TwHP Lessons

Boston's Arnold Arboretum: A Place for Study and Recreation

[Cover photo] Along Meadow Road at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
(Olmsted NHS)


y the mid-to-late 19th century, the crushing density of increasingly crowded cities led to the view that parks and public gardens could serve as antidotes to the urban environment. Renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted believed that visiting oases of green space could help ease the pressures of urban life for both the poor and the rich. In response to Olmsted's Central Park in New York, the first large public space set aside for recreational use in an American city, cities such as Philadelphia and Boston began planning their own green spaces. In Boston, Olmsted designed a series of parks linked by parkways collectively known as the "Emerald Necklace."

The Arnold Arboretum, one of the "jewels" of Boston's Emerald Necklace, has served as a tranquil haven since it opened to the public in the 1880s. There, seasons come alive in vibrant colors. In the spring, the delicate perfume of lilac, mock orange, and viburnum float on soft breezes. The pale green leaves of hickory, walnut, and hackberry trees offer verdant canopies. By mid-summer, the Arnold Arboretum is ablaze with color and heavy with ripening nuts and fruit. In the fall, rich autumn colors catch the sunlight. Even winter is beautiful in the arboretum. The trees and shrubs stand in stark contrast to gray skies and snow-covered slopes.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Plan of Boston Park System

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. The Establishment of Arnold Arboretum
 2. Olmsted's Views on Parks
 3. Arnold Arboretum Becomes a Reality

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Bird's-eye view of Arnold Arboretum
 2. Construction near main entrance, c. 1892
 3. Kalmia in bloom, c. 1900

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Being a Plant Explorer
 2. Park Rules and Regulations
 3. Researching a Local Park

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Frederick Law Olmsted
National Historic Site

This lesson is based on Arnold Arboretum, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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