History of the Winfield Robbins Memorial Garden

What artist so noble… as he who, with far-reaching conception of beauty, in designing power, sketches the outlines, writes the colors, and directs the shadows of a picture so great that Nature shall be employed upon it for generations, before the work he arranged for her shall realize his intentions. ~ Frederick Law Olmsted

Winfield Robbins Memorial Garden, 1939, courtesy NPS, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.As Arlington grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Robbins family gave their time and wealth to the betterment of the town.. The family funded and built our main library (1892), the Town Hall (1913), and gave their own Federal mansion, the Whittemore-Robbins House, to the Town in 1931. The Robbins sisters, Ida (1861-1949) and Caira (1866-1939) oversaw the construction of the Town Hall and the associated gardens.

At the same time that the Town Hall was built, the Robbins sisters commissioned the architect R. Clipston Sturgis to create the first design for the Winfield Robbins Memorial Garden. Sturgis created a formal public garden with diagonal walkways and symmetrical plantings. The Cyrus Dallin sculpture of the Menotomy Indian Hunter was installed at the heart of the garden.

In 1938, the Robbins sisters hired the Olmsted Brothers firm to redesign the gardens. The new design transformed the garden into a secluded, welcoming space that included a circular brick walk through the garden and an “informal, woodsy and rocky environment and a naturalistic planting as a background to the Indian.” (Town Report, 1939) Located between the Town Hall and the Library, the new gardens provided a quiet respite for visitors and citizens, something they continue to offer today.

Olmsted Brothers rendering of the natural setting for Dallin’s sculpture, 1938, courtesy NPS, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

Historic Significance

The Town buildings and grounds in Arlington’s Civic Block are listed on the Massachusetts State Register of Historic Places. The Civic Block is also located in the Arlington Center Historic District, designated under the National Register of Historic Places since 1974. In addition, the Massachusetts Historical Commission holds a permanent Preservation Restriction on the gardens and grounds. The Arlington Historical Commission is responsible for the oversight of the Civic Block’s building and grounds.

Historical Postcards of Robbins Town Garden

View a planting plan of Robbins Memorial Garden from 1939.

View a blueprint plan from 19??.

View another plan of Robbins Memorial Garden.