Kessler Plans

The Kessler Plan endures for 100 plus years. Today, more than ever, people need an escape from their time-pressured, noisy, deadline-driven lifestyles. A place to relax and enjoy family. A place to be surrounded in beauty, to breathe deeply of air scented with spring and summer blossoms and to walk easily, casually, along elegant pathways by flowing fountains, feeling the warmth of the sun and listening to the melodies of birds.

Kessler Park Design and Implementation 1908-1939

ln February 1908 George Edward Kessler was hired to do some really notable work in park building along broader lines than had been attempted before.

Kessler was a respected landscape architect with successful projects in St. Louis, Memphis, and Kansas City in the design of park and parkway systems, developing and using to advantage the interesting attributes of existing landscapes. He had trained in forestry, botany and landscape design at the Grand Ducal Gardens in Weimar, Germany, in civil engineering at the University of Jenq and worked as apprentice laborer under Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. on the early development of Central Park, New York. 

As a result of his training and the tastes of the time, his design style employed both formal and informal, naturalistic elements. Kessler’s ethics were deeply concerned with the environment and the health and happiness of people. Kessler’s professional work addressed two clear and compelling needs of the time. A need for parks in which citizens could reflect, relax, and enjoy time out of the increasingly congested cities, and the need for improved roadways connecting key areas of the city while avoiding the more congested urban areas.

Kessler’s work during his first eleven months brought a new vision to the Parks Board and by the end of the year the Board had requested a new law to allow greater park improvements and power to assess costs in a different way. This was enacted by the State Legislature in 1909.

The years 1908 and 1909 mark not only the reorganization of the Board of Park Commissioners but the redirection of Garfield Park’s mandate, conforming to the larger context of a park and parkways system for the city. This mandate was based on Kessler’s ethic of acquisition and improvement of public parklands characteristic of the topography of a city, and for Indianapolis this would be the “recreation of a beautiful Indianapolis based upon the existence of the streams
flowing through the city.”

Much of Kessler’s design work for Garfield Park was similar to that for other Indianapolis parks. The emphasis was on a system of drives and walks that revealed “the real beauty spots of the city”, principally along the watercourses and their banks, dams and bridges, that gave everyone access to views and a variety of open space. The system needed to provide for easy access from neighborhoods to recreational space, playgrounds, and cultural and social amenities.

In 1914 Kessler described Garfield Park as a “naturally very beautiful park” with a “characteristically fine beech forest… ample open lawns and open places for children’s playgrounds, and play fields for adults as well, with beautiful setting for each of the several fields for outdoor play.” Kessler viewed Garfield Park as retaining “the intimate character of a local park.

The Kessler plan for Garfield Park, of which all the major elements were eventually implemented, was highly developed as a designed landscape with more built elements and features than any other park he designed for Indianapolis.

Sourced from the Cultural Landscape Report

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