The Olmsted Family and Firm

99 Warren St Brookline

Fairsted: Home of Frederick Law Olmsted/The Olmsted Family and Firm
National Park Service | Boston
Written By National Park Service | Boston

Since 1916, the National Park Service has been entrusted with the care of our national parks. Discover how one city could be the Cradle of Liberty, site of the first major battle of American Revolution, and home to many who espoused that freedom can be extended to all.

Mary Perkins Olmsted

Mary Perkins was born on March 26, 1830 to an affluent family in New York. She first met Frederick Law Olmsted as a teenager. Although Mary's wit impressed Olmsted, it was his brother, John Hull Olmsted, who pursued a courtship with Mary. John and Mary married on October 16, 1851. They had three children together, John Charles, Charlotte, and Owen. After suffering with tuberculosis, John Hull Olmsted died in 1857. Frederick Law Olmsted, devastated by the loss of his brother, wanted to ensure that Mary and her children were cared for. Frederick Law Olmsted and Mary Perkins Olmsted married in 1859. They had four children together, two of whom survived infancy, Marion and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Mary moved to Brookline with Frederick Law Olmsted in 1883 and lived at Fairsted until her death in 1921.

John Charles Olmsted

Birth and Death: 1852-1920 Years at Firm & Positions: Apprentice then partial partner: 1875-1884, Partner: 1884-1920 Notable Project Involvements while at the Firm: Park System, Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts Audubon Park, New Orleans, Louisiana Grounds of the National Cash Register Company, Dayton, Ohio Essex County Park System, New Jersey Park System, Seattle, Washington Numerous estates and residential subdivisions

John Charles was integral to the Olmsted firm, further developing many of the park and city-planning projects begun by his father, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. These included work in Buffalo, Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Louisville, as well as in Boston's "Emerald Necklace" where he played a key role.His first major solo park project was Audubon Park in New Orleans where he incorporated the ideas Olmsted Sr. had used at the World's Columbian Exposition and at Boston's Back Bay Fens to transform swampy ground into a scenic park.

John Charles expanded the firm's practice to new projects across the continent, including park systems, estates and subdivisions in New Jersey; Dayton, Ohio; and in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Many of these projects significantly influenced the manner in which cities developed. Within the Olmsted firm, he created efficient design and business procedures necessary to manage a growing design office with a widespread practice and to help train the next generation of landscape architects, many of whom would eventually form independent practices. John Charles' work nurtured the nascent profession of landscape architecture, and he became the first president of the American Society of Landscape Architecture when it was formed in 1899.

Marion Olmsted

Born October 28, 1861, Marion Olmsted was Frederick Law Olmsted's second child with Mary Perkins Olmsted. One of the three Olmsted children who lived at Fairsted, Marion was twenty-two years old when the family moved to Brookline. Marion possessed impressive artistic talent. Showing an interest in landscape architecture, Marion drew plans for the grounds of Felsted, the family's home in Maine. Unfortunately, any contributions she may have made to the Olmsted firm went uncredited. Marion's talents also extended to painting and photography. Marion Olmsted never married. She died on May 29, 1948.

Frederic Law Olmsted, Jr.

Birth and Death: 1870-1957 Years at Firm & Positions: Apprentice:1895-1897, Partner: 1897-1949, Consultant: 1949-1957 Notable Project Involvements while at the Firm: Baltimore Park System, Baltimore, Maryland Fort Tryon Park, New York, New York Palos Verdes Estates, California Boulder Park System, Boulder, Colorado Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, New York Acadia National Park, Mount Desert, Maine

Training in landscape architecture for Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. began in his youth. With the Olmsted office in the family home, diverse projects were near at hand, and his father ensured that he had productive experiences that would serve him well as a landscape architect, the career his father intended for him. Even before his 1894 Harvard graduation, "Rick" traveled to the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and was engaged in design and construction. With the onset of his father's illness in 1895, Rick became more active in the firm assuming the role of partner in 1897. With John Charles, he helped to establish the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1899 and served as its president for two terms.He also helped develop the country's first degree program for landscape architecture at Harvard University.

"... to protect and perpetuate whatever of beauty and inspirational value [is] inherent in that landscape." - Frederic Law Olmsted, Jr.

Following his father's design philosophy, he had an abiding concern that cities be comprehensively planned to provide for healthy living and working conditions and scenic recreational opportunities.His national reputation was established with his early work for the McMillan Commission in Washington, DC to return the nation's capital to its intended beauty. He continued this urban planning work with reports on numerous cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; New Haven, Connecticut; and Boulder, Colorado. He was a passionate advocate for the preservation of natural areas throughout the country and wrote the key language of the 1916 Organic Act that established the National Park Service. In 1928 he helped establish the first state park system in California.Toward the end of his life, Rick continued in the forefront of the conservation movement as an active member of the Sierra Club and the California Save-The-Redwoods-League. A grove in Redwoods National Park now bears his name.He would say it was his father who instilled in him the idea that it was his mission "to protect and perpetuate whatever of beauty and inspirational value [is] inherent in that landscape."

Calvert Vaux

Birth and Death: 1824-1895 Years at Firm & Position: Partner: 1857-1872 Notable Project Involvements while at the Firm: Central Park, New York, New York Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York Riverside, Illinois South Park (now Kennedy Park), Fall River, Massachusetts New York State Reservation at Niagara, Buffalo, New York

Vaux was born in England, where he was educated as an architect. He came to America to serve as assistant, and then partner, to landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing. After Downing's death in 1852, Vaux continued to practice architecture. In 1857, Vaux convinced the city of New York to have a competition for a new design for a major public park, known today as Central Park.He convinced the park's superintendent, Frederick Law Olmsted, to join him in submitting a plan, and their design, named "The Greensward Plan," won first place.An original feature of their design was the separation of traffic routes for carriages, pedestrians and horseback riders to avoid collisions, by using a series of underpasses and scenic bridges that Vaux designed. After their Central Park success, Vaux and Olmsted continued to practice together until 1872, working on diverse projects, such as Prospect and Morningside Parks, the residential community of Riverside, Illinois among other public and private landscapes.After they had dissolved their partnership, Vaux continued to work on both architectural and landscape projects and occasionally collaborated again with Olmsted, such as on the 1887 project to improve the New York State Reservation at Niagara Falls.

Cover image: Public domain via the NPS Olmsted Archives.

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Fairsted: Home of Frederick Law Olmsted

The Olmsted Family and Firm

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