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Collection Olmsted Associates Records

About this Collection

The digitized portion of the Olmsted Associates Records consist of approximately 149,000 items (366,518 images), scanned from 532 reels of microfilm reproducing the two largest series in the collection, the Letterbooks, 1884-1899, and Job Files, 1863-1971, which document the work of the Brookline, Massachusetts, landscape architectural firm and its widespread projects and commissions undertaken for private and public clients in the United States and Canada.  The Olmsted Associates Records overlap with, and continue beyond, materials in the closely related Frederick Law Olmsted Papers in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress. They include materials from the last major projects in the career of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), but mostly focus on the next generation and a new century, as Olmsted's two sons entered the landscape architecture profession under their father's tutelage, and then carried on the management and highly successful expansion of the Olmsted Brothers firm in the first half of the twentieth century. 

Olmsted's stepson (and adopted son) John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920) (see Olmsted Family) apprenticed with Olmsted as a young man. He managed the Olmsted Brothers firm from the mid-1890s (see Olmsted Firms), when the senior Olmsted withdrew from active participation in the profession, until his own death in 1920, carrying on much of the firm's correspondence and serving as a supportive mentor to assistants.  Projects he worked on with his father included the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, and private estates. His younger stepbrother, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870-1957), studied and then later taught in the newly fledged landscape architecture program at Harvard. He cut his teeth on Olmsted projects with the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  During the heyday of his career in the first four decades of the 1900s, he became a force in the conservation and national parks movements in the United States. He continued to lead the business until his retirement in 1949, and remained involved in recruiting clientele until his death in 1957. 

Over time the Olmsted firm had employees and partners from outside the Olmsted family who were involved in leading and assisting in various ways in its disparate projects (See "Associates of the Olmsted Firms, 1867-1980").  The thousands of projects reflected to a greater or lesser extent in the Olmsted Associates Records include arboretums; asylums and hospitals; burial plots, cemeteries and memorials; churches and cathedral grounds; country clubs, golf clubs, and women's clubs; expositions and fairs; industrial parks; libraries and grounds of government buildings; parkways, roadways, and highway designs; playgrounds; private estates; public parks, beaches, reservations, and recreation areas; subdivisions and residential communities; and schools, academies, and universities. Though many of the projects were based in states along the Eastern seaboard, from New England, to New York, the mid-Atlantic and Washington, D.C., areas, and down to Florida, the records extend to projects undertaken in all regions and many states, cities, and towns of the United States, including in the Midwest, West, Pacific Northwest, Southeast, and South, as well as into Canada.

A finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the Olmsted Associates Records at the Library of Congress is available online with links to the digital content on this site.

Description of Series

The collection is arranged in ten series and includes business correspondence, letterbooks, memoranda, reports, plans, specifications, newspaper clippings, photographs, drawings, journals, account books, ledgers, lists, diagrams, blueprints, deeds, and printed matter.  The first two series, which make up the bulk of the collection, are included in this digital presentation, while the remaining eight are available for research use in the Manuscript Reading Room.

  • Letterbooks, 1884-1899 (Containers A1-A76; Reels 1-42)
    The letterbooks comprising "Series A" document the firm's work from 1884 to 1899 and contain carbon copies of business letters dealing with subcontractual arrangements, cost estimates, planting procedures and instructions, and requests for information regarding prospective employees. Personal correspondence occasionally filed with these business letters provides insight into Frederick Law Olmsted's business and professional philosophy.  Also represented are firm associates Henry Sargent Codman (d. 1893) and Charles Eliot (d. 1897), both of whom died unexpectedly of illness while still young in their careers. Indexes to letterbooks A1-A68 and A69-A76 were reproduced on two reels of microfilm, which have also been digitized, and a printed copy is available in the Manuscript Division Reading Room.
  • Job Files, 1863-1971 (Containers B1-B523; Reels 1-479)
    Job files constituting "Series B" contain correspondence, memoranda, site studies, printed items, and other material related to projects undertaken by the Olmsted Associates firm. The file also serves as an administrative file containing personnel and other records as well as a limited amount of personal papers, including biographical articles relating to the Olmsted family. Many files in this series contain correspondence predating 1900 interfiled after the initiation of a later filing system.

The Job Files series is especially comprehensive for undertakings reflecting tract development, the relationship between beautification and pragmatic land use, and political and private philanthropic efforts to create recreational land areas. The files include landscape designs, layouts, and work arrangements. Many of the reports and other material document financial arrangements for county and municipal park systems in addition to designs for roads, buildings, and gardens seen as interrelated activities in landscape architecture. Projects undertaken by the firm ranged in size from small estates to park systems of thousands of acres, including the development of the Baltimore, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, and Hartford public park systems as well as privately donated public areas such as Fort Tryon Park in New York City, the gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Other files relate to such universities as Harvard, Stanford, and Tufts, the United States Military Academy, and private estates including "Biltmore," George W. Vanderbilt's manor in North Carolina.

