News From Terre Haute, Indiana


June 21, 2014

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: City Beautiful Movement launched by TH Civic League

TERRE HAUTE — The City Beautiful Movement, which emphasized beautification in urban planning, was introduced on a grand scale at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.

The initial beneficiaries were Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., all large cities plagued by crowding in tenement districts.

It was not until 1908 – 106 years ago – that Terre Haute sought cooperation from its citizens to create “the most beautiful city on the Wabash River.”

On Dec. 12, 1908, the Terre Haute Civic League mailed brochures and folders to the public describing its past efforts and future intentions, particularly its plan to convert the city’s unattractive riverfront into a park of comfort and beauty.

President of the Terre Haute Civic League during this era was Lenore Hannah Cox, wife of Lewis J. Cox, president of Terre Haute Car & Manufacturing Co. before it became one of the 19 independent companies that merged to form the American Car & Foundry Co.

Except for Vice President Spencer Fairfax Ball, Civic League officers and committee chairpersons were women. Katherine Cox, wife of Indiana State Normal biology professor Ulysses O. Cox, was the recording secretary and journalist Susan W. Ball, sister of William C. and Spencer F Ball, was corresponding secretary.

Mathilda “Tillie” Reckert, sister of Max, Charles, Emil and Albert Ehrmann, was the treasurer. Her husband, Fred A. Reckert, was manager of Ehrmann Manufacturing Co.

Kathryn (Fischer) Crapo, the widow of Dr. John R. Crapo, was chairperson of the Welfare Committee. Johanna (Jameson) Scovell, wife of Dr. Josiah T. Scovell, chaired the Press, Publications and Public Meetings committee.

Pearl Redman, wife of attorney (and later Judge) Eli H. Redman, headed the Streets and Alleys committee. Her husband died March 30, 1917 in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., where he was serving a five-year sentence for participating with Mayor Donn Roberts and others in the massive election fraud of 1914.

When the Civic League was formed, Terre Haute had only one city park: Collett Park, a gift in 1883 of 21.3 acres from railroad magnate Josephus Collett.

Before 1908, the city had acquired City Park, now known as Gilbert Park, on the south side of Wabash between 14th and 15th streets; Memorial Park at Fourth St. and Eighth Ave.; and Chestnut Grove, later named Voorhees Park, at Prairieton Ave. and Voorhees St.

With encouragement from the Civic League, in 1908 the Terre Haute Board of Public Works authorized condemnation of land on the north and south sides of the Wabash River bridge and the Louis Pfleging tract on the south side of Locust St., between 15th and 16th streets, The Pfleging property became Herz-Rose Park.

The Terre Haute Golf Club, with a five-hole course, was founded in 1898 by industrialist Jay H. Keyes in Belleview Place subdivision at 14th and Beech streets east of the Standard Wheel plant. The club was relabeled the Country Club of Terre Haute when it moved two years later and created a nine-hole course on the Jenckes property east of Highland Lawn Cemetery.

In June 1914, the Fort Harrison Country Club was formed with 120 initial members to lease the 42-acre site once occupied by the historic War of 1812 fort from Emil Ehrmann.

The Fort Harrison club agreed to pay Ehrmann $900 a year for six years with a four-year renewal term at $1,200 annually. The lease included an option to purchase with all rent payments credited to the purchase price.

The Fort Harrison Country Club opened Saturday, July 4, 1914. Membership provided privileges for a man and his entire family. Camping, a 9-hole golf course and tennis courts were available. The club had features not available at the Country Club of Terre Haute: (1) boating; (2) a bathing beach; and (3) children were welcome. Many Country Club members also joined the Fort Harrison club.

Before the end of the initial six-year lease term in 1919, the Fort Harrison Park Land Association purchased 53 acres from Ehrmann and leased it to the Fort Harrison Country Club for 25 years. By that time, the Fort Harrison club had about 250 members.

During the Depression, the Fort Harrison club struggled and, in early February 1932, its stockholders authorized the board to lease its property to the Elks, headquartered at 126 N. Seventh St., for one year with an option to renew.

Meanwhile, other transactions stimulated the local City Beautiful movement. Significantly, esteemed landscape architect George E. Kessler of St. Louis was hired by Rose Poly in 1915 to design a new campus east of the city. Kessler had been to Terre Haute previously but, in each case, he came only as a speaker.

In the Spring of 1918, local businessmen Crawford and Edward Fairbanks donated nearly 40 acres of riverfront land – the former Wabash Distillery site – to the city for a park. The tract provided 1,940 feet of river frontage and 1,200 feet along First St.

Kessler submitted design proposals for Fairbanks Park, including a plan to make Paul Dresser Drive circumvent the entire city. However, money was not available to make improvements immediately. The park board received some relief in late 1919 from the state legislature but landscaping took time and it was not until July 1924 that the huge swimming pool, designed by Wesley Biltz was ready.

Kessler helped persuade Demas Deming to add an attractive boulevard east of 19th Street on Ohio, through the middle of Deming Place subdivision. He also recommended the city acquire the future Deming Park acreage, if possible.

Mayor Charles Hunter offered $155,000 for 160 acres. Deming accepted and gave $100,000 to Rose Poly for new dormitories and $55,000 to the city to complete Ohio Boulevard.

Kessler also designed Memorial Stadium and its surrounding landscape at Wabash and Brown avenues to succeed Terre Haute’s noted Four-Cornered Track. Seating 16,000, it was lauded as the finest minor league baseball park in America when dedicated on May 4, 1925.

The Country Club of Terre Haute, desiring an 18-hole golf course, acquired property in Allendale and the club’s eastside facilities were sold to the Phoenix Club, the local Jewish social organization. Fire destroyed the first Allendale clubhouse on Oct. 5, 1923, but a new structure quickly replaced it.

Geraldine Rea abetted the City Beautiful effort by donating $60,000 in 1924 for a clubhouse at William S. Rea Park as a memorial to her husband, who had allocated $100,000 to acquire the municipal park upon which it was located.

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    March 12, 2010