George Rogers Clark Memorial
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Landscaping the Memorial Grounds

A. Land Acquisition for the Memorial

1. The Initial Purchase

Among the first tasks faced by the Indiana Clark Memorial Commission was acquisition of land on which the memorial was to be erected. At the August 1927 meeting at Tom Taggart's French Lick Hotel, D. Frank Culbertson and Clem Richards reported on progress of negotiations for the purchase of the three big commercial establishments in the area--the Baltic Mills, the John S. Bierhaus Warehouse, and the Paul Kuhn Elevator. [1]

Negotiations proceeded smoothly with Paul Kuhn, and on January 28, 1928, it was announced by Chairman Fortune that Kuhn and the commission had agreed on a price of $35,099 for his property. The Kuhn purchase was hailed as possessing special significance, as it was the first large tract acquired for the memorial site. [2] Several smaller properties in the area had been previously purchased by the city, and would be turned over to the commission when the time was propitious.

2. The Sesquicentennial Commemoration & the Destruction of the Kuhn Elevator

The commission determined to use the Kuhn purchase to dramatize its activities and to focus national attention on Vincennes and the Clark Sesquicentennial. To commemorate the event, a program was arranged for February 25, 1929. Governor Harry Leslie, who had been inaugurated in January, arrived during the morning by special train from Indianapolis. He was greeted by a parade led by the Purdue band.

After commemorative services at the Old Cathedral under the direction of Father James Gregoire, Governor Leslie, Mayor Claude Gregg, and a large number of citizens took position to watch the demolition of the Kuhn elevator. Arrangements had been made for President Coolidge to press a button at the White House to set off the blast that was to wreck the elevator. The elevator, however, was more solid than expected, and it survived the blast. Mayor Gregg then had cables attached to the structure and tractors were hitched to them. To the embarrassment of the mayor and commission, the powerful tractors were unable to topple the structure.

Mayor Gregg now called for Fire Chief Bud Evans and his firemen, and they drenched the elevator with gasoline and set it a fire. Flames engulfed the structure, and provided a grand spectacle for the crowd and the movie cameras that had been positioned to record the ceremony.

That evening there was a formal dinner at the Gibault gymnasium hosted by the State Commission, followed by a pageant at the Coliseum depicting the capture of Fort Sackville. [3]

3. Additional Purchases and Demolitions

Negotiations with the Bierhaus estate and the owners of Baltic Mills did not go so smoothly, and the Indiana Commission at its March 13, 1928, meeting voted to institute condemnation proceedings. [4] Much of the land needed for the memorial grounds had been acquired by the spring of 1931. Contracts had to be awarded to have the buildings razed and rubble removed. T. J. Edwards of Vincennes was employed by the Executive Committee in October 1930 to supervise the clearing of the grounds. [5] The largest and most formidable structure to be demolished was the Bierhaus Company Warehouse, a massive three-story brick building with basement. A contract for its removal was awarded in April 1931 to Globe Wrecking Company of Chicago. [6] In the second week of November 1931, workmen began razing the Emison Hardware Building, on 2d and Main. Dating to the 1820s, this structure was one of the oldest business houses in the city. [7]

Workmen in the fall of 1932 razed the brick structures formerly housing the Overland Garage and Vincennes Auto Parts. [8] With the date at hand on which proposals for landscaping were to be invited, contracts for razing the three brick buildings opposite the Cathedral on Church Street were awarded in July 1933. The removal of these structures was necessary to provide space for the 100-foot-wide street to extend from Main Street to the Cathedral. [9]

B. Parsons Submits His Plans and Specifications

1. Parsons and the Executive Committee Review the Plan

Landscape Architect Parsons met with the Executive Committee on May 17, 1932, to discuss his plan for landscaping the grounds. It was determined at this time to eliminate a proposed reflecting pool between the memorial and the bridge approach. Factors causing this change were: (a) with the memorial overlooking the Wabash there was no need for an artificial body of water to enhance the beauty of the grounds; and (b) the space between the memorial and bridge was so restricted that it would give the pool a cramped appearance.