Files pertaining to the District of Columbia contain material on the U.S. Capitol and White House grounds, complemented by additional material in the Special Correspondence Series D and on the U.S. National Zoological Park, the National Mall, the Lincoln memorial, and the work of the Washington Consultative Board and the National Fine Arts Commission. Records of the firm's involvement in city planning and suburban development illustrate the Olmsteds' ideas regarding the systematic expansion of urban areas. There are also materials on the Olmsted firm's involvement in the development of the Acadia National Park in Maine, and other conservation, arboretum, and recreation area efforts.

Complementing the Job Files are two sets of indexes. The first, termed Job Books, is a numerical listing which includes jobs undertaken by the firm as well as projects in which the firm was interested but did not perform. The second index consists of a microfilm copy of the firm's index cards for the Job Files, which lists jobs alphabetically, geographically, and by subject, though this latter index is not complete. Readers may also consult Charles E. Beveridge and Carolyn F. Hoffman, The Master List of Design Projects of The Olmsted Firm, 1857-1950 (New York, 1987) and its updated second edition, edited by Lucy Lawliss, Caroline Loughlin, and Lauren Meier (National Association for Olmsted Parks, National Park Service, and Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, 2008).

Some of the significant correspondents in the Job Files include Horace M. Albright, Daniel Chester French, Frances Benjamin Johnston, Henry Cabot Lodge, Gifford Pinchot, Whitelaw Reid, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Charles Sprague Sargent, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, William H. Taft, George W. Vanderbilt, and Booker T. Washington, as well as many architects, designers, engineers, nurserymen, and clients associated with Olmsted projects, including Daniel H. Burnham and the firm of McKim, Mead, and White. The Manuscript Division holds separate personal papers collections related to some of these individuals.

  • General Correspondence, 1884-1895 (Containers C1-C4) [not digitized]
    The "C Series" general correspondence is largely routine in nature, contains work requests and comments on park and estate development. Filed with these letters is an exchange of correspondence in 1889-1890 between Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, dealing with the redwoods in Yosemite, California.
  • Special Correspondence, 1874-1899 (Containers D1-D4) [not digitized]
    The "D Series" special correspondence includes a description of the work routine on the U.S. Capitol grounds by Edward Clark, Architect of the Capitol and job foreman, as part of the Capitol grounds correspondence.  Also included in this series are materials relating to landscaping of the Chicago World's Fair grounds in 1893 and a law suit filed against the firm in the late 1890s.
  • Business Records, 1868-1950 (Containers E1-E20) [not digitized]
    The "E Series" business records include financial records, field reports, nursery orders, and contractual agreements. Field reports present a detailed description of both small and large undertakings, step-by-step operational procedures, and staff orders. Monthly and quarterly reports in outline form list salary expenses, orders outstanding, and financial outlays for work completed. Complementing these records are journals, 1838-1950, enumerating supply expenses, work orders, income, salaries, and repair and interest expense.
  • Scrapbooks and Albums, 1893-1917 (Containers F1-F13) [not digitized]
    The "F Series" scrapbooks and albums series consists largely of scrapbooks of newspaper clippings dated 1893-1917 which provide local and national coverage of major park systems and world expositions landscaped by the firm. Highlighted in the scrapbooks are the design and development of such projects as parks in Boston and Buffalo, the Pan-American Exposition, 1899-1901, and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, 1906-1911. Two photograph albums concern the construction and landscaping of the Biltmore estate in North Carolina.
  • Miscellany, 1883-1964 (Container G1) [not digitized]
    The "G Series" of miscellany includes deeds and papers of the Olmsted family's Deer Isle, Maine, property as well as fragments of letters and undated materials.
  • Family Papers, 1868-1903 (Containers H1-H9) [not digitized]
    The "H Series" documents relationships between members of the Olmsted family. The material includes correspondence, a travel journal, letterbooks, and account books. A holograph journal kept by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., in 1894 outlines his activities while working for the Coast and Geodetic Survey. The landscaping of the Biltmore estate, also mentioned in his journal, is expanded upon in his letterbooks, emphasizing the design and development of roads, buildings, gardens, and extensive landscaping. Many letters retained in the letterbooks depict Olmsted's social life while working at the estate. A small group of John C. Olmsted's letters record his interests in tariff reforms, his New York Reform Club associations, and his investment interests. A small number of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.'s letters, together with correspondence of his wife, Mary, and their daughter, Marion, reflect family matters.
  • Oversize, 1889-1952 (Containers OV1-OV24) [not digitized]
    The oversize series primarily contains materials removed from other series due to storage size. It includes Job Series ("B") items that are large in format, and materials pertaining to colleges, parks, gardens, and estates.
  • Digital Files, 1906-1911 [not part of this digital presentation]
    The digital files series consists of digital images of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition scrapbooks from the Scrapbooks and Albums series. Also included is a brief finding aid for the images. The images were created by members of the Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks between 2004 and 2008 and are in JPEG format.  The digital files are served in the Manuscript Reading Room and require advance order for retrieval.

An important collection of additional Olmsted Associates records, including graphic materials related to the Library of Congress collection, is located in the Olmsted Archive at the Fredrick Law Olmsted National Historical Site in Brookline, Massachusetts (the Olmsted's Fairsted estate and offices), now maintained as part of the National Park System. For more information, see Related Resources and Expert Resources.