Approaches, roads, avenues, and other circulation routes have always been an important component of American landscape design, but the term drive as a designation for a carriage road (as opposed to walks and paths for pedestrians and horseback riders) did not come into common usage in America until the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Even then it appears to have been used only by treatise writers. Although earlier sites, such as Monticello and Mount Vernon, included similar serpentine ways leading to the house, these routes usually were designated as avenues or roads.
A. J. Downing distinguished a drive from an approach, placing emphasis on the location of the roadways within an estate. In his lexicon, an approach, whether straight in the manner of the “ancient style” or serpentine following the “modern style,” led the traveler from the public road to the house. The drive, in contrast, began where the approach terminated and carried the visitor through the estate, as with the several miles of graveled drives that he praised at Beaverwyck, near Albany, or the circuitous drives of Anthony Bleeker’s 1847 plan for Point Breeze [Fig. 1] in Bordentown, N.J. Other treatise writers, such as James E. Teschemacher in 1835, used the term “drive” more broadly to include curvilinear drives to the house, those that Downing would have called “approaches.” The majority of descriptions of drives, with their sweeping curves (which allowed one to experience the changing scenery of the landscape), relate to the large estates of America’s wealthiest families. Only by the mid-nineteenth century did the term’s meaning shift, when George Jaques in 1852 applied the term to circulation routes at residential dwellings of modest scale. As such, the meaning began to approximate the contemporary term driveway.
As the term itself implies, a drive was part of the processional experience of the natural or picturesque landscape.  It offered the carriage traveler varied scenery, views of distant prospects, and glimpses of the main house [Figs. 2–4]. Views of the house that became evident as one approached from an oblique angle, Downing noted, were beneﬁcial for “displaying not only the beauty of the architectural façade but also one of the end elevations.” Thus, the views gave “a more complete idea of the size, character, or elegance of the building.” Where possible, these modern drives took advantage of the natural scenery, as in Downing’s design for Montgomery Place on the Hudson, where he followed his own advice that a road “should never curve without some reason, either real or apparent [his itlaics].” The intricacy of the circulation routes and their incorporation of views are further exempliﬁed in John Notman’s plan of 1846 for Woodlawn in Princeton, N.J. [Fig. 5].
The feature of the drive in public space offered a more affordable venue for pedestrians and horseback riders to enjoy the natural and artiﬁcially constructed beauty of the Schuylkill River and Fairmount Waterworks, Gray’s Ferry, and Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia [Fig. 6]. Downing’s plan for Washington, D.C., incorporated several miles of drives for carriages (as opposed to walks for pedestrians) to enable visitors to circulate through the national park. In this case, the drive was also a means to an end, allowing visitors to beneﬁt from the didactic purposes of the “sylvan museum.”
The attention given in American land.scape designs of the 1840s to circulation routes suitable for carriages in both public and residential space may partly reﬂect the technological innovations in vehicle suspension systems that had developed in England. These improvements and the simultaneous efforts to develop roadways allowed faster travel that, in turn, was instrumental in the growing practice of touring British country estates.  While touring was not as highly developed in America, landscape designs often incorporated the same aesthetic principles of opening views and creating a varied experience for the visitor driving through the landscape.  Downing cautioned that “the curves should never be so great, or lead over surfaces so unequal, as to make it disagreeable to drive upon them.”
-- Elizabeth Kryder-Reid
- Much of Stephen Daniels’s discussion of the relation of Humphry Repton’s landscape design to road transportation in England is relevant to American landscape practice in the sec.ond quarter of the nineteenth century, although Repton himself does not appear to have used the term “drive” to refer to a road. See Daniels, “On the Road with Humphry Repton,” Journal of Garden History 16, no. 3 (autumn 1996): 170–91, view on Zotero. The Oxford English Dictionary also cites 1816 as the ﬁrst instance that “drive” was applied to a carriage road, especially a private road leading to a house.
- Daniels, “On the Road with Humphry Repton,” 170–73, view on Zotero.
- For an overview of the history of carriage design in America, see Merri McIntyre Ferrell, “A Harmony of Parts: The Aes.thetics of Carriages in Nineteenth-Century America,” in Nineteenth Century American Carriages: Their Manufacture, Deco.ration and Use (Stony Brook, N.Y.: The Museums at Stony Brook, 1987), 34–65, view on Zotero.