Save the date for the December 3rd lecture of the Friends of Fairsted lecture series: Our National Parks and the “Fairsted School”: An Enduring Legacy. We are pleased to be a supporter of this event.
Ethan Carr, PhD, FASLA
6:00pm Reception | 7:00pm Lecture
Wheelock College, Brookline Campus
43 Hawes Street, corner of Hawes and Monmouth Streets, Brookline, MA
Seating is limited and reservations are required.
Reserve online or 617-566-1689, ext. 265
The Olmsted firm is famous for the design of hundreds of municipal parks and other landscapes. The achievements of Olmsted and his successors in scenic preservation are less well understood, but park design and scenic preservation were both aspects of the practice of landscape architecture Olmsted developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. This talk explores the role of the “Fairsted School” of landscape architecture and its influence on scenic preservation and the design of state and national park systems through the twentieth century.
Ethan Carr, PhD, FASLA, is a landscape historian and preservationist specializing in public landscapes. He has taught at the Harvard GSD, the University of Virginia, and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is a professor. He has written two award-winning books, Wilderness by Design (1998) and Mission 66: Modernism and the National Park Dilemma (2007), and is the volume editor of Volume 8 of the Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, The Early Boston Years, 1882-1890 (2013).
Limited street parking is available. Public parking is not allowed in the Wheelock parking lot. Venue is easily accessible by MBTA Green Line “C” (Hawes Street) or “D” (Longwood) trains.
Thanks to the Friends Sculpture Care Program, master stone conservator Ivan Myjer was recently on Boston Common to perform general maintenance on the Shaw Memorial. Ongoing regular upkeep involved repointing of the granite walls, marble balustrade and base. Several areas that experienced a loss of stone were rebuilt and stains on the stone caused by the environment were cleaned. Myjer also applied sealant around the base of the bronze relief to protect it from moisture getting behind the bronze and causing damage. While the Friends has overseen regular maintenance on the monument, it was observed that over time, water has seeped into cracks between the stones causing displacement in several places. A comprehensive assessment was done on this treasured piece of art and recommendations were made for restoration work.
The Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial by renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens is the most acclaimed piece of public sculpture in Boston, and one of the most significant pieces of sculpture in the country. Saint-Gaudens was the foremost American sculptor of his day. After accepting the Shaw Memorial commission in 1884, he took almost fourteen years to complete the job. The enormous bas-relief depicts the mounted Colonel Robert Gould Shaw leading the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first all-volunteer black regiment in the Union army. Colonel Shaw, together with many of his men, died at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in July 1863. Names of all 54th Regiment soldiers are listed on the Boston Common side of the monument.
For November our Tree of the Month is the Oak, one of only a few local trees to be the last to lose its leaves. Well into the winter season, Bostonians will be able to look up at shivering branches almost uncannily cloaked with tenacious brown oak leaves.
Oaks are an astoundingly diverse group of trees – there are 600 species all over the world, and 90 species in North America. These mostly deciduous trees hybridize easily and are sometimes difficult to identify. The wood of oaks, as well as their acorns, is high in a type of polyphenol called tannin—the source of its strength, resistance to rot and insects, and the flavor oak barrels can impart to their contents (well known to lovers of “buttery” chardonnay).
Here on the Boston Common and in the Public Garden, Pin Oaks, Red Oaks, and White Oaks are among the largest trees. The Commonwealth Avenue Mall has over 30 specimens and four species of oaks, the Garden over 20 specimens and seven species, and the Common over 50 specimens and five species.
The tree fruit—mostly acorns—carpeting the forest floor this time of year is collectively called “mast”, from the same Old English word (“maest”) that gave us the word “meat.” Bumper acorn crop years are called “mast years” and are directly associated with huge fluctuations in wildlife populations, which can then have ripple effects on populations of other creatures like ticks that feed on oak-dependent wildlife such as mice and deer.
Early humans all over the globe ate acorns, after processing them in various ways (soaking, drying, etc). Until relatively recently in human history, acorns were a significant source of calories for humanity – by some estimates up to 10 percent.
