Fletcher Steele - a famous Pittsford son
For those of you familiar with the Pittsford Community Library, you may have had a meeting in or have seen the Fletcher Steele Room and you may have wondered for whom it was named. Due to an article published in 1963 in the Brighton Pittsford Post, you have this opportunity to "meet the man".
Fletcher Steele was a Pittsford native, but spent very little of his adult life in this community. He lived in the home on Monroe Avenue now occupied by Stuart and Nancy Bolger, a lovely home that is barely visible behind the tall bushes in front
Fletcher Steele was one of the most brilliant and famous landscape architects in the eastern United States. He created landscape designs for some of the most magnificent and beautiful residences in all of America. One well known estate was located in Asheville, NC and borders the world-famous Biltmore Hotel and manor house which was built for the Vanderbilts. Other designs and landscapes can be found in and around Rochester, as well as Pittsford.
Mr. Steele's father practiced law from the offices of what is now known to Pittsford residents, as "The Little House". That small building had once been located on the south side of Monroe Ave and when it was threatened with demolition, Fletcher Steele offered the corner of his lot for its relocation. A lease agreement was arranged between the Steele estate and Historic Pittsford.
Fletcher Steele was largely educated in his elementary years by his mother. He was what we now call," home schooled". This arrangement worked well, according to Steele, as it made for excellent concentration. For while he was studying, his sister and her friends were being instructed.
The remainder of his pre-college days were spent in a private boys school. When finished there, he attended Williams College and graduated in three years in the class of 1906. He said he completed college in three years to disprove his friends who said he couldn't do it and that he was just wasting time. With his individualistic way of thinking, he remarked about college, "that it was a lot of fun, but I can see no difference between a college educated man and the man who didn't get such an education". He said that he believed that a non college man had to work harder to prove himself. "Today", he stated," We have to keep sending our young people on to higher education to keep them out of the work force for a little longer". Such were the convictions of this controversial man.
Even as a young child, Fletcher Steele was drawn to improving landscape. He once remarked to an older friend of his mothers, how he felt the contours of Turk Hill were ugly and certainly could be changed to make them more attractive. He even then felt he was "addicted to the pull of the land".
After graduation from Williams College, he determined that he would enter the fledgling school of Landscape Architecture at Harvard. His family was not sure this was the correct course for their young son's life, but they would not deter him, nor would they support him. They assured him, however, that they would always pay for a ticket home, as long as it was back to Pittsford!
Steele enrolled in Harvard, but remained only two years. He felt that he learned more from experiences than from education. He did credit that institution with introducing him to a world famous professor from whom he learned much of the artistry that gave him his beginning. He spent more than 50 years in Boston and traveled extensively throughout the country while his reputation as a fine landscape designer grew. He thought of himself as "being lost in modern civilization". He disliked automobiles and the Americans dependence on them. He much preferred to travel by train.
Mr. Fletcher Steele, the Individualist, came back to Pittsford to retire, but at 80 years of age and in very good health, he found he could not just "sit and do nothing". He continued to design and author books and essays and those can be found in the library in the room so named for this famous Pittsfordian.