==History==
As an integral element of circulation routes
through the designed landscape, walk is one
of the most common terms in American garden
descriptions. Walks were highly varied in
their composition, arrangement, and plantings.
While widths varied, a narrow walk limited
to foot traffic was often called a path,
while a broad, straight walk lined with trees
was often called an avenue (see Avenue).
Walks were configured in numerous ways
and composed of different materials such as
brick, shell, gravel, packed dirt, tan (or tan
bark), and turf. From most images of walks
it is difficult to discern their composition,
but contrary to brick paving, which was popular
only in colonial revival gardens, textual
references appear to indicate that gravel
was a surface commonly used. William
Forsyth in his 1802 treatise recommended
sand or sea-coal ashes on a foundation of
brick rubble or gravel for building a walk in a
kitchen garden. He noted the ease of maintenance
of such surfaces, which were
weeded simply by raking. It is interesting to
note that despite changing trends in garden
styles, treatises remained remarkably consistent
in their advice and instruction. Entire
passages were frequently borrowed or
adapted from earlier publications.
 
Walks were planted in a variety of ways.
They could have borders of low shrubbery or
plants, as in a painting by Charles Fraser
[Fig. 1], or be lined with pots or statues, as at
Vauxhall Garden in New York in 1816. Lombardy
poplars and other tall, straight trees
accentuated the linearity of axial walks and
the formality of urban avenues, including
Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C.
[Fig. 2]. Such spreading shade trees as elm,
myrtle, and live oak formed arching
canopies over walks, an effect that John
James in his 1712 translation of A.-J. Dézallier
d’Argenville called “Close” walks. Although
this term does not appear to be used in
America, the technique, which framed views
and invited cooling strolls, was described at
sites such as Boston Common.
 
While their form varied widely, walks
served essentially the same functions: to
provide passage and to direct movement
through the garden; to focus a viewer’s gaze
toward an object, building, or prospect; and
to structure and divide the garden. In colonial gardens, the walk was often the principal
structuring element of the space, dividing
a small garden adjacent to a structure
into regular geometric shapes, such as the
walks depicted in an unidentified late
eighteenth-century garden [Fig. 3]. In more
naturalistic and picturesque designs that
became popular in the nineteenth century,
walks created routes by which visitors were
led to carefully sited garden structures or to
crafted vistas, as described in Thomas Jefferson’s
c. 1804 plan for his mountaintop
landscape [Fig. 4] or A. J. Downing’s 1849
plan for a country seat. In addition, walks
 
offered a means to organize the visual logic
of a site by directing a visitor’s gaze to distant
views or focal points within the garden,
such as obelisks, pavilions, gates, or seats.
Walks could also create the illusion of distance
if their designers manipulated their
dimensions and layout. This resulted in an
impression of greater depth, a particularly
useful effect in smaller urban lots. The
dimensions of walks were determined by the
scale of their settings and their use. Forsyth
(1802), for instance, recommended that
walks be wide enough to admit a cart in
kitchen gardens, and Joseph Breck (1851)cautioned designers to leave enough room
for persons to “walk comfortably in a social
manner.”
 
In pictorial representations, walks served
many of these same functions. In a perspective
view of a building’s front façade, the
viewer is often encouraged to focus upon the
main entrance located at the terminus of a central walk or avenue [Fig. 5]. In the backgrounds
of portraits, particularly those from
the second half of the eighteenth century,
artists often depicted glimpses through a window
of their sitters’ gardens, in which walks
were presented in perspective with converging
sides to suggest the illusion of depth
[Fig. 6]. In aerial views, walks were often the
 
principle means of indicating the location and
existence of a garden, since plants, changing
topography, and surface treatments were less
easily rendered in plan. In other images, the
walk invites the viewer to dwell upon a destination,
such as a garden seat or viewing point,
or to venture further into the unseen garden,
as in John Trumbull’s 1792 plan for Yale College.
In all of these types of images, tracing
the line of the walk conveys a sense of movement
through the landscape, much as a visitor
might have experienced surprising “discoveries”
of views.
 
In addition to being a common feature in
early American gardens, walks were also the
setting for much recorded activity. William
Byrd II in his diary (1732) frequently mentioned
his own perambulations in the garden,
either alone or with gentlemen guests
after he had entertained them with a meal.
Charles Willson Peale described strolling
through the gardens of Annapolis, Md., in
language that echoes published accounts of
British and European tours.1 Walks were
social venues in public landscape designs
such as Boston Common, the State House
Yard in Philadelphia, a levee in New Orleans,
the Battery Park in New York, Fairmount
Park in Philadelphia [Fig. 7], and the avenues
of Washington, D.C. They were places to see
and be seen, and images of them in the second
quarter of the nineteenth century portray
their rising popularity as promenades
for the general populace. Numerous descriptions
and treatises of this period also praised the health-giving properties of these
walks and the virtues of fresh air and exercise,
particularly for the infirm, mentally ill,
and urban poor.
==Texts==

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