A native of Boston, Shurcliff is most noted for his skill in reinterpreting colonial American landscape design. In 1894, Shurcliff completed a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. Charles Eliot, as both teacher and mentor, then helped him self-design a course of landscape studies at Harvard, resulting in a second B.S. in 1896. Several years later, he would apply this experience toward the design of Harvard’s new landscape architecture curriculum.
After eight years with the Olmsted office, Shurcliff opened his own firm in 1904, where he excelled at town planning, dams and reservoirs, park and zoo design, and the restoration of early American town commons. His best-known work, however, engaged his deep knowledge of the history and design of colonial landscapes: In 1928, he joined the team hired by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to re-create Colonial Williamsburg. Shurcliff continued to serve as the site’s chief landscape architect for the remainder of his career. He also provided assistance to Old Sturbridge Village and aided the National Park Service in the design of the Colonial Parkway, linking Colonial Williamsburg to the Jamestown and Yorktown historic sites. In his personal concern for historical accuracy, Shurcliff changed his last name (originally Shurtleff) to conform to its ancient spelling.