Off the Beaten Path: Olmsted's Fairsted
September 12, 2013

Over the years, my family and I have enjoyed many of Frederick Law Olmsted’s creations, from the parks in Boston’s Emerald Necklace to Central Park in New York City. Somehow though, we’d never made our way to Fairsted, his offices in Brookline, now a National Historic Site.

Olmsted (1822-1903) established the world's first full-scale professional office for the practice of landscape design in 1883. During the next century, his sons and successors kept to his design ideals and philosophy. Olmsted's office even played an influential role in the creation of the National Park Service, which now cares for the property.

The original 18-room farmhouse, which dates to 1810, was renovated by Olmsted, who increased it by another 18 rooms, many of which you can tour. Kids might enjoy seeing the 1904 “electric blueprint machine,” a kind of primitive photocopier that takes up part of a room!

But, fittingly, what is probably most interesting are the grounds. At less than 2 acres, it’s sort of a mini-snapshot of Olmsted’s designs and a charming way to spend an afternoon. The “Hollow” is probably our favorite. This sunken garden is like a little fairy garden. You descend carved Roxbury “puddingstone” steps into a green landscape and follow a path around in a circle. On the other side of the property, the Rock Garden is found by following a path into a corner of the property, a short and shady walk, which suddenly opens onto a broad meadow.

This certainly isn’t a place to let kids run wild, and you can’t use a stroller here, but it is an enchanting spot to spend some time. The grounds are open from dawn to dusk daily and guided tours of both the house and grounds are offered several times a day Wednesday through Sunday.

If your kids want to roam more widely, and you want to enjoy more of Olmsted’s genius, head over to Olmsted Park, which has plenty of pathways, bridges, and a wildflower meadow around Leverett Pond for exploring.

If you want to learn more about Olmsted as well as Jamaica Pond, another park in the Emerald Necklace, you can take a guided tour on September 29 from 10 a.m. to noon. The walking tour will cover the natural and cultural history of the pond and surrounding parkland and meets at the Jamaica Pond Boathouse, located at the intersection of Pond Street and the Jamaicaway.


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