Frederick Law Olmsted — the “father of American landscape architecture” — celebrated in Stockbridge | Berkshire landscapes


STOCKBRIDGE — Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the “Father of American Landscape Architecture,” began his long and storied career with one urban park — Central Park.

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the “Father of American Landscape Architecture,” will be celebrated by the Laurel Hill Association August 26-27.

He would go on to shape urban parks across the country, including parks in Milwaukee, Chicago’s Riverside Parks, and Boston’s Emerald Necklace. He would champion a system of national parks and design the university campuses of Wellesley College, Smith College and Stanford University. (Williams College retained the services of Olmsted Brothers, his sons, John and Frederick Jr., who took over the family business after his retirement in 1895. Olmsted died in 1903.)

Olmsted’s firm, which designed gardens for many Golden Age cottagers, worked in the Berkshires, affecting some sixty properties here, from 1885 to 1979as well as working with the Laurel Hill Association of Stockbridge, on the creation of a landscape plan for the town’s railway station and for the town as a whole.

On August 26 and 27, the Laurel Hill Association will celebrate Olmsted, as part of the national celebration Olmsted 200 – the 200th anniversary of Olmsted’s birth – by the National Parks Association Olmsted, with two days of activities, culminating in its annual Laurel Hill Day Celebration.

The weekend begins with “Olmsted In the Berkshires,” a writers’ panel featuring Hugh Howard, author of “Architects of an American Landscape,” and Cornelia “Nini” Brook Gilder, co-author of “Houses of the Berkshires, 1870 – 1930,” 5:30 p.m., Friday, August 26 at the Red Lion Inn. (Tickets are required.) On Saturday at 2 p.m., the annual Laurel Hill Day Ceremony will be held at the Grandstand in Laurel Hill Park, with Association President and CEO Anne “Dede” Neal Petri National Parks Olmsted, as the keynote speaker.

Laurel Hill Day honors Olmsted’s ideal of democracy, said Hilary Somers Deely, president of the Laurel Hill Association, in a recent interview.

“Olmsted truly believed that the public was invited for free, to experience the health benefits of a green space. It used to be that only the elite had access to parks in many places. , like York’s New Gramercy Park, where you have to live there and get a key,” Deely said, noting that Laurel Hill Association holdings have always been free to the public. “We have many trails and about 450 acres Green spaces.”

Laurel Hill Association trails include the Mary Flynn Trail, Laura’s Tower Trail, and the Ice Glen Trail. His properties include Byron and Chestnut Reservations, Goodrich Park, Field Arboretum, Four Corners, Laurel Hill and Rostrum, Lower Bowker’s Woods, Sedgewick Reservation and several other reservations.

Founded in 1853, the Laurel Hill Association is the oldest village improvement society in the United States.

“Mary Hopkins Goodrich was riding her white horse through Stockbridge Cemetery and she was appalled by the overturned and overgrown headstones. She went to the middle of town and put up a sign calling on all like-minded people to come together and formed the first village beautification association,” Deely said of the founding of the group.

In 1912, The New York Times called the Laurel Hill Association “the most important model for the village beautification movement in the country,” she added. Since 1853, the group has met at the Rostrum, designed by Daniel Chester French, to celebrate the founding of the association.

This year, the Laurel Hill Day celebration will begin at 1 p.m. with a scavenger hunt for the kids.

“Once the scavenger hunt is over, the kids will head to the grandstand, where we’ll have them sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mr Olmsted,” Deeley said.

The program will continue with performances by the Berkshire Brass Quartet, who will play selections from the 1850s that Olmstead may have heard; a performance of the association’s “Singing Rangerettes”, the laying of the laurel on the rostrum, “as they did in 1853”, a blessing from the Reverend Brent Damrow, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Stockbridge, and a reading by Monique Tyndall, director of cultural affairs for the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians. In addition, former students from Stockbridge Plain School and Williams High School will be in attendance.

Petri’s talk, “The Genius of Place: A Look at Frederick Law Olmsted Highlighting the Life, Work and Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted”, will round out the program.

“I’m pinching someone of his notoriety is coming to speak here,” Deely said. “She’s flown in from Milwaukee. She’s been traveling the country, speaking at national events as part of the Olmsted 200 celebration.”

Deely said the association joined in the national celebration after hearing about the program through a Garden Club of America newsletter.


The Laurel Hill Association retained the services of the Olmsted firm to design the landscape around Stockbridge station.

“I started going through the Laurel Hill archives and found that we had a very legitimate connection to Olmsted,” she said. Not only had Olmsted worked on estates and properties in Stockbridge, Berkshires, but the Laurel Hill Association had hired Olmsted’s firm to develop the town’s train station, a very important entry point into the town at the early 1900s, and later hired the company, from 1913 to 1917, to create a village improvement plan for the next 100 years.

For more information on Laurel Hill Day, visit


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