maintaining the grass, a commissioner’s report says, “their presence on the broad lawn will be an additional attraction to Park visitors and will give a natural animation to the quiet pastoral character of this portion of the Park.”
The home — and who had the right to live in it — became a political hot potato in 1922, when the new parks commissioner decided he wanted to move into the home, which had been mostly offices for several years previous.
An article on the front page of the Buffalo Express during that battle described the home this way:
The house is of another day, but it is a fine big rambling structure and, decorators say, it has great possibilities with the expenditure of a few thousand dollars to bring it up to date. The east side of the house and grounds are guarded by the iron fence that borders Parkside avenue. A picket fence protects the rear from invasion by any of the everyday folk who visit the zoo and who may make the mistake of thinking that all of the park is theirs. In front is a park of large elms and maples, and south and west as far as vision reaches are the rolling meadow and vistas of shrubbery and groves. Beside the narrow gravel walk which leads to the main entrance is a large new sign in letters of gold five or six Inches high which reads: PRIVATE.
It’s unclear exactly when the Superintendent’s House was torn down, but in 1941, Buffalo’s Common Council authorized the collection of a 10-cent fee for motorists who parked in “an area adjacent to the park zoo being prepared for the parking of automobiles.”
The 185,000-square-foot lot, which had been the site of the Superintendent’s House, would provide parking space for 320 automobiles and “relieve congestion on streets and park roads adjacent to the zoo, caused by automobiles parked by zoo visitors,” according to Parks Commissioner Edward G. Zeller.