In reviewing the projected double street to replace South Street, Parsons pointed out that it would be of sufficient width for two-way traffic, with a flower court in the center. There would be a "graceful curve" where the street intersected U.S. 50, making it possible for traffic to flow through the east side of the park. At the same time, the proposed memorial boulevard would attract motorists desiring to drive along the river side of the park to Willow Street, with a left turn at 2d to Main, and west on Main to the boulevard. Such a drive would enable a visitor to get a "full view of the memorial and the park." [10]

2. A Money Shortage Causes a Delay

The Executive Committee met on December 15, 1932, to discuss bids for landscaping the grounds. Eighteen months before, the Committee had given its approval for the purchase of fill not to exceed 20,000 yards. Only a part of this had been used, and now with the excavation of the memorial terraces all but completed, and back filling about to begin, it was expected that work on this contract would be pushed. Contracts for top soil, trees, shrubbery, and watermains would be awarded. [11]

A report by the treasurer showed that most of the funds available to the commission had been obligated, so it was determined to wait for Congress to appropriate additional funds before awarding the landscaping contracts. The $96,000 appropriated by the 73d Congress became avail able on July 1, 1933. The previous week, Landscape Architect Parsons had spent several days in Vincennes conferring with Robert W. Schucker, who had been named superintendent of buildings and grounds by the Executive Committee on May 26. [12] Schucker showed Parsons a detailed sketch of the projected landscaping. Two elms, one to the east and the other west of the bridge approach, would be retained, while other trees out of harmony with the grounds plan would be felled. It would also be necessary to remove a section of asphalt pavement from 2d Street, extending to what was formerly lower 1st Street, now included in the memorial grounds. The sidewalk extending west from the Cathedral and the hedgerow enclosing the Cathedral grounds were to be extended to connect with Barnett Street, south of the memorial. [13]

3. The Contracts are Awarded

After the Executive Committee had examined and approved Parsons' plans and specifications for sidewalks and drives, electrical wiring and lights, planting and landscaping, and curbs, gutters and drains, sealed bids were invited. [14]

The proposals were opened, abstracted, and contracts awarded on July 24. Cooper Bros. Co. of Indianapolis was given the contract for drainage, walks, steps, and retaining wall, to cost $36,000; Muellermist of Oak Park, Illinois, the contract for an underground sprinkling system and pumping plant, to cost $19,986.93; Cooper Bros., the contract for paving the streets, and building curbs and drains for $29,400; and Hubert Hunsucker of Champaign, Illinois, for setting out $9,150 worth of shrubs and trees. [15]

C. The Landscapers Get Down to Business

1. The Cooper Bros. Projects

By the end of July, Cooper Bros. workmen were demolishing the Hartigan building on the alley between Main and Vigo. Space gained was used for a curve in the realignment of 2d Street. Main Street, between 1st and 2d, was widened, to form a border driveway for the memorial grounds. Second Street, between Main and Church, was changed. From Main to the alley between Main and Vigo, the street was widened to 50 feet; and west of there the drive circled a plaza, 50 feet wide by 140 feet in length. At the west end of the plaza was to be erected the statue of Father Gibault.

Barnett Street, from 2d to Water, was closed as a driveway and converted into a walkway. A curbing wall was erected at the 2d Street terminus, and the street resurfaced with asphalt. At the memorial grade, a flight of six granite steps was constructed. Both Barnett Street sidewalks were removed and the space used for landscaping. Dubois Street was extended to join the projected boulevard.

