Olmsted’s U.S. Capitol Grounds


It is only a matter of time before a new and growing country needs to expand its center of government. Such was the case when Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to design an extension of the U.S. Capitol grounds.

I had the privilege of photographing Olmsted’s home office, which was the first of its kind for landscape architecture. The office as well as his house are open to the public for ranger-led tours.

But I also wanted to photograph something that is not typically on view. Museums are like icebergs. Most of its collections remain unseen underneath. The staff generously brought out artifacts for me to photograph in their archival area. And the hand-drawn plan pictured above was one of my subjects.

The U.S. Capitol had been extended by the addition of the House and Senate wings along with a new dome. This meant that the grounds also had to be enlarged. So, in 1874, Olmsted was brought on to plan and oversee the project.

In addition to the landscaping elements, Olmsted also was responsible for the architectural treatments such as the terrace walls, lighting, fountains, railings, and balustrades.

This image has never been seen outside of the National Park Service, let alone printed or published online.

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Published by Xiomáro

Nationally exhibited artist, photographer, speaker, teacher, and curator. Author of "Weir Farm National Historic Site" (Arcadia Publishing). www.xiomaro.com.

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