The City of Albany goes all out for Mother’s Day. On May 7 & 8, 2016, 100,000 blossoms will brighten Washington Park at the 68th Annual Tulip Festival. Beginning with the ceremonial scrubbing of State Street, and continuing with the Tulip Queen Coronation, Royal Tulip Ball, the 17th Annual Mother of the Year Award, Albany, NY’s tulip fest is a colorful celebration of Dutch heritage and imaginative communal space.
Tulip bed surround statue of Moses Smiting Rock (J. Massey Rhind, sculptor, 1893.) Corning Tower building peeks out in the background.
Washington Park was first conceived in 1869 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux when Albany was at the height of prosperity. Located at the north end of the Hudson River and the original eastern terminus of the Erie Canal, the capital city was a center of transportation and home to some of the earliest railroad systems in the world. In the 1860s, Albany, NY was one of the top 10 most densely populated cities in America, but still retained the open space–previously used for burial sites, military parade grounds, and even a drain tile factory–that was used to develop Washington Park.
Olmsted envisioned a series of parks and boulevards in Albany, with Washington Park as the crowning jewel. That dream was never realized, even as his idea to dam Beaver Kill to form a lake resulted in the picturesque 5.2 acre Washington Park Lake that now anchors one end of the park. John Bogart, an Albany native, and John Cuyler ended up drawing up plans for the 81-acre park in 1870, and much of the landscape took shape shortly thereafter under the guidance of Superintendent William S. Egerton during his 38-year tenure.
One of Washington Park’s earliest monuments, the Robert Burns Statue. (1888, Charles Calverley, Sculptor.) The bronze of the Scottish bard was funded by Mary McPherson, a Scottish resident of Albany.
Although park statues fared well in the following century, time was not so kind to other structures.
Remains of Victorian-era water fountain shelter laid out next to open space once used for croquet.
By the 1920s, several showed wear and tear and were slated for renovations. The Old Lake House was torn down, and replaced by J. Russell Wright’s elaborate Spanish Revival building in 1929–opening just days before the stock market crash.
Lakeside view of Washington Park’s Lake House.
View of Washington Park Lake House from stadium seating.
It was decades before Washington Park saw a revival. In the spring of 1940, the City of Albany planted 90,000 bulbs and was rewarded by increased attendance prompted by curiousity about the spectacle. In 1948, Mayor Corning named the tulip as Albany’s official flower and put in a request for Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to designate a particular variety, resulting in the Orange Wonder being the Tulip of Albany. And so the Tulip Festival was born in 1949.
Is this the Orange Wonder that is the Tulip of Albany? Center tulip display, Albany Tulip Festival, Albany, NY, 2013.
Every year since, spectators and garden enthusiasts have came to see how the tulips will look this year. Every year the garden beds are unique as different varieties are selected, and bulb combinations are rearranged in new and unusual combinations.
Fritillaria Imperialis with assorted tulips and Grape Hyacinths. Albany Tulip Festival, 2013.
What you see changes from year to year, and even day to day. This year, I dropped by a full week before the festival, when many buds remain closed.
Silverstream, an early variety, was just beginning to open.
Silverstream, Darwin Hybrid Family
Barely open, but the blushing pink tulips drew amateur and professional photographers like moths to a flame.
Richard Mitchell, of Ethereal Shooter Photography, casts a warm glow on tulips with a golden diffuser. Michael Boettcher, of Desdelan Photography, looks on.
I shot my fair share of the Silverstream tulips, but my favorite photo of the day was that of a young girl, whose beauty put the flowers to shame.
Washington Park is a Northeast garden gem; no wonder it was named one of 100 Great Parks by the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2000.
To learn more about Washington Park, visit Washington Park Conservancy.
For the Albany Tulip Festival schedule and other events in Albany, NY, visit Albany.org.
Source: “Washington Park: Rooms with a View,” Cornelia Brooke Gilder. Albany Architecture. Edited by Diana S. Waite, Mount Ida Press, 2009.