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Themes of the Eliot Scrapbook

The Charles Eliot Scrapbook encompasses several major themes of the early history of land conservation (1881-1901).1 Eliot collected articles and other writing that addressed preservation interests and issues on both a local and national scale, and the ideas and events referenced are part of a much larger conversation that was taking place at the time.

These are the main subjects and themes that are followed most extensively in the scrapbook, explained within the context of their full histories – what had occurred at the time of the article and what would go on to happen. For each topic, we have identified the important related articles from the scrapbook and provided outside references for additional research.


1: New York

In the scrapbook, Eliot uses New York as a mirror to Boston on multiple occasions. In some respects, it seems that Boston was ahead of New York in conserving land, while in other places, such as tenement housing and overcrowding, New York City seemed to have the upper hand.

Important Articles

  • pg. 122 (article 2, article 3)
  • pg. 125 (article 4, article 5)
  • pg. 128 (article 3)
  • pg. 129

1a: The Palisades

The Palisades are cliffs overlooking the Hudson in New York and New Jersey. Before the preservation of the cliffs in 1900, the large quarries were being blasted for crushed stone and building material. Since the cliffs overlooked the Hudson, the public could see the destruction taking place. In the 1890s, an effort to preserve the Palisades was led by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. In 1895, the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs joined the Society’s efforts, and attempted to persuade the state legislature to pass a bill to join with New York to protect the Palisades. In 1900, the Interstate Park Commission was created, and in 1909 the Palisades Interstate Park was formed.

Important Articles

  • pg. 112 (article 2)
  • Palisades (F1)
  • Forester (F1)

External Resources:

History of the Palisades Interstate Park

1b:The Adirondacks

In 1849, Joel Tyler Headley published Adirondack; or, Life in the Woods. This triggered the development of hotels and stagecoach lines in the mountains. A railroad was soon built, running from Saratoga Springs to North Creek, and Great Camps were developed. In 1884, a commission chaired by the botanist Charles Sprague Sargent recommended the establishment of a forest preserve in the Adirondacks, which resulted in the New York State Legislature to designate selected counties in the state as places where Forest Preserve could be acquired in the future. In 1902, the legislature passed a bill defining the Adirondack Park for the first time, and placed restrictions on development and lumbering.

Important Articles

  • pg. 18 (article 1)
  • pg. 25 (article 2)
  • pg. 45 (article 1)
  • pg. 91 (article 3)
  • pg. 107 (article 1)

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2: The National Parks

Yosemite Valley and Yellowstone are recurring places of note in the scrapbook. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln put Yosemite under the protection of California. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant made Yellowstone America’s first, and the world’s, national park.

After 1851, when Yosemite Valley had been entered by a group of European Americans chasing a band of Native Americans, claims on the valley lands were filed. Worried that the public would be unable to access the land, Congress withdrew the lands from alienation in 1864, and turned the valley over to California as a public park. In 1865, Frederick Law Olmsted reported to the governor of California about his philosophical foundations for the preservation for “inspirational purposes and made explicit recommendations on such matters as concession operations, development, scientific protection, and interpretation.”2 California managed the park until 1906, when it was merged with Yosemite National Park.

Important Articles

  • pg. 36 (article 3, article 4)
  • pg. 27e-g
  • pg. 100 (article 1)
  • pg. 122 (article 1)

External Resources:

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3: Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston

The Metropolitan Park System was the first regional park system in the United States. Born from an appeal by Charles Eliot for a new park system on December 16, 1891 (pages 62-63), Eliot and Sylvester Baxter issued a report in 1893 making the final recommendations on what needed to be done, which included fitting properties into four different landscape categories. The Metropolitan Park System was established by the Metropolitan Park Commission in 1893, and contributed significantly to the American park movement of the 19th century. Revered at home and in Europe, it was an example of how landscape architecture and planning should be employed in cities. Beaver Brook Reservation, including Waverly Oaks, became the first reservation to be added to the system. Early acquisitions for the Metropolitan Park System included the Charles River Reservation, Middlesex Fells, and Revere Beach Reservation. In order to connect various spaces around Boston, several parkways were an integral part of Boston’s transportation system, and were designed by landscape architects such as Arthur A. Shurcliff. Olmsted & Eliot designed the Old Harbor Reservation Parkway, which was the final component of Olmsted’s “Emerald Necklace” in Boston. In an article entitled “The Waverly Oaks: A Plan for their Preservation for the People,” Charles Eliot proposed the expansion of the park system to 10 miles outside of Boston. Currently, the park comprises parks, reservations, parkways, and roads, comprising almost 20,000 acres of parklands in 37 Boston area communities.

