Ohio Historic Landscapes Survey


The idea of implementing the Ohio Historic Landscapes Survey began in 1984, when the Ohio Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects contacted the State Historic Preservation Office about developing a statewide inventory of important designed historic landscapes. The Ohio landscapes survey is part of a national effort to begin identifying in a systematic fashion significant designed landscapes, particularly the works of Frederick Law Olmsted and his successors. The emphasis on recording Olmsted's works was initially spearheaded by the National Association of Olmsted Parks. This effort coincided with legislation introduced in Congress by Ohio Representative John Seiberling that would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to begin documenting Olmsted's works. Partially in response to Mr. Seiberling's proposed legislation, the Ohio Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, through the efforts of Professor Noel Dorsey, furnished the State Historic Preservation Office with a list of over 200 historic landscapes in Ohio that may have been designed by Olmsted and his successors. This list became the basis of the newly formed Ohio Historic Landscapes Survey. However, rather than limit the survey exclusively to the works of Olmsted, the American Society of Landscape Architects and the State Historic Preservation Office decided to expand the survey to include the works of all landscape designers, both professional and amateur. Along with the standard American Society of Landscape Architects inventory form a short, one-page Ohio Historic Landscapes Survey form was developed. The State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects have begun to coordinate efforts with individuals and organizations across the state in completing the landscapes inventory.


The goal of the Ohio Historic Landscape Survey is to identify and record Ohio's significant designed historic landscapes, work toward developing a greater appreciation of these landscapes in the context of Ohio's cultural heritage, and determine which ones are important and worthy of preservation.


A historic landscape is defined as a work that has significance as a design or work of art; and/or an association with a designer, gardener, or landscape architect of note or with an owner or other amateur using that style or tradition; and/or a historical association with a significant person, trend, event, etc., in landscape gardening or landscape architecture; and/or a significant relationship to the theory or practice of landscape gardening or landscape architecture.


A historic landscape must have been consciously designed and laid out by a master gardener, landscape architect, or other individual(s) or group(s) working according to the established conventions and styles of gardening and landscape architecture. The landscape should be significant in its own right and not merely as a contemporary setting for a building or group of buildings. Cultural landscapes like the Amish farms of Holmes County should not be confused with a designed historic landscape. Rural farmsteads may be historic but because they usually represent the work of distinct cultural groups they are more properly classified as rural historic districts.

Types of Historic Designed Landscapes

  • residential grounds and gardens
  • botanical gardens and arboretums
  • church yards and cemeteries
  • public spaces (courthouse squares, city squares and town greens)
  • institutional grounds (college campuses, state hospitals)
  • streetscapes (plantings and furnishings)
  • subdivisions and planned communities
  • commercial and industrial parks and properties
  • parks
  • recreational grounds (resorts, golf courses, bowling greens, race tracks)
  • parkways, scenic drives, and trails
  • memorials

Recording a Historic Landscape

The recording of a historic landscape should include a description and history of the property including dates of design; names of owners, landscape architects, designers, gardeners, and administrators; identification of construction technologies, methods, and plant materials; landscape style; existing and previous uses with the dates of use identified; and the acreage of the original tract and any subsequent additions or reductions. Additional information may be important including the use of local, unusual, or exotic plant materials; the innovative use of new construction materials or technologies; and the relationship between the property and others that may be nearby that were designed by the same individual or firm, or owned by the same family or organization. Although a landscape need not retain all the characteristic features of its primary design it should retain enough of the essential features to make its historic character clearly recognizable.

Field Work

Conducting a detailed investigation of the landscape during site visits is necessary to identify and to record the present appearance and function of the landscape and to determine or locate landscape features that may add understanding to early uses, plantings, grading, construction materials, and techniques. It may be desirable to visit the property during several seasons if seasonal variations in vegetation or land use appear to be important features. Since vegetation may obscure walls, paths, important views and vistas, and other significant features, winter is often the best time for detailed investigations.

Narrative Description of Present Appearance and Function

A narrative description of the present appearance and function of a historic landscape should include an identification, location, and physical description of characteristic features that may include the following:

  • existing land form
  • land uses
  • circulation system of roads, paths, trails, etc.
  • buildings such as dormitories, hospitals, houses, and barns contained within the landscape
  • vegetation by botanical name and common name with caliper for measuring trees and heights for shrubs
  • landscape dividers such as walls and fences
  • structures such as bridges, gazebos, and mausoleums
  • site furnishings and small-scale elements such as benches, planters, and urns
  • bodies of water such as pools, fountains, lakes, streams, and cascades
  • lighting including actual fixtures such as street lights and lanterns as well as the use of both natural and artificial lighting as design elements (i.e. intensity, color)
  • signs delineating entrances, street names, and other features
  • spatial relationships and orientations such as symmetry, asymmetry, and axial alignment
  • views and vistas into and out of the property

Many landscape structures are individually important in their own right and should be separately recorded on an Ohio Historic Inventory form. Some examples might include bridges, gazebos, mausoleums, boulevard lamps, and gatehouses.


Historical research should include investigations of extant drawings, specifications, and plant lists prepared by the original and subsequent designers, if such documents are available. For some properties it may be possible to locate historic photographs, illustrations and descriptions in journals, newspapers, and other publications. An owner's, designer's, or gardener's diary or minutes, or proceedings for institutions or governmental projects, may provide useful information, as might ledgers or nursery catalogs. Identifying original sources for outdoor furnishings and hardware may provide important clues for establishing an approximate date for the landscape.

Previous studies, including management reports and vegetative inventories, if available may also be useful. Interviews with previous owners, descendants of owners, neighbors, designers, gardeners, contractors, or others involved with the history, design, or management of the property are usually valuable and may turn up other primary and secondary sources of material about the landscape. Investigations such as these described above, in addition to the necessary field work, can help a researcher to determine if a landscape was actually built and planted as designed.


There are actually two levels of documentation for inventorying historic landscapes in Ohio. The Ohio Historic Landscapes Survey form and the American Society of Landscape Architects survey form. The Ohio Historic Landscapes Survey form is a single-page questionnaire designed for use by interested individuals who may not have had formal training in landscape architecture. This form is being used to briefly document the location, date, and type of historic landscape in Ohio. Once the landscape has been located, a more intensive inventory can be conducted using the American Society of Landscape Architects Inventory form.

The American Society of Landscape Architects form is a four-page questionnaire used nationally for recording historic landscapes. Persons filling out this form should have some knowledge of landscape architecture, architectural history, or art history. They should also be familiar with the major persons, events, and trends associated with landscape gardening and landscape architecture and the basic chronology of landscape development in the United States.

Selected References

Keller, J. Timothy and Genevieve P.
How to Evaluate and Nominate Designed Historic Landscapes, National Register Bulletin 18. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of the Interior, 1987 (available through the U.S. Government Printing Office).

Meier, Lauren, American Society of Landscape Architects, and Chittenden, Betsy, comp.
Preserving Historic Landscapes, An Annotated Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1990.

Morrow, Baker H.
A Dictionary of Landscape Architecture. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987.

Newton, Norman T.
Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of the University of Massachusetts Press, 1971.

Tishler, William, ed.
American Landscape Architecture: Designers and Places. Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1989. Special acknowledgment in the preparation of this information is given to Genevieve and Timothy Keller, How to Evaluate and Nominate Designed Historic Landscapes. National Register of Bulletin 18.