Charles Eliot (1859-1897)

November 4, 2011


Charles Eliot, landscape architect and planner, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 1, 1859.

The son of Charles W. Eliot, chemist and president of Harvard College, Eliot grew up in a family that valued education. Eliot’s mother died when he was only nine years old, and two years later the family began a tradition of visiting Mount Desert Island in Maine, whose beauty stayed with Eliot beyond his visits. He toured South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida with his aunt in the spring of 1874 and recorded the landscape in a journal.

Eliot graduated from Harvard with a B.A. in 1882 and began studying landscape history and design at Harvard’s Bussey Institute. In 1883 his father arranged an apprenticeship with Frederick Law Olmsted and Eliot worked for the landscape architect for two years. He traveled to Europe after completing his apprenticeship, and after returning to the US, set up his own office. He designed the Longfellow Memorial Gardens in Cambridge and divided the Norton estate for housing lots during this period.

In 1891 Eliot helped to create The Trustees of Public Reservations, which worked on behalf of land conservancy. With the support of the Massachusetts legislature, he created a privately-funded tax-exempt association to protect natural and historical resources in Massachusetts. (The word “public” was later dropped from the organization’s name, which is today known as The Trustees of Reservations).  The following year, Eliot served as chief landscape architect for the Boston Metropolitan Park Commission. Green spaces like the Blue Hills, the Fells, Waverly Oaks, and areas along the Charles River were identified and preserved to meet specific goals and create a park system. In 1893 he joined the Olmsted firm, which was then renamed Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot.

Eliot died suddenly at the age of 37 of cerebrospinal meningitis. A prolific writer, his Scenery and Vegetation in the Metropolitan Reservations of Boston, a philosophical work on scenery preservation, was published posthumously in 1898.  Harvard established a course in landscape architecture in 1900 and memorialized Eliot with the Charles Eliot Professorship and the Charles Eliot Travelling Fellowship. He was buried in his brother’s lot at Mount Auburn.

Charles Eliot

Charles Eliot is buried at Mount Auburn in Lot 5417 on Amethyst Path.

Adapted from the research of Judy Jackson and Laura M. Gosman, as published in Mount Auburn’s Person of the Week: Charles Eliot, 2001.

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