All streets and drives in the park were to be surfaced with Trinidad street asphalt. The walkways were to be finished in asphalt with pebbles showing on the surface. One walkway was to extend from the west terrace of the bridge approach, parallel to the old Catholic cemetery, and, after connecting with the Barnett Street walkway, link up with the walkway encircling the memorial. Another walkway, bordered by German lindens, was to extend from the bridge terrace to the memorial steps. [16]

Work on the walkways was started on September 11 by Cooper Bros. employees. The first section built was the five-foot-wide walkway paralleling the seawall. Next, they began constructing the walks encircling the memorial and connecting the memorial with the bridge approach. [17]

The Cooper Bros. people made rapid progress. By late October the walkways on the memorial grounds had been completed, and the concrete base for relocated Second Street, around the plaza, had been poured. Before 1933 had passed into history, Cooper Bros. had fulfilled both their contracts with the commission.

2. The Muellermist Contract

Muellermist had developed a revolutionary method for sprinkling lawns, which had been widely employed at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. The system to be installed at the park consisted of a maze of pipes of many sizes to bring water from a 12-foot gravel pocket well. This well, capable of pumping 600 gallons of water per minute, was located about 400 feet west of the memorial structure. It was controlled automatically by the custodian from the basement of the memorial. The Muellermist system consisted of 1001 spray heads, about three-fourths of them to be spaced 30 feet apart and the rest 20 feet. The spray heads were supplied by heavy duty copper pipe and brass fittings. [18]

While Muellermist employees were excavating trenches for the sprinkler system, they unearthed a human skull and bones. The bones were embedded in gravel about four feet below the ground level. Soon after being exposed, they began to rapidly deteriorate. Local historians speculated that as the bones were deep in the gravel, where the earth had not been disturbed, they were probably those of a soldier or Indian buried in the 18th century. [19]

When the system was completed and tested, onlookers compared the extra-fine mist to that seen above Niagara Falls. [20]

3. The Hubert Hunsucker Contract

In mid-October 1933, Hubert Hansucker and his gardeners arrived. Around the memorial building and on the west side of the bridge approach, they set out a large number of horizontal junipers. These plants would lie close to the ground to serve as a covering shrub. On the bridge approach, a background of Japanese yews and some evergreens were set out. At the same time employees of Lenahan & Konen were laying top soil. [21]

D. Lighting the Grounds

Upon completion of these landscaping projects, the commission with most of it funds spent or obligated moved ahead cautiously. On September 7, 1934, George S. Schugman was given a contract for lighting the memorial grounds. The contract called for the installation of 61 lantern-type lamps, positioned on bronze standards. The lights, of 2,500 lumens each, were to be controlled by a astronomical dial, motor operated time switches. [22]

The electricians had completed their work by mid-January 1935, and on the night of the 15th the memorial and grounds were brilliantly lighted. It presented a beautiful sight for persons viewing the shrine and grounds under "the artificial illumination." Members of the Vincennes Rotary were taken on a tour of the memorial by Culbertson during the evening to view Winter's recently hung murals. [23]

E. The Extension of the Grounds to the West

1. Preliminary Work

In November 1935 the commission took advantage of one of the emergency employment measures enacted by the Federal government to turn out a WPA work force of 69 men, armed with picks and shovel, to remove gas pipes from land recently acquired from the Central States Gas Company. After the pipes were removed, the area was filled with top soil to a grade conforming to the remainder of the monument grounds.

The razing of the gas plant and the old infirmary, to be acquired with funds appropriated by the 74th Congress, would be contracted. [24] Prior to the dedication of the memorial, workmen razed several unoccupied gas company buildings. [25]

2. The Demolition of the Gas Plant

Negotiations by the commission for purchase of the property of the Central States Gas Company were tedious. At first, the corporation asked $150,000 for its property. But when it secured access to a supply of natural gas, the plant became obsolete, and the corporation scaled down its price. In December 1936 agreement was reached on a price. The commission would pay the corporation $12,000 for its property, and the company would demolish the building and holder and remove the rubble. [26]

