Sunday, January 26, 2014

Frederick Law Olmsted designed the landscape for the Thomas Crane Library.

I was thrilled to find Dr. Thomas Mickey's article in today's Brockton Enterprise. When I was Library Director at Thomas Crane Public Library he offered to research Olmsted's role in our landscape architecture. He spent years documenting the facts summarized below. My only regret is that the Enterprise used a file photo showing the distressed lamps atop the lawn sign. Thanks to Mayor Tom Koch and the Community Preservation Department, they were beautifully restored in 2012.
IN THE GARDEN: Quincy's Crane Library and Olmstead Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York's Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace, also designed the landscape for the Thomas Crane Library. [by Dr. Thomas Mickey]
"The 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York's Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace in the romantic English garden style, also designed the landscape for the Thomas Crane Library. I wanted to know more about that connection, so I sought out the Olmsted Archives in Brookline. What I found surprised me. There were two references to Olmsted's involvement. The Olmsted archives include a land survey of the library property, dated around 1881, by Whitman and Breck Surveyors of Boston. Though it is possible Olmsted commissioned the survey, what is important is it is among the Olmsted documents. The survey is an integral, early step in landscape design. The second reference, 22 years later in 1913, long after the death of the senior Olmsted, happened when the city of Quincy contracted with the Olmsted Brothers on minor landscape changes. The Olmsted archives include several letters, drawings, and planting lists. A letter from the firm to Quincy officials dated April 22, 1913 include these words: "since we laid out the Library grounds in 1881." The same letter encouraged the continuance of the extensive lawn surrounding the Library: "The character of the grounds would be much more pleasing and suitable if they should be confined to turf and a few dignified trees with the exception of the shrubbery at the corner of the library and along the east boundary against private properties." Later, Olmsted biographer Laura Wood Roper would write: "When [Boston architect Herbert] Richardson and [Frederick Law] Olmsted were engaged on the same work, it was a genuine collaboration from the start – the start being consultation about the site of the building and its approaches. Among the works they did jointly were the Crane Memorial Library at Quincy, when Richardson designed the building and Olmsted furnished plans for the grounds which Charles Francis Adams, Jr. executed under his direction." Adams, great-grandson of John Adams, was the chairman of the Library Committee. Trees from Charles' nursery were planted on the library grounds. Today the library, Richardson's classic stone design built in Quincy granite, seems just to emerge from the earth. The lawn plays an important role in the landscape design. Another letter from the Olmsted firm dated April 25, 1913 said: "Your Trustees cannot be too careful to avoid decorating the Library Grounds and making them fussy and out of harmony with the surroundings by scattering shrubs, trees and flower beds about the grounds as might perhaps be appropriate under different local conditions." The extensive lawn is the signature contribution of Olmsted who treasured the romantic English garden style. To this day one of the treasures of Quincy is its library surrounded by a classic English-style lawn. Reach Thomas Mickey at"

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