Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site | PARK AT A GLANCE

Interior of Frederick Law Olmsted's home in Brookline, Massachusetts

Interior of Frederick Law Olmsted’s home in Brookline, Massachusetts

PARK OVERVIEW

Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site preserves Fairsted, the Brookline, Massachusetts, home and office of Frederick Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture. As a writer in the mid-1800s, Olmsted had made many connections within New York society circles, including a city commissioner in charge of the yet-to-be-built Central Park. This man encouraged Olmsted to apply for a job as superintendent. Olmsted, who had toured Europe and had fallen in love with its parks, took things a step farther when he and architect friend Calvert Vaux entered a design contest for the park. Olmsted had no formal training, yet his vision combined with Vaux’s technical skills as an architect allowed the pair to win the competition in 1858, and so began his career.

At the time, landscape architecture was considered nothing more than glorified gardening, but Olmsted soon created a respected profession that by the turn of the century had recognition from Harvard College, the first college to develop a landscape architecture program. The Olmsted firm would go on to design city parks in both the United States and Canada, residential neighborhoods (Riverside in Illinois), country clubs (Augusta National), private residences (Biltmore Estate), and even factory complexes. If you live in a major city, chances are that there is a park near you that was designed by Olmsted, his sons, or his associates. While business peaked by the Great Depression, the Olmsted firm remained in operation in some shape or form all the way until 2000.

Olmsted moved into the house on Warren Street in the Green Hill neighborhood in 1883. In addition to being his residence, he also used it for his office. When he retired in 1895, his sons took over the business, and by 1889 the firm had outgrown the house. The sons began building a larger office complex by adding numerous structures for use as offices, drafting rooms, and even a photo studio and darkroom. Keep in mind that the house is in an extremely expensive neighborhood, so such additions would never be allowed today.

As the twentieth century progressed, more and more landscape architecture firms opened around the country, and city planners no longer had to rely on the Olmsted firm in Brookline for design services (many of these new designers once worked for Olmsted). By 1979, business had dwindled to the point where the last owner of the firm, Art Richardson, could no longer afford to maintain the house and property. He sold it to the National Park Service along with the massive collection of blueprints and photographs so that Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site could be created. Richardson moved to New Hampshire and continued in business under the name Olmsted Office until 2000.

The original house, which is open to the public for self-guided tours, is now a museum dedicated to landscape architecture and the projects of the Olmsted firm. The office spaces where much of the original furnishings and equipment still exist can be seen by Ranger-guided tours only. Tours are given at various times each day whenever the house is open. Visitors are also welcome to walk around the two-acre property.


OPERATING HOURS

The grounds of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site are open year-round from sunrise to sunset, but there is no real reason to visit the park to see the grounds.

The house and office of Olmsted, the true attractions, are only open on a seasonal basis, and even then not every day. For the latest schedule, be sure to check the National Park Service’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the park.


FEES

There are no fees associated with visiting Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.


SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

Olmsted Museum
allow 30 to 60 minutes

House and Office Tour
allow 45 minutes

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Last updated on June 4, 2020
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