An Award-Winning Partnership: Restoring Branch Brook Park

March 24, 2023

When the Olmsted firm began the design of Branch Brook Park in 1898, it was the start of nearly 40 years of work to gradually develop this iconic property in downtown Newark, Essex County, New Jersey. The four-mile-long park had originally been conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., as far back as 1867. Among the celebrated firm’s signature projects, Branch Brook Park was the nation’s first county park and has served for more than a century as a cherished public space within this dense urban community.

In 2001, Rhodeside Harwell was privileged to be selected to support Essex County and the Branch Brook Park Alliance (BBPA) with detailed stewardship planning, leading to more than 15 constructed design projects for the long-term rehabilitation of this historic property.

Our work began with a seven-volume Cultural Landscape Report (CLR). Much like the Olmsted firm’s multi-decade design effort, our partnership with the BBPA and Essex County in the park’s ongoing restoration and preservation has now continued for more than 20 years, and we currently have several new projects on the boards.

Branch Brook Park’s 365 acres feature meadows, woodlands, lush gardens and groves, trails, and recreation areas. We often talk about Branch Brook Park in the spring, when the beautiful flowering cherry trees are in full bloom. Did you know that Branch Brook Park has the largest collection of cherry blossom trees in the country? With more than 5,200 trees, it is larger than Washington, DC’s collection!

Today, we are honored to share the news that our work at Branch Brook Park has received its sixth major award: the 2022 Potomac ASLA Chapter Merit Award for Historic Preservation. Our previous awards include an Honor Award from the NJ ASLA Chapter for the CLR and our first restoration projects, recognition from the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee for Outstanding Preservation Efforts, a Potomac ASLA Chapter Merit Award for Distinguished Engineering for trail restoration, an American Planning Association (APA) National Planning Achievement Award, and a Preservation American Steward Award signed by First Lady Michelle Obama from the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The APA also listed Branch Brook Park as one of America’s 10 best places to visit. 

The restoration of this landmark site has served as inspiration to many other towns and cities looking to reclaim the natural splendor of their own municipal parks. We applaud the work of the Essex County and BBPA, we thank them for the honor of working with them for more than 20 years, and we encourage all to visit this wonderful park!