Frederick Law Olmsted | A Passion for Parks, National Geographic: Olmsted’s Last Home

Front door to small abandoned building in winter snow.

Snow drifts onto the doorway of a cottage at McLean Hospital that once housed mental patients including Frederick Law Olmsted who had earlier designed the grounds of the institution.

“Near the end of a long life otherwise steeped in serendipitous good luck and brilliant achievement, Frederick Law Olmsted—maker of our nation’s first great urban parks and founding father of landscape architecture in America—succumbed to a senile dementia so severe it demanded his confinement in this institution he had intended for others a generation before. The year was 1898; the place, Belmont, Massachusetts, not far from Boston. There, asylum staff watched over Olmsted among a cluster of cottages, one called Hope. The name had no relevance to his prognosis. Accompanied by a nurse or a family member, he strolled the grounds, his gift for observation not yet so dulled that he failed to note certain deviations from his original concept. “They didn’t carry out my plans,” he complained to his family. “Confound them!”  John G. Mitchell, National Geographic

McLean maintains the world’s largest neuro-scientific and psychiatric research program in a private hospital. It is also known for the large number of famous people who have been treated there including mathematician John Nash, poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, and musicians James Taylor and Ray Charles.

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