Workers began razing the gas plant in February 1937. Its great boilers long silenced, the building, no longer occupied, had long been considered an eyesore. Before demolishing the structures and hauling off the rubble, a crew salvaged such fixtures as had value. The huge black holder, with a capacity of 100,000 cubic feet of gas, was dismantled. After the area had been cleared, the area was covered with top soil, and the ugly scars left by the removal of the maze of gas mains covered. [27] The landscaping was done by WPA labor. [28]

F. The Embellishment of the Approach to the Lincoln Memorial Bridge

1. Ferguson Construction Co. Begins Work on the Bridge

John J. Brown, Director of the Indiana State Highway Commission, notified the Executive Committee in late December 1930 that his department had entered into a contract with the State of Illinois for construction of a bridge across the Wabash at Vincennes. Bids would be opened on January 20, 1931.

Although plans for this structure, much of which would be located on the memorial grounds, had been discussed with members of the commission, no formal agreement had been reached. It was understood that the two State highway departments would build the bridge, including structural portions (retaining walls) of the Indiana approach, within the monument grounds. These retaining walls would be constructed in the rough to allow for future stone facing, provided they did not exceed in cost the walls previously projected by the highway commission. [29]

When proposals for the highway bridge were opened and abstracted by the highway commissions, it was found that Ferguson Construction Company of Rockford, Illinois, had submitted the low bid. Awarded the contract, the Ferguson people announced they would begin construction by March 1. Several carloads of equipment and a number of supervisory personnel reached Vincennes from Rockford in the last week of February. A failure to ship some key components delayed start of construction several days. [30]

2. Parsons' Plans for Embellishing the Indiana Approach

Three weeks later, when the Executive Committee met, Architect Parsons' general plan for the Indiana approach to the bridge, the grounds, and retaining wall were examined and approved. [31]

Architect Parsons by late December had prepared detailed plans and specifications for embellishing the Indiana approach to the bridge. When he visited Vincennes to secure final approval from the Executive Committee, Parsons brought along a model showing the bridge approach with "its beautiful stone faced terraces on each side." Flights of stone steps afforded access to these terraces and to the bridge approach from both the memorial and Main Street sides. From the grade line of the grounds, the approach would be faced in granite harmonizing with the stone used in construction of the memorial. A massive flagpole was to be placed on the west terrace to represent the five states formed from the old Northwest Territory.

At a point directly over number one abutment of the bridge would be erected twin granite pylons. On each of these would be carved an Indian, representative of those present at Fort Sackville in 1779. [32]

3. Premier Construction Gets a Contract

At its January 28, 1932, meeting, the National Commission awarded the contract for the bridge embellishments to Premier Construction Co. of Indianapolis and Vincennes. Their base bid for Mount Airy granite was $116,241, about $24,000 below Parsons' estimate. [33]

Visiting Vincennes on May 17, Parsons was impressed with the way work was progressing on the bridge approach, and he was satisfied it would be completed by the late summer of 1933. He had with him photographs of the engravings of the Indians, one representing Tecumseh and the other The Prophet, for the pylons. But, he cautioned, it would be several months before the model was completed, and another month or two before they were turned out by the quarry mill. He felt confident, however, that the pylons would be placed before winter. [34]

By mid-August, the embellishment of the west terrace, except for positioning of three blocks of Mount Airy granite, bearing the inscription, had been completed. Work on the east terrace would begin as soon as the stone was received. Meanwhile, carpenters were building forms for the sidewalks, and the concrete would be poured. [35]

Judge Henry Horner, the Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois and a history buff, was in Vincennes on August 12. He drove across the bridge, which had been opened to traffic in July, and pledged himself to attend and participate in its dedication. [36]

It was early October before additional granite arrived from North Carolina, and Premier Company masons began laying the east terrace. [37] Next they placed the granite for, the pylon bases. It was the last week of April 1933, before the pylons, except for the caps, were completed. These were received in May and positioned. [38]

On June 26, 1933, Parsons made a final inspection of the bridge approach and found the contract completed and the work satisfactory. His recommendation that the bridge approach and pylons be accepted as of June 1, was accepted by the Executive Committee. [39]

