News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 7, 2013

Historical Perspective: Terre Haute’s architectural heritage

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Much more than is commonly recognized, Terre Haute has a rich and diverse legacy of landscapes designed by some of the nation’s most talented architects.

The inventory includes the work of many of the nation’s best known landscape architects, including William Le Baron Jenney, Benjamin Grove, Joseph Earnshaw, Ossian Cole Simonds, Jens Jensen and, especially, George Edward Kessler.

Two or more public parks, Ohio Boulevard, Dresser Drive, Highland Lawn Cemetery, several private estates and a university campus are part of that heritage.

Landscape design flourished in America between 1850 and World War II. However, the American Society of Landscape Architect was not organized until 1899. By that time, Terre Haute had already used the services of Jenney, Grove and Earnshaw.

Frederick Law Olmsted, now referred to as the father of American landscape architecture, won a competition for the design of New York’s Central Park in 1857. However, the roots of landscape design preceded Central Park by many years.

The legacy of Olmsted and his two sons, Frederick, Jr. and John Charles, is unparalleled in American landscape architecture annals. The Olmsteds were involved in projects from Maine to California. The Olmsteds did not have any Indiana projects, but they worked in Chicago, Milwaukee and at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Public cemeteries provided an idyllic platform for the new discipline. Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Boston, designed in 1831, is an early example of a rural garden cemetery. It was followed by Laurel Hill in Philadelphia (1836), Green-Wood Cemetery in New York City (1838) and Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati (1845).

Indiana’s heritage of splendid cemetery design was initiated by the creation of Lindenwood Cemetery of Fort Wayne (1860) and Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis (1864). Both were conceived by English architect John Chislet, who had designed Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

The original design of Spring Grove Cemetery was conceived by John Notman, designer of Laurel Hill, but not implemented. Instead, the initial plan was executed by Howard Daniels, Spring Grove’s first superintendent, and his successor Dennis Delaney. Earnshaw performed the first site survey. Architect Adolph Strauch was his superintendent.

Earnshaw — the landscape architect who designed Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute — was born in England, like Chislet, and moved to Cincinnati in 1847 at age 16. Becoming a civil engineer in 1856, he devoted more than 45 years to the development and expansion of Spring Grove, including the creation of Spring Grove 2.

A plaque at Spring Grove celebrates Earnshaw’s importance and esteem. He was also responsible for dozens of other cemeteries in the U.S., including Forest Lawn in Buffalo, several hospitals and parks, Hughes High School in Cincinnati, the communities of Eden Park and Burnet Woods, and 3,400 acres in south San Francisco.

At the same time Earnshaw was working east of the city, “landscape gardener” Benjamin Grove of Louisville, Ky. was laying out the plans for Collett Park.

Born in Birmingham, England, in 1823, Grove migrated to the U.S. in 1850, settling in New Albany, Ind. In 1858, Grove was commissioned to map Linden Grove Cemetery in Covington, Ky. He also was enlisted to design additions to Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, now ranked among the most scenic cemeteries in the world.

He spent the rest of his life designing parks and cemeteries in Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Alabama and Tennessee. He died at age 92 on March 17, 1915.

Born in Grand Rapids, Mich., O.C. Simonds (1855-1931) was fascinated by nature before he studied civil engineering and architecture at the University of Michigan. In 1876, he studied under William Le Baron Jenney, Chicago’s premier architect now known as “the father of the skyscraper.”

When Jenney was commissioned to conceive plans for an extension to Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, he hired Simonds to transform marshes into an artificial lake. Simonds’ work at Graceland earned him a reputation as “the dean of cemetery design.”

Simonds came to Terre Haute with Jenney when the latter was consulted regarding the remodeling of the Terre Haute House and rebuilding Indiana State Normal School after the April 9, 1888 fire. He also designed parks for several years in Quincy, Ill.

Simonds’ park projects included commissions for work in Dixon, Springfield, Lake Forest and Kankakee, Ill.; Kenosha and Madison, Wis.; Hannibal, Mo.; Menominee, Mich.; Jacksonville, Fla., and Terre Haute. He also created the Nichols Arboretum at the University of Michigan and the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill.

Simonds was the only founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects from the Midwest. Architect Charles W. Deusner of Terre Haute began his career in Simonds’ Chicago office but later practiced in Pasadena, Cal. and Batavia, Ill.

A native of Denmark who became a legend after coming to America in 1884, Jens Jensen (1860-1951) was a leading force in promoting native midwestern landscapes. He was associated with Simonds and was recognized for his landscape work at Henry Ford’s estate, Edsel Ford’s estate, Lincoln Memorial Gardens in Springfield, Ill., and Union, Humboldt and Garfield parks in Chicago.

Jensen landscaped several properties in Vigo County, primarily the grounds of distiller Fred Smith in Allendale, which became the original Gibault Home.

Kessler was hired by the City of Indianapolis in 1908 to prepare a master plan for parks and boulevards, augmenting a plan Olmsted had submitted several years earlier. Fall Creek Parkway, White River Parkway, Brookside Parkway and Pleasant Run Parkway were part of that plan. Fort Wayne hired Kessler for a similar purpose in 1911.

Kessler spoke in Terre Haute in 1913, to make recommendations regarding the development of parks and boulevards. One report suggests that Rose Polytechnic hired Kessler to design its campus and athletic field.

He was hired by the Terre Haute Park Board in 1920 to develop a park and boulevard plan. His plan included a 36 to 40-mile boulevard called Dresser Drive circumventing the city. Fruitridge Avenue was incorporated into the boulevard system. The Deming Park/Ohio Boulevard plan also was adopted.

Kessler also sketched plans for Fairbanks, Spencer F. Ball and Steeg (now Gilbert) parks, the fairgrounds at Wabash and Brown avenues and William S. Rea Park.