New Deal Roadside Landscape Features

Nichols' handsome drawing of the entrance to the Gunflint Trail near the U.S.-Canadian border demonstrates his design and delineation skills.

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Historical Overview + Documentation
Arthur Nichols

 

Arthur R. Nichols

 
   

While the U.S Bureau of Roads and the National Park Service provided a philosophical framework for highway and roadside design, individual designers were responsible for interpreting and implementing these ideas. The Minnesota Department of Highways was fortunate to call upon the skills of Arthur R. Nichols, perhaps the most productive landscape architect in the history of the state, and one of the individuals credited with establishing the field of landscape architecture in Minnesota.

Nichols attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he studied engineering, architecture, and landscape design. He was the first person to graduate from MIT’s newly created landscape architecture program. From 1902 to 1909 Nichols worked for landscape architect Charles W. Leavitt, Jr. in New York City where he met his future partner Anthony Morell. In 1909 Nichols and Morell formed a partnership and moved to Minnesota (the two had become familiar with the state while working for Leavitt on the landscape of “Glensheen”, Chester A. Congdon’s Duluth mansion.)

Morel and Nichols’ list of achievements is lengthy. The firm designed dozens of parks, city master plans, residential subdivisions, civic centers, and college campuses. They also designed private estates, country clubs, cemeteries, and parkways. In 1926, after Morell’s death, the firm consulted on the location, grading, and landscaping of proposed roads in Glacier National Park and designed the grounds of the popular Glacier Park Hotel.

Nichols became the Roadside Development Division's first Consulting Landscape Architect in 1932. The study found that Nichols designed most of the division's waysides, scenic overlooks, and historical markers built during the 1930s and ‘40s and helped formulate the division's early policies and goals. As the principal designer during the division's first decade, Nichols had a tremendous impact on the state's roadside development work.

Nichols was also a leading figure in the new roadside development movement nationally, as well as a spokesman within Minnesota. His training in both civil engineering and landscape architecture gave him the practical training and technical knowledge to design safe and efficient roadways that preserved and enhanced the scenic qualities of the landscape.

In 1940 Nichols wrote that it is "more and more imperative to provide turnouts, overlooks, and roadside parking areas where the tourist may rest and enjoy the scenery with a full degree of safety." He commented that roadside development facilities, "when carefully planned and developed, can be convenient, restful, and impressive. They become an asset to the traveling public."

After a long career, Nichols retired in 1960 at the age of 80.

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