Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a private garden on three acres, south…
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.
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.