Important Articles

articles marked with an asterix (*) include information specifically about damming the Charles River

  • pg. 45 (article 2)
  • pg. 46 (article 1)
  • pg. 51-52 (article 1)
  • pg. 64 (article 1)
  • pg. 66
  • pg. 67
  • pg. 89 (article 1)
  • pg. 95 (article 1)
  • pg. 101 (article 1)
  • pg. 106
  • pg. 111
  • pg. 113
  • pg. 114-115*
  • pg. 120 (article 1)*
  • pg. 130 (article 3)*
  • Public Reservations (F1)*
  • Mass. Supreme Court (F1)*

External Resources:

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4: Advertising

After the Civil War, there was an upsurge in advertisements around the United States. These advertisements were often placed in areas that could be easily seen, which were sometimes places of natural wonder, such as the Palisades. A reaction against advertising was already taking place in the U.K., and it is apparent through the articles in the scrapbook that Eliot looked to the British reaction to advertising as a model for the United States. In England, the Society for Checking the Abuses of Public Advertising fought to rid rural towns and scenery of advertisements by petitioning Parliament and raising awareness. The SCAPA was founded in 1893 by Richardson Evans, and passed the Advertisements Regulation Act 1907 and 1925, which empowered local authorities to make by-laws. In articles relating to the United States, many New York articles complained about advertising in the state.

Important Articles

  • pg. 105 (article 1)
  • pg. 106 (article 1)
  • pg. 135 (article 2)
  • pg. 138 (article 1)

External Resources:

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5: The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution saw an increase in the overcrowding of cities and the pollution of the environment. In the scrapbook, the Charles River is used to point to the pollution in and around Boston, since the river was used for sewer run-off. To combat these issues, Eliot and other proposed the damming of the Charles River and the creation of the Charles River Basin, which would prevent tides from moving into the River from the sea, as well as control the sewage problems in the upper river. Inner city parks in New York and Boston were pointed to as necessary for crowded tenements, since open areas were good for public health. The Brooklyn Society for Parks and Playgrounds, a group that Charles Eliot follows throughout the scrapbook, was a direct result of cries for open spaces in the inner city. In 1902, the Society, along with the New York Society for Parks and Playgrounds and the Metropolitan Parks Association joined forces to create the Parks and Playgrounds Association of the City of New York.

At the same time, the Province Lands attracted the likes of Edward Bellamy, author of Looking Backward, and the Nationalist. In the face of the Industrial Revolution and overcrowding, the Nationalists groups wanted to create a socialist utopia that Edward Bellamy wrote about in his novel. A group of Nationalists from Boston wanted to preserve the Province Lands because they believed it was an ideal place to create the utopia presented in Looking Backward. Although the Boston contingent stated that they did not want to privatize the land, Thomas Smyth wrote several articles in opposition to the politicizing of preserving the Province Lands (page 98).

Important Articles: Charles River

  • pg. 51-52 (article 1)
  • pg. 131 (article 1)
  • pg. 132 (article 5)

Important Articles: Inner City Parks

  • pg. 19 (article 2)
  • pg. 38 (article 1)
  • pg. 41d (article 1)
  • pg. 67 (article 5)
  • pg. 99 (article 1)
  • pg. 128 (article 2)

External Resources:

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6: Forestry

By the late 1800s, the increase in railroads and steam-generated power helped make the lumber industry a large-scale commodity, increasing the demand for lumber beyond local needs. During this time, large-scale deforestation can be seen throughout the Eastern United States. By 1880, lumber had overtaken agriculture as the most important driver of deforestation. The fear of big-industry lumber companies taking timber from mountains and forests can be seen in the scrapbook in articles relating to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and deforestation in the Western United States. The Province Lands also play a large part in the theme of forestry, with discussions about the best way to place trees in the moving sand dunes at the forefront of the problems in Provincetown. As a result of deforestation, commissions were created to investigate forests throughout the U.S. The New Hampshire Forestry Commission, created in 1893, was a direct result of the deforestation occurring in the White Mountains (page 100, article 2).

Important Articles

  • pg. 15 (article 1)
  • pg. 17 (article 1)
  • pg. 23-25
  • pg. 27 (article 2)
  • pg. 82 (article 1)
  • pg. 85 (article 3)
  • pg. 100 (article 1)
  • pg. 107 (article 1)
  • pg. 122 (article 1)

External Resources:

7: Transportation and Access

With the Industrial Revolution came new transportation technologies for individuals and the public. After the new plan for the Metropolitan Park System took shape, there was a need to provide access to the reservations that were being protected. Not only did this include the wealthy, who had access to their own transportation, but also transportation technology for the masses. Parkway proposals, particularly between the Middlesex Fells and Boston, highlighted the need for electric trolleys. Although contributing to deforestation, railroads were employed to transport people to the Adirondacks and Niagara Falls. The new age of the Industrial Revolution allowed more people easy access to far afield public spaces. The Metropolitan Park Commission played a large role in increasing access to reservations by creating boulevards and parkways.

Important Articles

  • pg. 56-57 (article 1)
  • pg. 107 (article 2)
  • pg. 113 (article 2)
  • pg. 120 (article 2)
  • pg. 123 (article 3)
  • pg. 130 (article 2)
  • pg. 133 (article 1)
  • pg. 140 (article 1)
  • Transcript (F2)

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1 Material continued to be added to the scrapbook after Charles Eliot’s death in 1897, although it is not known by whom. 

2https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anps/anps_1.htm