Olmsted design for Stanford University
April 1, 2023

Frederick Law Olmsted Resource Guide

April 26, 2022 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, the master designer of public parks and a founder of the landscape architecture field. Olmsted was a Renaissance man: writer, philosopher, social reformer, advocate for the preservation of natural scenery, and creator of some of the most beautiful public parks, gardens, and institutional campuses across the US. His work and legacy were the subject of a CHS virtual program with historian Laurence Cotton. This blog post provides links to the resources that Laurence Cotton shared during the webinar.

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Frederick Law Olmsted Resource Guide

Frederick Law Olmsted

On October 25th, 2022, CHS hosted the virtual program
Frederick Law Olmsted: Bringing Nature to the City with historian Laurence Cotton. Cotton gave a visual tour of representative landscapes designed by Olmsted, his two sons, and the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm, and highlighted select Olmsted landscapes and master plans in California, including the Stanford University Campus and Yosemite National Park. The talk was very insightful and illuminated the many locations in California that were a part of the Olmsted legacy. The list below provides links to the resources that Laurence Cotton shared during the webinar.

Watch the recording of the Frederick Law Olmsted: Bringing Nature to the City program with historian Laurence Cotton on CHS’s YouTube channel.

Left: Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. Courtesy of the National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

Resource Guide

An annotated resource list for Frederick Law Olmsted and the Olmsted legacy by historian Laurence Cotton.

Books by Frederick Law Olmsted:

  • Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England. Published in association with the Library of American Landscape History.
  • The Cotton Kingdom. Many editions are available; I recommend one with an intro by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
  • Frederick Law Olmsted: Writings on Landscape, Culture, and Society (Library of America, 2015).
  • Frederick Law Olmsted: Essential Texts, edited by Robert Twombly.


  • FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted by Laura Wood Roper. An older volume, and maybe a little hard to come by, but still excellent.
  • A Clearing in the Distance by Witold Rybczynski.
  • Genius of Place by Justin Martin.

On Olmsted and his landscapes:

  • It should come as no surprise—there are many books focused on Central Park alone. Seek out volumes by Sara Cedar Miller and Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, among others.
  • Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing the American Landscape by Charles Beveridge and Paul Rocheleau. Beveridge is the dean of Olmsted scholars. Seek out a library copy or pre-owned copy of this marvelous volume, available in both large-format hardback and in paperback. A new edition was just published by Rizzoli. It is a coffee table book, but it doesn’t just feature beautiful pictures. It is loaded with wonderful interpretive content by Charles Beveridge.

On Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.:

Beauty, Efficiency, and Economy: A Life of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., Landscape Architect, Planner, and Conservationist by Elizabeth Hope Cushing. The first ever full-length biography of Junior/”Rick” Olmsted, published in fall 2021.

On John Charles Olmsted:

  • Greenscapes: Olmsted’s Pacific Northwest by Joan Hockaday. Out of print, but used copies are out there.
  • Olmsted in Seattle: Creating a Park System for a Modern City by Jennifer Ott.

Newly published (2021—2022):

  • The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks by Dennis Drabelle.
  • Architects of an American Landscape: Henry Hobson Richardson, Frederick Law Olmsted, and the Reimagining of America’s Public and Private Spaces by Hugh Howard.
  • Olmsted and Yosemite: Civil War, Abolition, and the National Park Idea by Rolf Diamant and Ethan Carr.
  • Before Central Park by Sara Cedar Miller (May 2022). Sara’s thoroughly researched history will reveal much previously unpublished material covering two and a half centuries of the land that became Central Park. Its residents and events include Indigenous peoples, the early Dutch and English families, the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the African American settlement of Seneca Village, Irish and German immigrant farmers, and the Motherhouse of Catholic sisters and students. The book also narrates the two-decades-long struggle to realize Central Park from concept to creation and includes the beginnings of Frederick Law Olmsted’s long and celebrated career.
  • This Land Was Saved for You and Me: How Gifford Pinchot, Frederick Law Olmsted, and a Band of Foresters Rescued America’s Public Lands by Jeffrey H. Ryan. 
  • Experiencing Olmsted: The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted’s North American Landscapes, with contributions from Charles A. Birnbaum, Arleyn A. Levee, and Dena Tasse-Winter. A wonderful and masterful new guidebook to key Olmsted landscapes across America, just published (September 2022) by the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Additional books that might be of interest:

  • Country, Park & City: The Architecture and Life of Calvert Vaux by Francis R. Kowsky.
  • Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide by Tony Horwitz. A northern writer’s account of his retracing Olmsted’s travels in the South, and his sardonic commentary on the North-South divide and related cultural divisions in America, then and now.
  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Historical fiction. Soon to become a limited dramatic series for Hulu.
  • Landscape of a Marriage: Central Park Was Only the Beginning by Gail Ward Olmsted. Historical fiction. (Yes, Gail is a descendant.)


  • Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America, produced and directed by Lawrence Hott. Laurence Cotton originated this project, serving as content provider and consulting producer. A production of Florentine Films/Hott Productions and WNED Buffalo/Toronto. On this special website you can stream the original 60-minute PBS film, watch additional video material, and access select reading material from a list of essays about the Olmsted legacy: https://www.wned.org/television/wned-productions/wned-history-productions/frederick-law-olmsted-designing-america/
  • Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks: https://www.olmstedfilm.org
  • There are additional documentaries out there that focus on the Olmsted park legacies in such places as Upstate New York (Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester) and Louisville.

Other resources:

Please keep in mind that many Olmsted park systems (Buffalo, Boston, Louisville) and individual parks (Central Park, Prospect Park) have well-resourced conservancies with beautiful, content-rich websites that often include information that is far broader than any one park or collection of parks. Plus, many smaller parks and clusters of parks have active “friends” groups (Lake Park; Milwaukee; Seattle; and Memorial Park Association, Jacksonville; just to name a few). There are many such groups across the US and in Montreal, and all of them have websites loaded with wonderful content. Always remember to check out those websites, and if you are local, make contact. The personnel often include a mixture of professionals and active volunteers who love their parks and work to raise funds to maintain and restore those landscapes. Many of the volunteers are trained horticulturalists, landscape design practitioners, and historians who not only work to keep the parks up but also give tours of these special places. You cannot go wrong by reaching out to these extraordinary park advocates across the nation.


Overlay: Stanford University map. Courtesy of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site