Olmsted Papers Project

Since its inception in 1972, The Frederick Law Olmsted Papers Project has served to identify Olmsted’s most significant personal and professional writings.

Image: Charlie Beveridge at Fairsted

Frederick Law Olmsted left an invaluable resource of personal and professional papers spanning the years of 1838 to 1895, which provide a unique perspective on American society and institutions in the 19th century.

Launched in 1972, The Frederick Law Olmsted Papers Project identified the most significant of these writings to present them in context in a readable, published 12-volume format.

In 2020, the Olmsted Papers Project achieved this goal. The series consists of nine books containing edited writings, one volume featuring important written work focused on parks, and two large-format illustrative volumes.

The project was advised by Daniel B. Botkin, Alexander Garvin, Kenneth T. Jackson, Francis R. Kowsky,  Arleyn Levee, Elizabeth Meier, Keith N. Morgan, Laurie D. Olin, Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Frederick R. Steiner and Robert D. Yaro.

Charles E. Beveridge

For 40 years, Dr. Charles E. Beveridge served as series editor of The Frederick Olmsted Papers. Thanks to his life’s work, the preservation community, landscape architects, scholars and the park-loving public have an unmatched resource of letters, park reports, plans and other documents that support informed protection of Olmsted’s enduring legacy.

Read More!

Volumes 1-9

Volume 1

The Formative Years, 1822-1822

Published: 1977

Editor: Charles Capen McLaughlin

Assistant Editor: Charles E. Beveridge

The volume begins with a short biography of Olmsted and a biographical directory of the friends and relatives who played leading roles in his early life. His letters show the skill in observation that made his later travel books so effective and provide a vivid picture of coming of age in New England in the 1840s. Included are fascinating letters written during a voyage in the China Trade 1842-43, and accounts of the trip to the British Isles in 1850 that he later described in his first book, Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England. Read the introduction to Volume 1 here.

Volume 2

Slavery and the South, 1852-1857

Published: 1981

Editor: Charles E. Beveridge and Charles Capen McLaughlin

Assistant Editor: David Schuyler

During these years, Olmsted traveled in the South and wrote his classic descriptions of southern society. The volume contains the personal letters and newspaper accounts that he did not include in his four books on the South. It also contains letters concerning his work in the “literary republic” of New York as the managing editor of Putnam’s Monthly Magazine, which published the work of promising American writers, including Melville and Thoreau. During this period Olmsted was also active in promoting free labor colonization in Kansas and Texas in an effort to halt the spread of slavery. Read the introduction to Volume 2 here.

Volume 3

Creating Central Park, 1857-1861

Published: 1983

Editor: Charles E. Beveridge and David Schuyler

This volume contains the most significant documents concerning the design and construction of Central Park and other city-planning activities in New York before the Civil War. Included is the complete original “Greensward” report and plan submitted by Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the design competition of 1858, accompanied by the “before and after” views they provided the park commissioners. Other documents tell how the design for the park changed during the early stages of construction, and how Olmsted supervised that massive operation. A concluding Pictorial Essay includes a “tour” of Central Park in the early 1860s by means of 65 photographs and stereographs taken in 1863 or earlier. Read the introduction to Volume 3 here.

Volume 4

Defending the Union: The Civil War and the U.S. Sanitary Commission, 1861-1863

Published: 1986

Editor: Jane Turner Censer

For the first two years of the Civil War, Olmsted served as general secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a civilian organization responsible for the health of soldiers in the Union Army. Olmsted’s letters tell of political intrigue and give a vivid description of events in the field — including the suffering during the Peninsula campaign, and the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg. Other documents portray his role in helping to define the purposes of Reconstruction — including efforts in early 1862 to expedite the “Port Royal Experiment” dealing with freed slaves on the South Carolina Sea Islands. Olmsted’s travel writing skills, seen earlier, reappear in his account of a trip through the Mississippi River valley. Read the introduction to Volume 4 here.

Volume 5

The California Frontier, 1863-1865

Published: 1990

Editor: Victoria Post Ranney

Associate Editor: Gerald J. Rauluk

Assistant Editor: Carolyn F. Hoffman

As general manager of the Mariposa Estate, Olmsted ran the largest gold-mining operation in the country. While there, he carefully observed frontier society and the stages of its development. His letters contain vignettes of frontier life and a series of chapters, some incomplete, published as “The Pioneer Condition and the Drift of Civilization in America.” Olmsted’s letters and journals describe summer camping trips and his work as head of the commission advising on Yosemite’s management as a public reservation. The volume contains Olmsted’s reports for major design projects : the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove reservation, a park system for San Francisco, Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, and the campus of the College of California in Berkeley. Read the introduction to Volume 5 here.

Volume 6

The Years of Olmsted, Vaux & Company, 1865-1874

Published: 1992

Editor: David Schuyler & Jane Turner Censer

Associate Editor: Carolyn F. Hoffman

Assistant Editor: Kenneth Hawkins

The volume contains reports on parks, park systems and city planning written during the partnership (from 1865 through September 1872), including Newark, New Britain, Hartford, Albany, Fairmount in Philadelphia, Fort Greene and Tompkins parks in Brooklyn, and Union Square in Manhattan. Other projects include Prospect Park and adjoining parkways in Brooklyn, the Buffalo park system, the Chicago South Park, and work on Central, Riverside and Morningside parks. The volume includes reports for Riverside, Illinois, and Irvington and Tarrytown on the Hudson, Gallaudet College and the planning of national agricultural colleges presented with plans for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Maine. Also included are letters by Olmsted to Charles Eliot Norton and Samuel Bowles on Reconstruction policies and politics. Read the introduction to Volume 6 here.

