By Design: Frederick Law Olmsted & Associates

The Library of Congress Manuscript Division is home to the personal papers of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) and the records of the landscape architecture firm, Olmsted Associates. As a young man Olmsted trained in horticulture and civil engineering. He worked as an organic farmer, travel writer, investigative journalist, and editor. His travels took him across the Atlantic and to the American South and Texas, where he observed slavery in progress. On the eve of the Civil War, he designed Central Park in New York with Calvert Vaux and became the park’s superintendent, promoting the “parks for the people” concept. During wartime he organized sanitation and medical relief services for the Union cause, managed a gold mining estate in the Sierra foothills, and became involved in early ideas for the public conservation and recreational use of Yosemite.

He returned to the East Coast after war’s end, and for the rest of his career pursued his calling as a landscape architect. Over many decades Olmsted and his various partners, including sons Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and John Charles Olmsted, planned an amazing array of greenspaces for public and private use, including city parks, grounds of government buildings, campuses, expositions, hospitals, hotels and resorts, cemeteries, highways and garden parkways, residential communities and private estates. They helped to pioneer the professions of urban planning and landscape architecture, and to shape state and national park systems. Along the way, the Olmsteds collaborated with architects, city planners, park commissioners, botanists, arborists, public officials, businesses, and private citizens.

The collections in the Manuscript Division include journals, writings, letters, personal papers, family materials, printed matter, and records of many projects—proposed or realized---representing areas around the country and in Canada. Together the materials document the complex interactions that make landscape projects happen and the ways in which landscape design impacts democratic life.

Find your state and city! Use our geographic guide to transcribe and review Olmsted materials from places of interest to you.