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Arnold Arboretum. Records of the Original Design of the Living Collections: A Finding Aid.


This collection contains records assembled by the Arboretum staff to document the relationship between Charles Sprague Sargent, the Arboretum's first director, and Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture, and their work on the original design and arrangement of the Arboretum. Included are correspondence, biographical material, newclippings, and documents relating to the Arboretum's design and to some of Olmsted's other work. Of special value are photographs of the road studies, planting plans, and plant distribution studies dating from 1878 through 1896. The original documents were loaned to the Arboretum for duplication by Artemas P. Richardson, Olmsted Associates, Inc. in 1979, prior to the National Park Service's acquisition of "Fairsted," Olmsted's home and office in 1980, and the subsequent creation of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.


  • 1861-1983

Conditions Governing Access

Researchers seeking to examine archival materials are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. The Director, or an office of origin, may place restrictions on the use of some or all of its records. The extent and length of the restriction will be determined by the Director, office of origin, and the Archivist and will be enforced equally for all researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright is held by The President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Arnold Arboretum Archives of Harvard University. The copyright on some materials in the collection may be held by the original author or the author's heirs or assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining written permission from the holder(s) of copyright and the Arnold Arboretum Archives prior to publishing any quotations or images from materials in this collection.

Photocopies may be made at the discretion of the Arnold Arboretum Archives staff. Permission to make photocopies does not constitute permission to reproduce or publish materials outside the bounds of the fair use guidelines.


1.75 linear feet (3 boxes)
Olmsted's papers are held at the Library of Congress, Olmsted's plans, maps and drawings are at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site at 99 Warren Street in Brookline, Massachusetts. The material in this collection, assembled primarily during the late 1970s through 1990, is primarily used to support the management of the Arboretum's landscape. In order to determine the original design intentions photographs of the planting plans and plant distribution studies were made from the originals loaded from Olmsted Associates, Inc. and copies of correspondence were collected from the Library of Congress. The material served as an aid to the restoration of the living collections of the Arboretum initiated by Peter Ashton, Director during the 1980s. Additional usage includes source material for publications and exhibitions. The collection includes: Correspondence between Olmsted and Charles S. Sargent, later correspondence between Alfred Rehder and the firm Olmsted Brothers and miscellaneous other communications; Documents relating to Olmsted historic sites and parks including Fairsted and the National Association of Olmsted Parks; Olmsted documents that relate to the Arnold Arboretum; Biographical material; Newsclippings, 1861-1989; Photographs (which consist of contact prints and 8 ½" by 11" negatives) of Olmsted's original planting plans and plant distribution from Fairsted, Olmsted's home and office, which later became the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

Biographical / Historical

The living collection of the Arboretum was to include representatives of all woody plants that would grow in the Boston area. The arrangement and design of these collections was collaboration between Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arboretum. The Arboretum was intended to function as a pleasure ground for the citizens of Boston and as an encyclopedic tree museum for scientists. In their design, Sargent and Olmsted were in agreement that they had both scientific and aesthetic goals. Together they created a design based on a botanical sequence devised by George Bentham and Joseph Hooker displayed in a naturalistic fashion. The Arnold Arboretum is the only extant arboretum designed by Olmsted. Frederick Law Olmsted is widely known as the father of landscape architecture, a profession that he was instrumental in defining. He was born in 1822 in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of a merchant. He worked as a clerk in New York, an apprentice seaman, an apprentice topographic engineer, a farmer, a journalist and a writer before he would turn his hand to landscape design. His career in the as yet undefined profession of landscape architecture began with the design for Central Park in New York City. In 1858, together with Calvert Vaux, he won first prize for the submittal of their plan for the park entitled "Greensward". He drew his first studies for his Boston commission for the Park Department in the summer of 1878, and completed his final plans in 1895. The "Emerald Necklace," as it has become known and of which the Arnold Arboretum is a part, is made up of a series of parks with connecting parkways. Olmsted work for the Arboretum began with a preliminary visit to the site in 1874. Work on the design occurred between 1878 and 1885. Additional work by the firm was undertaken between 1890 and 1895 in order to accommodate the acquisition of Peters Hill.


