Ellen Louise Payson was a pioneer of American landscape architecture who helped define the aesthetics of garden and estate design in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. Born in Portland, Maine, in 1894, Payson graduated from Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women in Groton, Mass., and attended Columbia University’s School of Architecture. She established an office in New York City in 1927 and gained national recognition for her designs for private estates in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.
In 1933, she and five other women were named to House & Garden magazine’s Hall of Fame. Payson was cited for “the soundness with which she applies to her gardens the principles of landscaping and architecture” and the “sympathetic feeling for varying material which her work always shows.”
For decades, the whereabouts of much of Payson’s original plans, drawings and other works were unknown. It wasn’t until shortly after her death in 1977 that family members discovered a sizable collection of her original materials.
In 1999, the University of Maine received a donation of more than 500 of Payson’s original landscape architecture plans, contour drawings, planting diagrams and blueprints. The drawings spanning 1913–40 reflect Payson’s work in Maine, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Connecticut and North Carolina, and demonstrate the process of landscape design — from rough sketches and sketches on older blueprints to preliminary and alternative drawings, and final plans and blueprints.
The collection is a resource for horticulture students and professionals, many of whom use the collection to research how to return heritage landscapes to their original designs.