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James Bradford Olcott papers

Identifier: RG069_019

Scope and Content

Series 1, California, 1849-1853, contains an account book detailing money received and debts owed during James Bradford Olcott's time in California between the years of 1849-1853. The series also contains correspondence written from the ship the Henry Lee which Olcott traveled on in transit to California during 1849. Other correspondence from his time in California, include letters to and from his family during the years of 1849 and 1851. Finally manuscript written by Olcott later in life, titled "Peach Pudding for Three Hundred Fifty" recounting several events from the time he spent in California as a young man.

Series 2, Correspondence, 1852-1906, contains letters from the colleagues of Olcott including Dr. William H. Brewer of Yale. Other colleagues also include the director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, from 1900 to 1923, Dr. Edward H. Jenkins. The bulk of Olcott's correspondence, however, comes from Dr. Jenkins' predecessor Dr. Samuel W. Johnson, director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station during the years from 1877 until 1899. Other correspondences are more general while still mainly pertaining to his work with grasses as well as his work for the Hartford Courant.

Series 3, Manchester Turf Garden, 1890-1910, are detailed records of the various aspects of Olcott's care of his turf garden. The Manchester Turf Garden Records, despite going through several name changes, are journals recording the daily goings on from 1890 to 1910 in the Turf Garden. Also included in this series is a booklet containing lists of the grasses and where Olcott received them from. Finally, Olcott's Plat Lists contain information on where each grass is located within Olcott's Turf Garden for each year from 1890 up until 1893.

Series 4, Writings, 1869-1895, consists of speeches that Olcott had written for delivery as well as more general writings on his Horticulture work. More notably this series contains the book, "State Board of Agriculture Papers" which contains reports to the State Board of Agriculture from 1869 to 1890 mostly written by Olcott. A proposal, for Olcott's travel for the purpose of gaining more information about grasses in their originating countries, known as "The Argument" written to Director Johnson is included with a letter to Director Johnson. Also included are the articles Olcott wrote for the Hartford Courant, during the years between 1869 and 1889.

Series 5, Photographs, 1878-1937, fall into various subseries important to Olcott's life, however the main bulk pertains to his Turf Garden in one way or another. Portraits contain portraits of Olcott as well as one of his wife Mrs. Emily Roberts Olcott. Turf Samples contains photographs, as the title suggests, of turf samples taken from his Turf Garden. The subseries titled Turf Garden documents various work being done within Olcott's Turf Garden in South Manchester. Garden Tools displays the various tools Olcott used to maintain his Turf Garden several of which he had invented himself. The Ranch consists of photographs of Olcott's home which he had named "The Ranch".

Series 6, Newspaper clippings, 1881-1938, consists of newspaper clippings presumably taken by Olcott himself between the years of 1881 and 1906. Other clippings contained within this series, from 1914 to 1938, however may have been taken by his surviving family members after his death. Also contained here are Olcott's obituaries from his death in 1910 as well as a memorial piece from 1927 by the Manchester Evening Herald.


  • 1849-1938

Language of Materials

The records are in English.

Biographical Note

Luther James Bradford Olcott was born on May 30, 1830 in Manchester, Connecticut to Sidney and Edna Adams Olcott. At the age of 16 Olcott was employed by the printing office of "The Republican" in Hartford Connecticut. He continued to work here until the age of 19 when in 1849 he followed the Gold Rush out to California. On his way to California Olcott traveled via the Henry Lee, a ship that sailed around Cape Horn. Olcott had little participation in the Gold Rush itself while in California. Instead, he chartered boats to foreign locations such as Tahiti to bring back exotic and foreign produce for profitable sale in America. During his time in Sacramento, California Olcott started a restaurant and boarding house.

In the early 1850s however, Olcott returned to Connecticut at the request of his mother. Upon his return, Olcott attended the Center Academy in Harwinton, Connecticut. Olcott worked on his father's farm for several years after leaving school. On October 20, 1856 he was married to Emiline A. Roberts, daughter of Isaac and Annie Ensign Roberts, of East Hartford Connecticut. After moving several times, the Olcotts finally ended up back in South Manchester, around 1865. Here Olcott worked for the Cheney Brothers who placed him in charge of all of their outdoor work, such as landscaping and building roads. In 1868, Olcott started his own farm in South Manchester which he would turn over to his son in 1890. Starting no later than 1869, Olcott wrote an agriculture column for the Hartford Courant, which touched on a wide variety of subjects including farming, road building, and growing grass. In 1880, Olcott sat on the committee whose job it was to investigate the proposal of land and money put forward by Augustus and Charles Storrs to develop an agricultural school in Storrs, Connecticut which would later become the University of Connecticut. In 1881 the proposal was accepted and the Storrs Agricultural School was developed, and James Bradford Olcott was invited to sit on its Board of Trustees.

In 1890, Olcott received a request from the Connecticut State Agricultural Experiment Station to begin collecting grasses that would be beneficial to Connecticut. That year Olcott began to develop his Turf Garden, which was located on just over an acre of land and contained various grasses laid out in 5 square foot "plats". Most of the tools used by Olcott in the cultivation of his Turf Garden he had invented himself. Through his work with grasses and the State Agricultural Experiment Station, Olcott was able to travel to places such as England, France, Germany, Denmark, and Australia as well as all over the United States. The purpose of these trips was to gain a better understanding of the cultivation of grasses as well as their natural climates. Just before his death Olcott had discovered which grasses were best suited for Connecticut's climate and had begun to set aside a large portion of his Turf Garden for the cultivation of this grass for seeding. In 1910, after having been restricted to a lawn chair for a year due to his failing health, James Bradford Olcott died of heart failure. He was survived by three of his children: Walter Hooker Olcott, Harry Ensign Olcott, and Annie Ensign Olcott Faulknor.


1. Former finding aid.

2. "Manchester's Grass Authority Passes", 1910. Box 4, Folder 12.

3. Archives & Special Collections Staff. "James B. Olcott Papers." Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center: University of Connecticut.

4. "State's Grass Expert is Dead", 1910. Box 4, Folder 12.


7.25 cubic feet


James Bradford Olcott (1830-1910) was a horticulturist and writer from Manchester, Conn. Correspondence, diaries, photographs, plat books of the Manchester Turf Garden, file of agricultural articles from the Hartford Courant by Olcott, letters from a trip around Cape Horn and life in Sacramento, California.


This collection was given to the Connecticut State Library by James Bradford Olcott’s daughter Annie Ensign Olcott Faulknor in 1938.

Related Material

Additional materials on James B. Olcott can be found in the James B. Olcott Papers located in the Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center of the University of Connecticut.

Processing Information

Processed by Matthew M. Johnson in 2009.

RG 069:019, James Bradford Olcott Papers
Inventory of Papers
Finding aid prepared by Matthew M. Johnson.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Connecticut State Library Repository