This collection is arranged into the following series:

Series I: Correspondence, 1874-1939, 1972-1983.

This series contains correspondence between Frederick Law Olmsted and the first director of the Arnold Arboretum, Charles S. Sargent, between the Boston Parks Department and Olmsted and later between Olmsted Brothers and Alfred Rehder. This correspondence, primarily copies of material held at the National Archives, establishes Olmsted's first involvement with the Arboretum. Most letters are handwritten, some are typed, and some annotated. Several are original letters; one from John C. Olmsted to CSS dated 1886 (folder 7), a letter from Frederick Law Olmsted to CSS dating from 1894 (folder 12) and one from 1895 (folder 13). There is a break in the series and the correspondence resumes in the 1970s through the early 1980s with Olmsted related correspondence from Peter Ashton and others.

Series II: Olmsted Historic Sites and Parks.

This series contains materials on Fairsted, Olmsted's home and office in Brookline, MA, information and publications on the Boston Park System and some materials on the National Association of Olmsted Parks.

Series III: Arnold Arboretum Related Materials.

In 1979, prior to the National Park Services acquisition of Fairsted, Peter Ashton, director of the Arboretum, secured copies of the original material about the Arboretum from Olmsted Associates, Inc., direct successor to the continuous line of firms bearing the Olmsted name since 1858. The material was obtained to guide the restoration of the living collections of the Arboretum. The series includes an index, maps, plans, correspondence, and published material pertaining to the creation of the Arboretum's design.

Series IV: Olmsted Biographical Materials

This biographical material was collected by the Arboretum staff to further an understanding of Olmsted's life and his design principles.

Series V: Newsclippings, 1861-1989

These newsclippings cover the period 1861-1989 with many breaks in the sequence. The articles are primarily from the period of Olmsted's involvement with the Central Park in the 1860s and 70s and the Olmsted revival in the 1980s.

Series VI: Drawings and maps, 1878-1897

This series consists of photographic reproductions and their negatives made in 1979 of original maps, drawings, plans and other like documents now held by the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site which pertain to the Arnold Arboretum. The originals were produced in a variety of media including pencil on tracing paper, some with color, ink on vellum, blueprints, lithographed topographic plans, etc. The photographic reproductions were made at Harvard Astrological Observatory in 1979. The material photographed includes Olmsted's distribution studies. These studies are not intended as planting plans, but rather reveal the design process that Olmsted worked through in his attempt to integrate a collection of woody plant material arranged in a hierarchical order according to a taxonomic system, a circulation system that would allow people to pass through the landscape (in carriages), and an aesthetic that would ultimately impart a sense of natural beauty to the people passing through the space. Sub-series A, B & C are contact prints of the 8-inch by 10-inch negatives in Sub-series D. They are photographs whose provenance is documented in Series 3, especially folders 48-50. Some annotations are attached to the photographs. Originally, as working files for the restoration of the living collections, the photographs were enclosed in plastic sheet protectors and put into three-ring binders. In 2002, the photographs were re-housed in mylar enclosures in archival folders.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Provenance: With the exception of some original correspondence, the material was assembled beginning in the 1970s primarily by Arboretum staff to further an understanding of Olmsted's original design intentions for the Arboretum and to support activities such as the restoration of the living collections to the original plan. The HOLLIS # for this collection is 009173159 The file name is ajp00044.

Processing Information

Processed: November 1996

By: Barbara Schneider, Intern,

Edited by Sheila Connor 12/17/99

Revised by Lisa Pearson March 2002
Link to catalog
Arnold Arboretum. Records of the Original Design of the Living Collections: A Finding Aid.
Archives of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138

Repository Details

Part of the Arnold Arboretum Archives Repository

The Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library is a specialized collection devoted to the study of temperate woody plants. We collect works on botany, horticulture, floras, urban forestry and taxonomy. The library contains more than 25,000 volumes and 40,000 photographs, and includes an archive that both documents the Arboretum's history and is a repository for 19th, 20th, and 21st century horticultural and botanical collections.

125 Arborway
Jamaica Plain MA 02130 USA
(617) 522-1086