News from the Schoolhouse
April 3, 2023
Nothing says Spring like daffodils!
And crocus and lilacs…
… and re-opening the elephant fountains on our treasured Lawson Park!
Indeed, it is impossible to imagine Scituate without Lawson Park.
A beloved place in our community, in recent weeks, Lawson Park finds itself the subject of discussion – including an upcoming public meeting on April 12 at the Senior Center. With potential changes to the park grounds now before the Town, perhaps it would be helpful to look at the Park’s origins and its history, to best inform thoughtful discussion.
Honoring Scituate’s Military Service and Sacrifice: The Development of Lawson Park
There are several well-researched and documented accounts of the origins of Lawson Park, including the writings of Barbara Murphy and Mrs. Allerton Bonney.
Lesser well-known but very important historically is the fact that our Lawson Park was designed by the country’s most preeminent landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted Associates. Among Olmsted Associates’ many significant commissions are the grounds of the U.S. Capital Building, New York City’s Central Park, and Boston’s Emerald Necklace including Boston Common, the Fens, and the Atheneum. Correspondence from the Library of Congress and the Olmsted Associates archives kept by the National Park Service demonstrates the attention to every detail that went into the original design of Scituate’s park.
The park we know today was originally the site and church common of the First Parish Church of Scituate, active from 1737 until 1774, when a new church, “the Old Sloop” was erected on the site of what is now the Unitarian-Universalist Church. This land bordered the famous summer estate of Thomas W. Lawson, Dreamwold Farm. Lawson was given permission to improve the common land, and it was later conveyed to him around 1907 with the understanding that he beautify it and make it available for a Civil War memorial.
Forward to the 1915 Town Meeting, where a vote was made to have the moderator appoint a committee to consider building a soldiers and sailors monument. By town meeting in 1917, it is voted to allocate $10k from tax revenues to erect a monument. After a period of disputes between the town and Thomas W. Lawson, it was voted to accept a parcel of the common land from Lawson for the site of the monument.
Discussion and design proposals ensued and a final design for the Sailors and Soldiers Monument was selected. On June 17,1918, in a moving ceremony, the 15 surviving Grand Army of the Republic Civil War veterans from the George William Perry Post #31 marched from the GAR Hall on Country Way to the park where the new monument was unveiled and dedicated.
Soon after the Sailors and Soldiers Monument was unveiled, the town formed a Welcome Home Committee for the town’s returning soldiers and sailors from World War I and named Lawson as its chairman. The park was still in an unfinished state and Lawson set about completing it, engaging Olmsted Brothers to complete the design.
Lawson was known for only using the highest quality and best resources; e.g., the lighting in Dreamwold was by Tiffany & Company and the tilework was custom Grueby. (Please see our website for details of the Dreamwold Farm estate.) So it is not surprising that he sought to engage the country’s most highly regarded landscape firm to assist in the completion of the park – Frederick Law Olmstead Associates.
Documents in the Library of Congress between Olmsted Associates and Mr. William A. Burton of the Scituate Welcome Home Committee discuss the “Lawson War Memorial Park.”
In a June 1919 letter from Olmsted Associates to Burton, Olmsted recommends: “In general we should use very little shrubbery but would try very hard to secure the dignified effect, so characteristic of our New England commons of a simple, rich, turf, with a good many trees.”
To complete the Olmsted concept, Lawson contributed from his Dreamwold estate “fifteen of my prettiest approximately thirty-year-old elms and planted them in the best positions” and purchased “forty-two more.”
(Collection: Job #6706, Lawson Park, Scituate, MA)
(Associated correspondence held at the U. S. Library of Congress)
A memorial service for the returning soldiers and sailors was held on June 29, 1919 at the Riding Academy at Dreamwold, followed by a full day event on July 4th where Lawson formally presented the Memorial Park, along with a victory pageant, band concert and military ball! In 1921, a grateful town voted to rename “Memorial Park” to “Lawson Park.”
As we enter the second hundred years of Lawson Park, this carefully considered place continues to provide a beautiful contemplative setting for townspeople to acknowledge and gather – commemorating those who gave their lives for our country.
We hope that the town of Scituate continues to appreciate this gem in our midst.
National Association for Olmsted parks
About – National Association for Olmsted Parks
Olmsted Research Guide Online (ORGO) – Olmsted project written inventory information
Olmsted Research Guide Online (rediscov.com – search using keyword 06706)
National Association for Olmstead Parks
Project Details Page – Olmsted Online
The Trustees of the Scituate Historical Society