• Academics
Lawrenceville Explores Legacy of Landscape Architect Frederick Law Olmsted

The Lawrenceville School has joined educational and cultural institutions across the United States in marking the 200th birthday of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted as part of the Olmsted 200 Campaign. The campaign engages a creative coalition of landscape architects, city planners, conservationists, historians, students, colleges and universities, secondary schools and the general public in exploring the ways in which Olmsted’s design principles address both aesthetic and functional needs.

The Lawrenceville School’s historical significance is partially derived from Olmsted’s distinctive landscape design. His inventive eye shaped outdoor spaces across North America, demonstrating that functionality could be beautiful. Olmsted worked alongside renowned architectural firm Peabody & Stearns to design Lawrenceville’s Circle, which is a National Landmark. The Circle is a 50-acre plot of land south of Rt. 206 that formed the core of the rebranded school in the 1880s.

While Olmsted was also notable as a journalist, social critic, and conservationist, he was a man shaped by the context of his time. Olmsted’s most famous publication, Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom, was written during his journalistic tour of the Antebellum South and continues to spark debate among scholars over its controversial language and tone and depictions of slavery. Olmsted insisted his signature work, New York City’s Central Park, be committed to egalitarian ideals, but its creation also ruthlessly demolished and displaced Seneca Village, a predominantly Black community, and his approval of this land seizure complicates Olmsted’s legacy of social consciousness and equality. Historians and The Lawrenceville School have begun to explore this legacy in a way that frames Olmsted and his momentous work as part of a much larger American story, in a context that considers the histories of all of its people.

Lawrenceville will offer a series of events to recognize Olmsted’s contributions to its campus and to the field of landscape architecture. The School will begin with two Zoom lectures, open to the current campus community as well as alumni.

April 26, 12 p.m.

Frederick Law Olmsted on Slavery, Citizenship, and the Civil War

John Stauffer, Professor of English and African and African American Studies

May 2, 12 p.m.

"Landscape as Classroom and Memory: Frederick Law Olmsted's design for the Lawrenceville School"

Laurie Matthews, Director of Preservation Planning + Design at MIG and faculty member, University of Oregon Historic Preservation Program

On May 6, The Stephan Archives will open a new exhibition, “Frederick Law Olmsted: Landscapes for the Public Good.” Created by the Oak Spring Garden Foundation and the National Association for Olmsted Parks in honor of the national Olmsted200 campaign, the exhibit was expanded by Archives’ staff and is on loan to The Lawrenceville School until April 2023. This exhibit will be open to the current campus community and alumni during the The Bunn Library’s normal business hours.

May 6 will also mark the release of the fifth edition of “The Trees of Lawrenceville.” This publication documents Olmsted’s original plantings and the numerous species of trees that adorn the campus. It is formatted as a self-guided walking tour and copies will only be available at the Alumni Weekend registration table and at The Stephan Archives. Lastly, the Archives will screen “Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks” (May 8, 11 a.m., in the Kirby Arts Center), open to the current School community as well as those visiting campus for Alumni Weekend.

For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard, director of public relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.