Boston’s Emerald Necklace

The Olmsted Emerald Necklace Historic Map

After reading about the Fens and the Riverway in “Constructing Nature: The Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted,” by Anne Whiston Spirn a couple of weeks ago for class I became very interested in the idea of these man-made wetlands and decided to delve further into this subject for my free-form article. After looking into the Fens and the Riverway I found that the Riverway is part of a system of parks called the Emerald Necklace (which was briefly mentioned in “Constructing Nature”) in Boston, Massachusetts. These parks are part of a conservation organization called the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.

In addition to the Riverway, this group of parks includes (in order from start to finish) Franklin Park, The Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Pond, Olmsted Park, and the Back Bay Fens. The Necklace begins at the Charles River and goes to Dorchester. The entirety of this park system took eighteen years (from 1878 to 1896) to completely construct, and it takes up over a thousand acres, which is over half of Boston’s entire park system. The Back Bay Fens, Jamaica Pond, and Franklin Park are all taken care of by the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department, while Olmsted Park and the Riverway are tended by both the City of Boston Parks and Recreation and Brookline Parks and Open Space. The Arnold Arboretum is cared for by Harvard University. All of the six parks are accessible by at least one route provided by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which allows many people to be able to experience the beauty of the Emerald Necklace.

A bridge in Franklin Park

Franklin Park (named for Benjamin Franklin) is referred to as the “crowning jewel” in the Emerald Necklace. It has a 200 acre forest, public golf course, gaming fields, and fifteen miles of bridle and walking paths for visitors to enjoy. One of Zoo New England’s two parks (the aptly named Franklin Park Zoo) is located inside of Franklin Park, and was founded in 1912. A few other features the Franklin Park boasts are Scarborough Pond, the Wilderness (a part of the historic forests), and White Stadium.

The Arnold Arboretum was the first arboretum in North America. Although it is owned by the City of Boston, it has been leased out to Harvard University for a thousand years starting in 1882. Among its 265 acres it holds Peter’s Hill, which is the highest point in the Necklace. It is open every day of the year for those interested in enjoying the outdoors and scientific study.

Sailing on Jamaica Pond

Olmsted said that Jamaica Pond is “favoring great beauty in reflections and flickering half-lights.” He used many of the plants growing wild near the pond to make the setting more visually appealing, but apparently did not have to do much work to make the space beautiful. The one-and-a-half mile path that runs around the pond is a popular route for joggers.

The word picturesque was used by Olmsted to describe the design of Olmsted Park (formerly called Leverett Park after the large pond of the same name); Olmsted envisioned “a chain of picturesque fresh-water ponds, alternating with attractive natural groves and meads.” Olmsted’s original landscape designs have been lost over time, but renovations have begun on restoring the parks to their designer’s original vision.

The Back Bay Fens was the first park in the Emerald Necklace. This is where Olmsted created the wetlands to get rid of the waste that flooded through the land. The landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff later added ball fields and the Kelleher Rose Garden. A Victory Garden from 1941 (the oldest remaining one) is still being used today as a Community Garden. The Riverway holds the Muddy River, which was rerouted by Olmsted. Several of his original stone bridges still stand in this space.

A .pdf file of the updated map of the entire Emerald Necklace parks is located here. If you’re interested in learning more about this conservation effort (or even want to get involved with it!), check out their home page here.

One thought on “Boston’s Emerald Necklace

  1. I’m glad that you were curious enough to investigate further into Olmsted’s design for public spaces in Boston. These are certainly highly valued places today.

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