National Park Service: The First 75 Years
Biographical Vignettes
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Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

                                          by Rolf Diamant

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

"The present situation in regard to the national parks is very bad. They have been created one at a time by acts of Congress which have not defined at all clearly the purposes for which the lands were to be set apart, nor provided any orderly or efficient means of safeguarding the parks . . . I have made at different times two suggestions, one of which was . . . a definition of the purposes for which the national parks and monuments are to be administered by the Bureau." (Letter from Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., to the president of the Appalachian Mountain Club, January 19, 1912.)

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., was approached by the American Civic Association in 1910 for advice on the creation of a new bureau of national parks. This initiated six years of correspondence and his key contribution of a few simple words that would guide conservation in America for generations to come: "To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." (National Park Service Organic Act, 1916)

Olmsted, Jr., began his career as his father's apprentice on two famous projects: the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the George Vanderbilt estate, "Biltmore," in North Carolina. He became a partner in his father's Brookline, Massachusetts, landscape architecture firm in 1895, and with Olmsted Sr.'s retirement, quickly took over leadership with his stepbrother, John Charles Olmsted, For the next half-century, the Olmsted brothers' firm completed thousands of landscape projects nationwide. Olmsted, Jr., was appointed by the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia in 1901 to help update the L'Enfant plan for Washington, D.C. By 1920 his better-known projects included plans for metropolitan park systems and greenways across the country; in 1929 he developed the guiding plan for California's state park system. Olmsted, Jr., also established the first formal training in landscape architecture at Harvard in 1900 and was a founding member and later president of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Olmsted, Jr., had a lifetime commitment to national parks. He worked on projects in Acadia, Everglades, and Yosemite. A partial listing of his design projects in the nation's capital reads like a guide to the NPS-managed sites of Washington, D.C., including the Mall, Jefferson Memorial, White House grounds, and Rock Creek Park. In his later years, Olmsted, Jr., actively worked for the protection of California's coastal redwoods. Redwood National Park's Olmsted Grove was dedicated in 1953 to the man whose contributions to protect America's system of national parks will forever stand as tall as those magnificent trees.

From National Park Service: The First 75 Years


Last Modified: March 27 2017 03:00:00 pm EDT

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