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Collection Frederick Law Olmsted Papers

Farmer and Writer, 1822-1852

A timeline from Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth in Hartford, Connecticut, through his early education and his interest in scientific farming.

  • 1822, Apr. 26

    Born in Hartford, Connecticut, the first child of prosperous dry-goods merchant John Olmsted (1791-1873) and Charlotte Hull Olmsted (1800-1826).

    Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr, 1822-1903. engraved by T. Johnson ; from a photograph by James Notman. 1893 Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-36895
  • 1824, Dec. 22

    Future collaborator Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) born in London, England.

  • 1825, Sept. 2

    Brother John Hull Olmsted (1825-1857), born in Hartford, Connecticut.

  • 1826, Feb 28

    Mother Charlotte Hull Olmsted died of a laudanum overdose.

  • 1827, Apr. 25

    Father John Olmsted wed Mary Ann Bull (1801-1894). The two had six children, born between 1828 and 1842; three of whom lived to maturity.

  • 1828, Aug.

    Visited Niagara Falls with his uncle Owen Pitkin Olmsted (1794-1873).

  • 1829

    Began study with Congregational pastor Reverend Zolva Whitmore (1792-1867) in North Guilford, Connecticut. Whitmore was a lover of nature and an avid gardener, whose antislavery and temperance views had an impact on his young charge.

  • 1831-1836

    Lived and studied privately with Reverend Joab Brace in Newington, Connecticut.

  • 1836

    Attended Hartford Grammar School.

  • 1837-1840

    Learned surveying with civil engineer and mathematics teacher Frederick A. Barton in Andover, Massachusetts, and Collinsville, Connecticut. Traveled to New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., with his father. The Olmsted family's next-door neighbor in Hartford was the Congregational theologian Horace Bushnell (1802-1876).

  • 1840

    Gained business experience as a clerk for a dry-goods importer in New York City.

  • 1841

    Domestic architect and landscape theorist Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852) published A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening Adapted to North America.

  • 1842

    Visited his brother John at Yale University. Andrew Jackson Downing published Cottage Residences, featuring picturesque designs of small houses and pastoral grounds.

  • 1843, Apr. 23

    Sailed for China as an apprentice seaman abroad the bark Ronaldson, which, under the command of Captain Warren Fox, carried ginseng and dry goods for trade. Rounded the Cape of Good Hope, crossed the Indian Ocean, and arrived at Whampoa, near Canton, China, September 8.

  • 1844, Apr. 15

    Returned to New York City aboard the Ronaldson. Went to Connecticut, and delved deeply into the study of farming and agricultural science.

  • 1845

    Learned farming techniques with Joseph Welton in Waterbury, Connecticut. Joined John Hull Olmsted and friends, all students at Yale University. The friends included Charles Loring Brace (1826-1890), Frederick Kingsbury (1823-1910), and Charles Trask. Attended scientific lectures without officially enrolling in the school. Andrew Jackson Downing published Fruits and Fruit Trees of America. Determined to pursue the profession of scientific farming.

  • 1846, Apr.

    Began apprenticeship at the Camillus, New York, farm of agricultural reformer and civil engineer George Geddes (1809-1883).

  • 1846, Summer

    Andrew Jackson Downing in July began publishing The Horticulturalist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste. Downing later published several Olmsted pieces in the magazine. Traveled with his father to Niagara Falls and Montreal. Struggled with religious beliefs and read Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus.

  • 1846, Nov.

    Financed by his father in the purchase of a 70-acre farm on the Sachem's Head peninsula, near the town of Guilford, Connecticut.

  • 1847, Feb.

    Moved to his Sachem's Head farm. Took up vegetable farming in rocky soil at Sachem's Head and investigated fruit tree cultivation. Brother John graduated from Yale.

  • 1848, Mar.

    Again financed by his father, moved to a larger farm, "Tosomock," on Staten Island, New York, on the Raritan Bay. Specialized in fruit trees and entered the nursery trade. Frederick Kingsbury later observed that Tosomock, where Olmsted made renovations to beautify and increase yields, was in effect Olmsted's first major landscape design.

  • 1848, Oct.

    John Hull Olmsted took up medical studies at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.

  • 1849

    Became involved in the Richmond County Agricultural Society on Staten Island.

  • 1850, May

    Traveled to Liverpool with brother John and Charles Loring Brace. Viewed Birkenhead Park. Embarked on a walking tour of England. Discussed horticulture, farming, and drainage techniques with nurserymen, farmers, and growers while visiting France, Belgium, Holland, German, Ireland, and Scotland.

  • 1850, Oct. 24

    Returned to the United States and advocated advanced technological methods for deep drainage systems in management of farm land, based on agricultural reforms witnessed in England.

  • 1851, May

    Using the pen name "Wayfarer," published a well-received analysis of the public Birkenhead Park near Liverpool, England, in The Horticulturalist. Urged by neighbor and book publisher George P. Putnam (1814-1872) to write a book about his walking tour of England.

  • 1851, Summer

    Entered brief engagement to be married with Hartford acquaintance Emily Baldwin Perkins (1829-1914), the granddaughter of Lyman Beecher and niece of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Engagement ended abruptly by Perkins, who later married the well-known Unitarian minister Edward Everett Hale (in 1852). The Hales became supporters of Olmsted's plans for the Boston public park system in the later part of his career. Increasingly involved in the literary and journalism world of New York. Published "A Voice from the Sea," a sympathetic article on the difficult life and laboring conditions experience by sailors, in the American Whig Review.

  • 1851, Aug.

    Brother John Hull Olmsted experienced a severe lung hemorrhage, which was a sign of a turn for the worse in his struggle with tuberculosis.

  • 1851, Oct. 16

    John Hull Olmsted married his fiancé and his brother's farm neighbor from Staten Island, Mary Cleveland Perkins (1830-1921).

  • 1851

    Calvert Vaux moved from London to Newburgh, New York, and worked for Andrew Jackson Downing.

  • 1852, Feb.

    Published the first volume of Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England, followed by a second volume in October.

  • 1852, July 28

    Andrew Jackson Downing tragically killed at age thirty-six in the Henry Clay steamboat explosion on the Hudson River. Downing's ideas continued to inspire Olmsted's interests in scientific farming, domestic architecture, rural aesthetics, and urban parks. Olmsted was also inspired by Downing's advocacy for a large public park in New York that would meet the needs of all ages and social classes, and by his ideas for a park-like treatment of the National Mall in Washington.

  • 1852, Summer

    Wrote an essay on a variety of pear for The Horticulturalist and another about Fourierist utopianism for the New-York Daily Tribune.

  • 1852, Sept. 14

    John Hull Olmsted and Mary Cleveland Olmsted's first child, John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920), born in Switzerland.

  • 1852, Dec.

    On the recommendation of Charles Loring Brace, was engaged by the New-York Daily Times to write, as a traveling correspondent, about agricultural methods and economy in the American South, including slavery. Departed on the assignment, traveling to Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

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