4. The Bridge Dedication

It was determined to dedicate the bridge approach and place the corner stone on September 3, 1933, at a ceremony to be attended by Governors Paul V. McNutt of Indiana and Henry Horner, of Illinois, and Senator Simeon D. Fess. The date chosen for the program would mark the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, signalling the end of the Revolutionary War and confirming the United States' possession of the old Northwest Territory. A special subcommittee consisting of Drs. Coleman and Woodburn, Richards, Smith, and Culbertson was named to perfect arrangements for the ceremony. [40]

By 11 a.m. on Sunday, September 3, a crowd estimated to number at least 3,000 had assembled at the Indiana approach to the bridge. As cars drove up with the two governors, a salute was fired by Battery D, 139th Field Artillery, Indiana National Guard. Proceeding to the Lincoln Memorial Bridge, the governors addressed the crowd.

Governor Horner paid tribute to George Rogers Clark and his men, while Governor McNutt saluted the statesmen who had negotiated the Treaty of Paris, 150 years before, which concluded the Revolutionary War. Following the bridge dedication, a luncheon for the guests of the commission was held in the Gibault gymnasium. The luncheon was followed by the corner stone sealing services at the Clark Memorial. Senator Fess spoke on the significance of the Peace of Paris and the winning of the Northwest Territory through the bravery of Clark and his men.

After Fess finished his speech, Culbertson read a list of items which were to be sealed in the corner stone. These items, placed in a copper box one-foot long and ten inches deep and wide, were sealed by Thomas Kilfoil, and placed in the corner stone by Culbertson, assisted by Kilfoil, Austin Snyder, and Carl Kellar. [41]

G. The Seawall

The National Commission met in Washington on January 18, 1930, and approved plans prepared by Architect Parsons for a seawall to be erected along the Wabash River as part of the Clark Memorial. Parsons' wall was to be constructed of reinforced concrete, surmounted by "a substantial metal chain railing hung from precast concrete posts." [42]

Six months passed before the Executive Committee was able to advertise and abstract bids from interested construction companies. On July 8 the contract for the seawall was awarded to Premier Construction Co., whose bid of $84,142.16 was low. The wall was to be 1,000 feet long and 23 feet in height. [43] No difficulty was encountered by Premier in building the seawall, and it was completed well ahead of schedule.

H. Monument Stones and Plaques

1. The Fort Sackville Memorial Stone

On Thursday, May 14, 1936, the Fort Sackville memorial stone, which had been unceremoniously removed when construction on the Clark Memorial commenced, was reset in the center of a shrubbery plot at the northeast corner of the structure. This monument had been positioned in November 1905 by P. J. Burns, under the sponsorship of the Fort Sackville Chapter of the D. A. R. [44]

After the stone's removal, it had been "discarded in a pile of old stones back of the site." There it had remained forgotten until the autumn of 1935, when the commission's attention was called to it. A. P. Snyder & Sons were asked to prepare estimates for re-setting. When the old memorial was repositioned, it was impossible to locate the original base. Snyder & Sons accordingly set a new one, on which was inscribed the date of the re-setting. [45]

2. The Clark Headquarters Plaque

During the last three months of 1953, the Department of Conservation received requests from two organizations to locate monuments on the memorial grounds. On October 9 there came a letter from State Vice-Regent Alice M. Wolf, of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She asked authority to erect "a handsome stone . . . with a bronze marker" on the site of Clark's headquarters during the Fort Sackville fight. [46]

After checking with the Indiana Historical Bureau, the Department notified Mrs. Wolf that an appropriate location for the proposed marker would be either north or south of Main Street, at its intersection with 1st Street. [47] It was determined by the DAR to erect the stone and plaque at the northwest corner of the intersection of Main and 1st. The stone was erected early in October 1954 and dedicated on the 26th. [48]

3. The Gold Star War Memorial

A decision by the Corps of Engineers to extend the seawall compelled the Vincennes Chapter of American War Mothers to relocate their Gold Star War Memorial. It was currently positioned on a plot adjoining Culbertson Boulevard.