When Europeans came to North America, the old growth oak forests here were an attractive natural resource, as oak was an important building material that had been mostly exhausted in Europe. Oak was used in shipbuilding, quarter sawn for oak furniture, and prized for barreling wine and spirits. The old-growth White Oak planks of the USS Constitution withstood so many English shells that the sailors nicknamed it “Old Ironsides.”
Oak forests still thrive in Southern New England, and are characterized by dry, sandy soils, other fire adapted plants such as blueberry bushes and various pine species, and hickory species. On Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, the familiar low twisty maritime forests are also dominated by fire adapted oaks and their associated understory species and pollinators, some of which are rare and endangered species of moths and butterflies.
In some parts of New England, oaks face a new kind of threat – overgrazing by deer. Without many predators, deer populations have exploded in New England, and excessive browse of oak seedlings and saplings by deer is exerting pressure on successional change in the forested landscape.
As you walk through our three parks, look for urban wildlife feeding on acorns—squirrels are ubiquitous, of course, but you might also see crows, jays, ducks, geese, raccoons, opossums, and perhaps even foxes. Then take a moment to look up at the familiar lobed leaves that not so long ago shaded us on those hot summer days. We have so many reasons to feel grateful to the oak!
Claire Corcoran is an ecologist and member of the Friends of the Public Garden Board of Directors. She is a self proclaimed “tree hugger” and dedicated advocate for greenspace in Boston and beyond. Claire lives in the South End of Boston with her husband and three children.
Anne Swanson has been a member of the Friends almost since the early 1980s. Before joining, Anne volunteered picking trash up in the Public Garden. Through this activity Anne met other people just as passionate about the parks and discovered the Friends of the Public Garden. She quickly got involved and used her editing skills by volunteering to help with programming for the Victorian Promenade, created in the 1970s by the Friends to bring attention to the parks with a positive and festive event. Anne remembers The Victorian Promenades fondly: people dressed in period costume, a croquet game played in whites, and one year Henry Lee dressed in his great-grandfather’s military uniform! History was brought to life with the Promenades.
One of Anne’s favorite things about the three parks the Friends cares for is their deep and rich histories that few parks can claim. The Public Garden’s origins as the first public botanical garden in the country, and the efforts of Bostonians to ensure that it would remain a public garden, make it special. The Boston Common boasts centuries of history, but the Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial stands out. Anne says, “One can’t look at it [Shaw Memorial] without thinking of its historic impact.” The piece created by celebrated American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens commemorates the first regiment of African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The Commonwealth Avenue Mall is her backyard, an essential part of the Back Bay community. Another volunteer effort of Anne’s was creating cards for the Friends that featured historic etchings of the Mall. Anne has spent countless volunteer hours on behalf of the Friends and is a member of the Board of Directors. As a board member she loves working with a dedicated group of people sharing a common mission and finds the way it all comes together to be fascinating.
A sense of community is what inspired Anne to volunteer and to be committed to the preservation and enhancement of these parks. She wants everyone to know that anyone can be a part of this community that cares for the parks. She recalls one of her favorite memories that depict the passionate commitment of this group: elm trees were ailing, and back in the 1960s Ted Weeks, Dan Ahern, and Stella Trafford worked tirelessly to save them by injecting disease-fighting fungicide into the trees using bicycle pumps. These veteran park lovers mentored the present group of stewards who are now reaching out to educate future generations through events such as Duckling Day and Making History on the Common. For Anne, the preservation of these parks is essential for their “function beyond greenspace by fostering community filled with history that accumulates to a spiritual quality.”
The future of Boston parks and public spaces is counting on your imagination!
The City of Boston is developing Boston 2030, its first citywide plan in 50 years. We are calling on all parks advocates to share your voices about the importance of parks for the City, and in particular ideas for protecting and enhancing the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall as the city grows. Boston 2030 is developing a vision and creating a roadmap to realize this vision in time to celebrate Boston’s 400th birthday in 2030.
How to participate?
SHARE your vision by answering a few questions at imagine.boston.gov.
- This is your chance to let the City know that your life in 2030 will be better with great parks and public spaces!
- If you have a big idea for our parks that will make Boston a better place to live in 2030, submit it!
ATTEND an Open House!
Boston 2030 Open House
Date: Monday, November 16
Time: 4:00 – 7:00 pm — drop in anytime
Location: Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building 2300 Washington Street, Dudley Square