Volume 7

Parks, Politics and Patronage, 1874-1882

Published: 2007

Editor: Charles E. Beveridge, Carolyn F. Hoffman & Kenneth Hawkins

Assistant Editor: Tina Hummel

The volume documents Olmsted’s work following his partnership with Vaux, his dismissal from the New York City parks department in 1878 and his gradual move to Boston during the early 1880s. Reports include design of Riverside Park and Tompkins Square in Manhattan, street and rapid transit systems in Riverdale and other sections of the Bronx, correspondence regarding design of the U.S. Capitol grounds and Mount Royal , and his collaboration with Leopold Eidlitz and Henry Hobson Richardson in the redesign of the New York State capitol. Documents outline Olmsted’s leading role in creating a scenic reservation at Niagara Falls, as well as the Boston park system, and his planning of the Back Bay Fens, Arnold Arboretum and Muddy River s. Also included is an annotated version of “The Spoils of the Park,” as well as materials reflecting his views on Reconstruction policy and the election of 1876. Read the introduction to Volume 7 here.

Volume 8

The Early Boston Years, 1882-1890

Published: 2013

Editor: Ethan Carr, Amanda Gagel & Michael Shapiro

Olmsted relocated from New York to Boston in the early 1880s. With the help of his stepson and partner, John Charles Olmsted, the office became the first modern landscape architecture practice . This volume covers design of the Boston and Brookline park system— as well as parks in New York City, Rochester, Buffalo and Detroit. Here too are reports on the campus plans for Stanford University and the Lawrenceville School as well as completion of the marble terraces anchoring the US Capitol. These years marked Olmsted’s most important private commissions including the beginning of Biltmore, Rough Point at Newport, RI, and several other estates for the Vanderbilt family. Olmsted wrote more frequently on the subject of landscape design during these years than in any comparable period. This volume contains some of his most mature and powerful statements on the practice of landscape architecture. Read the intro to Volume 8 here.

Volume 9

The Last Great Projects, 1890-1895

Published: 2015

Editor: David Schuyler & Gregory Kaliss

Assistant Editor: Jeffrey Schlossberg

This volume presents the last stage of Olmsted's career, exploring work undertaken by him as well as partners and former students Henry Sargent Codman and Charles Eliot, and his two sons John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. During this time Olmsted concentrated his energy on his two last great commissions: the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, and Biltmore Estate near Asheville, NC. Read the intro to Volume 9 here.

Supplementary Series, Volumes 1–3

Supplementary Series Volume 1

Writings on Public Parks, Parkways, and Park Systems

Published: 1997

Editor: Charles E. Beveridge and Carolyn F. Hoffman

Associate Editor: Kenneth Hawkins

This volume contains Olmsted’s most significant articles, lectures and reports concerning public parks and recreation grounds. It includes several general discussions of the subject, including Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns (1870) and A Consideration of the Justifying Value of a Public Park (1881). Also included are his remarkable reports on individual parks and park systems that combine general observations with specific proposals, including reports on New York’s Central Park, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Mount Royal in Montreal, Belle Isle in Detroit, Franklin Park in Boston, the Niagara Reservation and a park system for Buffalo. Read the intro to Supplementary Series, Volume 1 here.

Supplementary Series Volume 2

Frederick Law Olmsted: Plans and Views of Public Parks

Published: 2015

Editor: Charles E. Beveridge

Associate Editor: Lauren Meier

Assistant Editor: Irene Mills

This volume contains sketches, preliminary and final plans, historic photographs, and paintings of over 70 of Olmsted's public park projects including parkways, park systems, recreation areas and scenic reservations. A large visual format has been selected so that the details of the plans are clear and many are displayed as two-page spreads. Each project has a separate presentation, consisting of multi-image layouts accompanied by explanatory text and captions. Several proposed parks are also discussed. It is lavishly illustrated with over 470 images, providing for the first time, a comprehensive view of the variety of Olmsted's public park planning. It is also the first volume to present visually the distinct aspects of the Olmsted design idiom. Order Frederick Law Olmsted: Plans and Views of Public Parks from John Hopkins University Press.

Supplementary Series Volume 3

Frederick Law Olmsted: Plans and Views of Communities and Private Estates

Published: 2020

Editor: Charles E. Beveridge, Lauren Meier, Irene Mills

This large-format volume is a companion to Plans and Views of Public Parks. The volume presents approximately 70 of the most significant commissions in 15 categories of design other than parks. Several, because of their significance and the wealth of visual material, receive multiple "spreads" -- notably the 23rd and 24th Wards of New York City (the Bronx) (1870s) for regional planning; Riverside, IL (1868–70) for residential communities; Olmsted's residence "Fairsted" (1880s and 1890s); Moraine Farm (c. 1880) and Biltmore Estate (1890s) for private estates; Stanford University (1880s) for academic campuses; the U.S. Capitol grounds (1870s and 1880s) for governmental buildings; and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 for expositions and fairs. Other categories include summer communities; residential institutions; memorials; grounds of industrial buildings; resorts & hotels; zoos; arboreta; military posts; and cemeteries. The book includes approximately 400 illustrations.

Order Books

Volumes of The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted are available for purchase through the publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press. Digital versions of Volumes 1-7 and Supplementary Series Volume 1 are available at HathiTrust.  Digital versions of Volumes 1-9 and SS1 are also available on the Rotunda Imprint of the University of Virginia Press.  Ordering information can be found here.