A Walk through Fairsted

Map Character Zones

This week we met up with a team from the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (FRLA) to discuss the historic character of the landscape and to workshop ideas for its continuing treatment and maintenance. The FRLA team included Superintendent Myra Harrison, Site Manager Lee Cook, Park Ranger Alan Banks, Horticulturist Scott Hyndman, and Gardner Mona McKindley. Fairsted is separated into five character areas by park management: front drive, hollow, rock garden, south lawn and west slope, and service area. These character areas were established through an understanding of the historic use of the site during its period of significance and guides treatment and maintenance decisions. As Eliot Foulds, Olmsted Center Planning Team Lead, pointed out during the workshop, each character area is more than the sum of its parts. Understanding how all of the pieces work together to create the whole enables responsible management of change in the landscape.

As part of this workshop, we walked through each of the character areas as a group, each person bringing with them a perspective they have developed through their particular area of expertise. In the front drive, we noted how the change in pavement type walking under the spruce pole archway signaled a threshold between the public world and the domestic sphere that Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. sought to create at Fairsted. Lee Cook explained that the hollow was originally planted with Rhododendrons and was decidedly picturesque, contrasting with the pastoral open views of south lawn. Over the course of the early twentieth century, the hollow became a test garden for the landscape architects at the firm and was planted as a wild version of a parterre. This later iteration of the hollow is what we experienced on our walk. The rock garden is a small path enclosed by vegetation on either side. Only one person can walk through at a time and the leaves of the vegetation cast shadows on the ground. This is a quiet, solitary space that leads to the wide expanse of south lawn. South lawn and west slope are bordered by tall canopy trees that create a dark edge around a seemingly vast stretch of turf. The edge is definite, but feels permeable. The service area is used to house many of the utilitarian needs of the site, such as the secondary entrance to the site and parking. However, that does not mean that this space is lacking in significance to the site. The firm began using the same area as parking in the mid-1920s and the quinces growing in here are probably the oldest shrubs on the property.

Taking this walk as a team that is diverse in specialties as well site familiarity allowed us all to experience Fairsted through an adjusted lens. We talked through what had changed since the last time the character of the site was evaluated and discussed if that change had a negative impact on the integrity of the landscape. As Mona McKindley expressed during the workshop, landscapes are shaped by the effects of numerous and layered cycles and therefore require this kind of periodic evaluation to maintain them. Now it’s our task here at the Olmsted Center to take the things that we learned walking through Fairsted and capture it graphically and in narrative.

Until next week,


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