2022 is the Frederick Law Olmsted Bicentennial Year, with Explorations of the Olmsted Legacy Taking Place across the Country

This guest post is by Barbara Bair, a historian in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, and specialist for the division’s Olmsted collections.

Colorized postcard depicting trails and reflecting pool at Mount Royal Park in Montreal

The Reservoir, Mount Royal Park, Montreal, Detroit Photographic Co., c.1901, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The year 2022 marks the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), farmer, traveling commentator on the pre-war American South, park commissioner, mining estate and wartime administrator, and pioneer of the landscape architecture profession.

Best known for the collaborations through which he created long-lasting public outdoor spaces including New York’s Central Park, the Emerald Necklace of Boston, Montreal’s Mount Royal recreation area, and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, Olmsted and his associates also worked in planning the physical design for a myriad of private estates, memorials, cemeteries, school and university campuses, hospitals, hotels, expositions, resorts, parkways and residential communities.

Olmsted’s legacy in design was carried forward into the twentieth century by his sons, Frederick (“Rick”) Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870-1957) and John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920), and the members of their Brookline, Massachusetts, landscape architectural firm. They took on jobs in all regions of the country, helped to foster the modern fields of conservation and urban planning, and aided in shaping the U.S. national park and state park systems.

The Library of Congress Manuscript Division is home to the personal papers of Frederick Law Olmsted and the records of the Olmsted Associates successor firms.  The bulk of these collections are digitized and available on the Library of Congress web site for use by students, teachers, and researchers.

Individuals and local preservation groups researching Olmsted-designed parks, neighborhoods, and properties in their home towns or cities can make use of the digitized collections, which are also easily accessed through the existing online finding aids, with their “digital content available” links.

They can also volunteer to transcribe or review transcriptions of original letters, reports, proposals, and other materials created by Olmsted and those with whom he worked, through the Library’s newly launched “By Design: Frederick Law Olmsted & AssociatesBy the People crowdsourcing transcription campaign.

The Olmsted crowdsourcing transcription campaign begins with the Subject File portion of the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers and will continue with other sections of the Olmsted collections at the Library of Congress.  A handy geographical guide created by By the People community manager Abigail Shelton helps volunteers access the Subject File based on locations around the United States and beyond our national borders.

The Library of Congress is also planning an Olmsted Bicentennial display in spring, and a May 2 virtual symposium.  As 2022 progresses, you can find out more about future Olmsted events at the Library and at other venues around the country by visiting the National Association for Olmsted Parks Olmsted 200 web site.

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