Olmsted Designed the Landscape for Quincy’s Library in Massachusetts

The nineteenth century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace in the romantic English garden style, also designed the landscape for the Thomas Crane Library in Quincy, Mass.

I wanted to know more about that connection so I sought out the Olmsted Archives in Brookline, Mass.  What I found surprised me.

There were two references to Olmsted’s involvement with the Library. The Frederick Law Olmsted archives include a land survey of the Library property, dated around 1881, by Whitman and Breck Surveyors from Devonshire Street in Boston.  Though it is possible that Olmsted commissioned the survey, what is important is that it is among the Olmsted documents.  The survey is an integral, early step in landscape design.

The second reference, twenty-two years later, in 1913, long after the death of the senior Olmsted, happened when the city of Quincy contracted with the Olmsted Brothers on certain minor landscape changes.  The Olmsted archives from that period include several  letters, drawings, and planting lists.

The Thomas Crane Library, built in 1881, in Quincy, Mass.

The Thomas Crane Library, built in 1881, in Quincy, Mass.

A letter from the Olmsted firm to officials of Quincy dated April 22, 1913 include these words: “since we laid out the Library grounds in 1881.”  The same letter encouraged the continuance of the extensive lawn surrounding the Library: “The character of the grounds would be much more pleasing and suitable if they should be confined to turf and a few dignified trees with the exception of the shrubbery at the corner of the library and along the east boundary against private properties.”

Today the Library, Boston architect Herbert Richardson’s classic stone design, built in Quincy granite, seems just to emerge from the earth, as if from out of the extensive lawn that surrounds it.  The lawn plays an important role in the landscape design. Another letter from the Olmsted firm dated April 25, 1913 said: “Your Trustees cannot be too careful to avoid decorating the Library Grounds and making them fussy and out of harmony with the surroundings by scattering shrubs, trees and flower beds about the grounds as might perhaps be appropriate under different local conditions.”

The extensive lawn is the signature contribution of Olmsted who treasured the romantic English garden style.  Even after his death, his firm encouraged the Thomas Crane Library Trustees to keep the lawn.

To this day one of the treasures of Quincy is its Library surrounded by a classic English style lawn.

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Comments

  1. Mr. Mickey,

    Have you actually set food on the grounds of the Crane Library in Quincy?

    Seriously, the grounds are poorly maintained as well as painfully spare in landscaping even per the Olmsteads’ original unassuming vision.

    In particular a large and majestic tree that once framed the historic H.H. Richardson building died and was then cut a handful of years but has yet to be replaced.

    Similarly, the remaining trees and shrubs are rarely to poorly pruned even after adjusting for the fact that some modest and long overdue tree trimming was done this past fall. Further, one untouched and prominently placed flowering tree during this modest work looks as if it was previously subjected to a Texas Chain Saw Massacre and another prominent flowering tree has enjoyed little better treatment.

    Finally, you might care to note that a local garden club was so feed up with the City’s lousy care of the grounds that that it arranged to adopt a landscaped bed near the primary entrance last year and COMPLETELY replant it – or, to be more correct, take out what little was growing other than weeds and then plant decorative plants.

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