Fans of the Olmsted legacy nationwide and around the world are looking forward to celebrating the 200th anniversary of Frederick Law Olmsted’s April 1822 birth, and to participating in and enjoying the many Olmsted 200 events sponsored by the National Association for Olmsted Parks and affiliated conservancies, societies, institutions, historic sites and preservation groups.  In association with the bicentennial, Olmsted parks and places everywhere are the focus of renewed study, appreciation, and revitalization. Newly online digitized collections from the Library of Congress help those interested in Olmsted’s life and the work of his sons, associates, and successor firms find out more from primary sources.  The digitized collections provide ease of use to anyone with Internet access, from the nation’s largest public library.

Frederick Law Olmsted, excerpt from “Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns; Read Before the American Social Science Association at the Lowell Institute, Boston, Feb. 25, 1870.” Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Click the image to see larger.

In his 1870 report to social scientists advocating the planning of green space as part of the expansion of cities and towns, Olmsted (1822-1903) reflected on his goals in creating Central Park with Calvert Vaux and expressed his ongoing philosophy of the importance of incorporating parks and greenways into urban landscapes generally.  Parks should be designed in the spirit of democracy to fulfill the gregarious impulse of a public citizenry, Olmsted argued. Parks brought an elusive bit of countryside into the heart of cities for those who could ill afford to venture outward.  Olmsted stressed the importance of easy access to green spaces and lowcosts for transportation and use for a variety of classes and people from different neighborhoods.   Olmsted parks offered greenways to walk to work, and places to go to leave a working world temporarily behind. They fed the soul through scenic beauty and provided those who lived in crowded housing and moved down busy streets opportunity for retreat, recreation, and exercise. In carefully planned places created with the future in mind. Visitors could walk, meet up with family, friends, and social groups to picnic, skate, ride, row, or play games, or simply sit to contemplate the boughs of a tree against the sky or the sound of birds calling.

Newly digitized resources open to public access from the Library of Congress can be used to consider Olmsted’s contributions to American life, landscapes, and urban planning. The digitized collections can be browsed by life-long learners and used for teaching from primary documents. Local groups working on the preservation of Olmsted parks in their town or city can study relevant documentation, often reaching back to a project’s start.  Undergraduates and graduates who sign up for the Olmsted 200 student essay competition can look up materials to illustrate their projects.

The collections cover more than parks. They touch on the wide array of involvement of Olmsted and his sons, partners, and associates in the planning or proposals for parks, estates, cemeteries, memorials, expositions, residences, parkways, and suburban communities, and the grounds of public places, state houses, institutions, and campuses. They also provide evidence of the many people, commissions, organizations, architects, engineers, nurseries, and business entities with whom they worked and collaborated, prospective clients and proposed or preliminary plans, and the patrons of their projects.


Sketch of the Olmsted farmhouse, Staten Island, New York. Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Click the image to see larger.

The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted from the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress are personal papers stemming from Olmsted’s life as a landscape architect and planner, and also as a father, brother, son and husband; a farmer and traveler; journalist and writer; business partner, administrator, and friend. The papers contain items written or prepared by Olmsted, but also a myriad of materials he saved or that were received by him from others.

Olmsted’s papers were acquired by the Library of Congress chiefly as a gift from Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and other members of the Olmsted family in 1947-1948 and 1968-1969.  In 1975, one of Olmsted’s first biographers, Laura Wood Roper, gave the Library approximately three thousand additional items.

A finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers is available online with links to the digital content on the web site.

The collection is arranged in eight series noted below.

  • Journals, 1777-1888
    Diaries and related material related to select members of the Olmsted family. Includes three journals by Frederick Law Olmsted covering brief periods in 1843, 1863, and undated. Arranged alphabetically by name.
  • Correspondence, 1838-1928
    Personal and business letters, including letterbooks from 1860 to 1865, and general correspondence from 1838 to 1928.  Arranged chronologically.
  • Subject File, 1857-1952
    Correspondence, maps, drawings, reports, newspaper clippings, printed matter, and other papers relating principally to Olmsted’s practice of landscape architecture and his partnerships and firms. Arranged alphabetically by subject and chronologically therein.
  • Speeches and Writings File, 1839-1903
    Handwritten, typewritten, galley proof, and printed copies of speeches, lectures, articles, essays, reports, and books with notes and other material, some fragmentary. Arranged chronologically.
  • Miscellany, 1837-1952
    Biographical material, correspondence list, name index, clippings, drawings, sketches, maps, financial and legal papers, notebooks, scrapbooks, calling cards, membership certificates, memorial material, and other printed and handwritten matter. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.
  • 1975 Addition, 1821-1924
    Correspondence, diary (1896), memorandum book (ca. 1888-1899), financial papers, reports, genealogical notes, newspaper clippings, printed matter, and other items. Subject file includes materials on Central Park, New York; Mount Royal Park, Montreal; and the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.
  • 1996 Addition, 1880-1881
    Charles E. Norton correspondence. Arranged chronologically.
  • Oversize, 1886
    Organized and described according to the series, folders, and boxes from which the items were removed. Includes Niagara Falls material, 1886 and undated.

A timeline and information about the Olmsted family and the Olmsted firms are available in the Articles and Essays portion of the digital humanities framework, which also features Related Resources and Expert Resources listings.  A carousel of documents featured across the top of the “About this Collection” portal page provides a sampling of the types of materials in the collection.

The personal papers available through the Library of Congress digital humanities presentation can be used in combination with the newly completed many-volume documentary edition of Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, which contains transcribed and annotated documents selected from many repositories,with the many excellent biographies and studies by Olmsted scholars, and the resources available online through the National Association for Olmsted Parks web site and the physical holdings of the National Park Service’s Olmsted Archive at the Frederick Law Olmsted Historic Site in Brookline, Massachusetts.


Letter from Charles W. Saunders, City of Seattle, Washington, Board of Park Commissioners, to Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., December 16, 1902, Olmsted Associates Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Click the image to see larger.

The Olmsted Associates Records from the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress take us through the transition into a new generation of the Olmsted family and highlight the work of Olmsted’s sons, John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted (“Rick”), Jr. and their associates based in Brookline and their many projects across the country and in Canada.

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.

  • Letterbooks, 1884-1899(Containers A1-A76; Reels 1-42)
    The letterbooks comprising “Series A” of the collection document the firm’s work from 1884 to 1899 and contain carbon copies of business letters dealing with sub-contractual 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.
  • 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.

A timeline and information about the Olmsted firms are available in the Articles and Essays portion of the Olmsted Associates framework and a carousel of featured content at the top of the About this Collection portal page provides a sampling of the types of materials in the collection.

Cablegram from George Vanderbilt to Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., re the Biltmore Estate, September 16, 1903. Olmsted Associates Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Click the image to see larger.

The primary resources in the Olmsted Associates Records Library of Congress digital presentation can be used in conjunction with 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). Most importantly, the National Association for Olmsted Parks Olmsted Online: Projects of the Olmsted Firm provides meticulous linking between the job file information in the digitized portion of the Library of Congress collection and project descriptions and other resources.

Barbara Bair is a historian in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress and curator of the Library’s Olmsted manuscript collections.