The Library of Congress recently announced a completed digitization project focusing on the collection of Frederick Olmsted. As a manuscript archivist who has worked with the papers of the Druid Hills Civic Association (DHCA) and the Dana White papers, I knew immediately that the Library of Congress had missed highlighting Olmsted’s work in the South, especially his legacy in Atlanta. The Rose Library’s rich holdings on Atlanta history are interconnected in a way that can demonstrate to our researchers strong insights into the time and culture of our area.
While there are large signs noting the “Frederick Olmsted Linear Parks” along the Ponce De Leon corridor through Druid Hills, who thinks of their connection to the World’s Fair of 1892 or New York’s Central Park. How many even know the name “Frederick Olmsted?”
Atlantan Joel Hurt developed the area known as Druid Hills, and in 1890 he persuaded Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., then working at the Biltmore Estate, to create a plan for a residential suburb. Olmsted submitted a preliminary plan to Hurt in 1893 that laid out the linear parks. Development on Druid Hills didn’t start until five years after Olmsted’s death, but his sons ensured that the plan was implemented intact.
The majority of our holdings on Olmsted focus on his linear parks. When you come to the Rose Library, you will find plans and descriptions of these parks featured heavily in the records of the DHCA, especially during the 1980s and 1990s when the city and state tried to replace them with a large, elevated highway through the area. The DHCA, CAUTION (Coalition Against Unnecessary Thoroughfares in Our Neighborhood) and other civic groups came together to stop the destruction of these parks for a Presidential Parkway that would have connected Emory University to the Carter Center. This situation is also documented in the Presidential Parkway opposition records which include a significant amount of research on the linear parks. The Asa Candler papers also include original maps and plans of the parks; Candler was an investor in the Druid Hills property along with Joel Hurt. In addition, the Elizabeth Stevenson papers include notes and manuscripts on her writings about Olmsted.
The papers of Atlanta urban historian Dana White contain especially thoughtful and interesting research on the parks. White was a member of the National Association for Olmsted Parks and his papers include recordings of presentations at their meetings and journals documenting his work with the organization as well as a number of articles and other research White conducted. Of note is a recorded presentation about Olmsted’s work in the South.
As the Library of Congress’ blog states, “Over the course of his career, Olmsted accepted private commissions and designed estates and institutions for wealthy clients, and he built a thriving business in doing so. But the heart of his work was in urban planning for public good and shared enjoyment.” This is clearly seen in the Olmsted linear parks. This space was carved out for public use and is a beautiful entry to the city from the east. These parks are still a desirable space for Atlantans, though few know their history, not only as a stand against the city’s interest in commuting, but also as a space designed by the country’s most famous landscape artist.
Laura Starrat is a Manuscript Archivist at the Stuart A. Rose Library. To search across the Library’s many collections related to Druid Hills, please visit our Finding Aids online at https://findingaids.library.emory.edu/.