The Mothers approached Mayor Eugene Stocker on December 16, 1953, and asked him to intercede with the Department of Conservation to obtain authority for them to relocate their monument on the grounds of the Clark Memorial. The Department, after studying the request, agreed to permit the Mothers to relocate their memorial at the southwest corner of 1st and Main. Although Custodian James Biddle assisted the Mothers in moving the memorial, the cost of its relocation was borne by the citizens of Vincennes. [49]

I. Culbertson Boulevard

1. Culbertson Presses the County Commissioners

In addition to acquiring land, the Indiana Commission, spearheaded by Culbertson, pushed boldly ahead on a plan to connect Grouseland and the Fort Sackville site by a boulevard paralleling the south bank of the Wabash. On Wednesday, August 13, 1927, the county commissioners of Knox County ordered the publication of a petition signed by more than 300 taxpayers calling for its construction. Prodded by Culbertson, Frank Oliphant, and others, the commissioners promised to review the proposal at their next meeting.

It had been pointed out to the commissioners by Oliphant that the boulevard would serve a two-fold purpose. Besides being vital to the memorial project, it would provide for flood control, as the petition called for the boulevard to be built above highwater mark. He pointed out that during the Wabash flood of 1926, Vincennes would have been inundated had the levee not broken on the Illinois side of the river. [50]

2. Lenaham & Konen Build a Boulevard

The county commissioners, after studying the petition, referred it to the county engineer for a report on its feasibility. At the meeting at which this decision was made, there was a sharp verbal clash between Culbertson and County Attorney Horace Foncannon. These fireworks were sparked when Culbertson accused Foncannon of stalling. [51] Drawings and specifications were prepared by the county engineer and approved by the commissioners. On August 8, 1928, bids were opened, and a contract for construction of the George Rogers Clark Memorial Boulevard was awarded to local contractors, Lenaham & Konen. They were to be paid $168,706.97 for construction of an asphalt highway to conform to the city streets with which it would connect Hart and Main Streets. [52]

As completed by the contractors, the boulevard connected Hart with Main Street. But as long as the track of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad occupied the ground between the memorial and the seawall, the boulevard would carry almost no traffic. To save face locally, Culbertson was compelled to devote much time and energy to a campaign designed to get the B & O to relocate its spur crossing the memorial grounds. If he were successful, the boulevard could be extended from Main Street along the former railroad right-of-way to Willow Street.

J. The Layne Irrigation Pump Falters

By the autumn of 1956 the Layne Irrigation Pump at the memorial was causing headaches. Upon being contacted regarding these difficulties, the company checked its files and discovered that the pump had not been pulled for inspection and overhaul since its installation by Muellermist in 1934. [53] At the invitation of the Department of Conservation, an employee of Layne Northern visited Vincennes and checked the pump, which he found, "in very poor condition and badly in need of repair." But, he reported, it would be impossible to determine the cost of replacement parts until the pump was pulled. [54]

As the pump was used during the summer to provide water for the Muellermist sprinkler system, it was pulled and the necessary repairs made. This action, however, was not a permanent solution.

In 1962, $2,500 was spent by the Department to replace obsolete electrical installations at the memorial. Equipment failures had shorted out the lights surrounding the structure, while the pump servicing the Muellermist lawn irrigation system could not be operated. Until repairs could be effected, interior lighting was held to a minimum. [55]

The following February the pump broke down. When it was discovered that a new pump cost $3, 000, the Department determined to have it overhauled. The 35-year-old Layne Irrigation Pump, which could be classified as a museum piece, is still in use at the memorial, although its idiosyncrasies continue to try the patience of the staff. [56]

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Last Updated: 17-Sep-2001