About Charles Eliot
Charles Eliot (November 1, 1859 – March 25, 1897) was a leading American landscape architect, whose career was cut short by death at age 38 from spinal meningitis. Eliot pioneered many of the fundamental principles of regional planning and laid the conceptual and political groundwork for land and historical conservancies across the world. In addition, he played a central role in shaping the Boston Metropolitan Park System, designed a number of public and private landscapes, and wrote prolifically on a host of topics.
Eliot was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts where his father Charles William Eliot was president of Harvard University, and in 1901, after his son's death, author of a biography of his son's life. His father's cousin, Charles Eliot Norton, was professor of art history at Harvard, and a well-known literary figure. On graduation from Harvard in 1882, Eliot pursued special horticultural courses at Bussey Institute at Harvard to prepare himself for the profession of landscape architecture. Eliot is part of the American Eliot family, a family of many distinguished Americans originating from Boston and today, his grandchildren and great grandchildren continue efforts to protect the earth he so loved.
In 1883 he became an apprentice for Frederick Law Olmsted and Company, where he worked on designs for Cushing Island, Maine (1883), Franklin Park (1884), the Arnold Arboretum (1885), the Fens (1883) in Boston, and Belle Isle Park (1884) in Detroit. In 1885, on Olmsted's advice, Eliot traveled to Europe to observe natural scenery as well as the landscape designs of Capability Brown, Humphry Repton, Joseph Paxton, and Prince Pückler-Muskau. Eliot's travel diaries provide one of the best visual assessments of European landscapes in the late 19th century.
Returning to Boston in 1886, Eliot opened his own office. His commissions included White Park (1888) in Concord, New Hampshire, Youngstown Gorge (1891), now called Mill Creek Park, in Youngstown, Ohio, and Salt Lake City's plan for a new town (1890). After the death of their partner Henry Sargent Codman, Olmsted's son Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and stepson John Charles Olmsted asked Eliot to become a full partner in their firm. In March 1893 Eliot agreed, and the firm's name was changed to Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot. Within a few months, Eliot assumed the leadership role as the elder Olmsted's health continued to fail.
Eliot's work has left a lasting mark on the greater Boston area. He published conceptual plans for the esplanades along the Charles River in Boston proposed earlier by Charles Davenport and others, and as the consulting landscape architect for the Metropolitan Park Commission, he supervised the acquisition of much of the riverfront in Boston, Watertown, and Newton. He also directed the landscape work on the Cambridge esplanade for the city's park commission. The esplanade in Boston was later realized following designs by Guy Lowell (1910) and Arthur Shurcliff (1936). In 1883, he designed Longfellow Park between the Cambridge home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the Charles River. Up until his death he was the partner in charge of the firm's work at Fresh Pond in Cambridge.
In addition to his practice, Eliot became a regular contributor of professional articles to Garden and Forest Magazine. On March 5, 1890 he published a landmark article entitled "Waverly Oaks" to defend a stand of virgin trees in Belmont, Massachusetts, in the process making a plea for preservation of the oaks and outlining a strategy for conserving other areas of scenic beauty in the same way that the Boston Public Library held books and the Museum of Fine Arts pictures. This article resulted in a conference held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1890 on preservation of scenic beauty, and led to the enactment of Massachusetts legislation creating The Trustees of Reservations in 1891 — the world's first organization created to "acquire, hold, protect and administer, for the benefit of the public, beautiful and historical places." Within four years, Britain's National Trust was created along these lines.
After Eliot's death, Olmsted's son and stepson reconstituted their partnership as the Olmsted Brothers, which continued for another 50 years as one of the most famous landscape design firms in the United States, and went on to design thousands of parks, gardens, and landscapes in the 20th century.
Eliot is considered the inspiration behind the establishment of Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine.