National Association for Olmsted Parks CEO Dede Petri speaks at the stone rostrum.

The Laurel Hill Association, an Olmsted 200 celebration partner, is the oldest community improvement organization in the country. Each year, it sponsors Laurel Hill Day, commemorating the organization’s founding and inviting speakers such as Booker T. Washington and Edward Everett Hale.

In August, Frederick Law Olmsted was front and center. The Association kicked off its Olmsted celebration with a talk by Hugh Howard, author of Architects of an American Landscape, and Nini Gilder, local historian and author of Houses of the Berkshires. The next day,  nearly 100 people attended an outdoor event featuring National Association for Olmsted Parks CEO Dede Petri, who emphasized Olmsted’s ideals of democracy and parks for all people. See the full event program and more photos here.

“Olmsted really believed in the public being invited in for free, to have the health benefits of a green space,” said Laurel Hill Association President Hilary Sommers Deely. “In the old days, only the elite had access to parks in many places. And it’s still that way in many places, like New York’s Gramercy Park, where you have to live there and get a key.” 

The event took place, as tradition requires, in an exquisitely beautiful native glen, which features a natural outcropping with a stone rostrum designed by Daniel Chester French. French is most famous for designing the Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial, and he was a long-term resident of the Berkshires, where his studio, Chesterwood, now is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Recognizing the bicentennial, the association created new explanatory signs about the glen. They also researched their Olmsted history, realizing that Olmsted and the Olmsted Brothers firm touched nearly 60 projects in the Berkshires. Indeed, back in the early 1900s, the Laurel Hill Association commissioned the Olmsted Brothers to improve the local railroad station (Job No. 05929).