Sunday, August 15, 2010

Our Man Horace

Any and every one who knows me currently...or reads this aware that I have started work on my thesis. Last spring semester there was lots of back and forth with my major professor, reading and talking about what I would do for this part of my graduate training.

Once this fundamental piece of the process was in place, I was ready to take the next step. My thesis will be a cultural landscape report and treatment plan for Oak Hill Cemetery (OHC) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This 'rural' cemetery was designed by HWS Cleveland in 1869. I made the decision to invest my time this summer doing the footwork (as in on the ground) required of a researcher. I kicked off my adventure by traveling to Cedar Rapids and sleuthing the libraries there...the Masonic Library and the Linn County Genealogical Library. Then I attended a state preservation workshop in Clinton, IA. The first week of June I set off on the Mother of all Road Trips to visit those cemeteries that influenced and those which were graced with HWS Cleveland's beautiful design aesthetic. From Iowa to Illinois, then to Indiana and Ohio, I traveled a road that led me into and thru this background of cemetery history. These Midwestern cemetery visits numbered in the teens. There was lots to experience on the ground and so much to think about for my work that lay ahead.

I have also spent considerable time in front of the laptop, in my pj's all day, searching turn-of-the-century newspaper articles (Thanks! sleuthing for old fotos and text in an attempt to piece together OHC history. I've been back to Cedar Rapids, this time pestering City Hall for crisp aerial fotos of the cemetery site. I have been gathering and studying reports and maps, but finding very few historical photographs!, that might help to piece together a thoughtful approach for the treatment of this ever-changing landscape.

A second road trip found me zipping around Quincy, Illinois. Cleveland was commissioned to design Madison Park at 24th and Main. It was an old burial ground slated to become a public park close to the turn of the century. When I google-earthed the present-day park, it was remarkable that I was able to trace the barely-visible original walkways he laid out in his 1891 plan. Then in 1896, he submitted a design for Riverview Park as part of an extensive connected park system for the Quincy Boulevard and Park Association. After my visit to the Old Soldier's Home, an integral part of his boulevard plan, I came away with a nagging suspicion that Cleveland and Son (Ralph Dwinel joined his father's firm in 1892) might have designed the grounds there also. In a article I found online from a 1893 Quincy newspaper, Col. Fogg of the Home wanted a 'landscape scientist' to have a look at the grounds to try to get a handle on all that Nature had taken over. The grounds certainly carry the signature of our man Horace.

A third day-trip sent me pounding down I-35, then out on I-70 to Topeka and Junction City, Kansas. It was the hottest day of the year. The car thermometer registered 105 degrees, but it was now or never for me to get there...and back. An 1871 working plan by Cleveland laid out the grounds of the State Capitol in Topeka. Even tho the roads and pathways of the circulation plan were never laid down as designed, his planting arrangements are evident. Some of the old trees encircling the block and standing in groves and allees reveal his vision for this space.

My next stop was Highland Cemetery in Junction City, Kansas, the destination for this 12-hour road trip. Cleveland designed this cemetery in 1870, one year after laying out the grounds for Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids. I wanted to compare and contrast this design with the one back in Iowa. Not at all what I expected. No mausoleums. No great monuments. Hot. Dry. Grass thatch left in rows along the markers. Lots of beautiful Austrian Pines, tho. Healthy Austrian Pines....designed placement of Austrian Pines. His work still lives on in these ancient trees staged for great constant effort in my professional practice is to create landscapes which may excite in others minds the emotions which similar scenes awaken in my own....HWS Cleveland.

This past weekend I traveled to the Twin Cities with a good friend from the academic world to explore Cleveland's work in Mpls/STP. Some say HWS Cleveland found the most acclaim, quite late in life, here in the Twin Cities. This recognition grew not only from his site designs, but more importantly from his planning skills on a urban/regional scale in laying out the extensive park system in the Cities. Early on, he championed this landscape with its riparian topography and vegetation. His greenbelt plans laid down a protective design before this unique and precious resource was lost forever.

Cleveland also designed two cemeteries in the Twin Cities. We visited both. Heading across town, we stepped thru the back door of the Hennepin History Museum to view four original Cleveland plans of several parks throughout the city. They took my breath away! So very beautiful in their simple design. The colors used to render these final plans were subdued with age, but the spiky darkened green graphic employed to suggest evergreen trees brought these old drawings to life. As I traced with my finger the roads and pathways of the plans, each cradled within their protective sheaths, I could only imagine this old man working thru his process to lay down on paper an informed design that would speak to someone 120 years later.

Next, we were off to visit Lakewood Cemetery. This burial landscape was designed by Adolph Strauch whose fame grew because of his visionary work at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, OH. Horace had nothing to do with the planting of trees or shrubbery here, the laying out of roads and walkways or the grassy swales that guided water away from the graves. But curiously, Horace William Shaler Cleveland was laid to rest here in 1900. He and his loved ones are interred in graves that went unmarked for years. It was almost 50 years before someone decided Horace Cleveland needed a proper gravestone.

His six family members are buried along side in a lot measuring 15 x 20 ft...four plots for ashes, three for gravesites. There is no stone monument chiseled with the family name Cleveland. The green lawn offers up a single, flush marker inscribed with a few words about Horace's landscape vision for the Twin Cities...nothing about who he was as a man. He had moved his office to Minneapolis from Chicago in 1886, looking for a change. The Lakewood Cemetery records reveal he purchased this family lot that same year. His youngest son Ralph Dwinel briefly held the position of superintendent of the cemetery. So maybe he did offer a suggestion or two in the form of a sketch, or a word, during his son's short tenure at Lakewood Cemetery. He invested his hard-earned money in 300 square feet of precious ground. He must have loved this very spot!

HWS Cleveland lies in the shade of an massive Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa. Mossycup acorns pelt his stone marker. A Norway Spruce, Picea abies, frames the view down the hill and over to the Chapel. He is planted smack in the center of this beautiful designed landscape. He must have stood here one day long ago and envisioned a more mature landscape enveloping this spot where he would lie for eternity with his loved ones. This was also where he and his wife suffered thru the burial of their eldest son Richard J. He would have walked upon this same ground the day he buried his beloved wife Mary Dwinel.

My pilgrimage to the graveside of this most humble landscape designer was a deliberate act to wrap up my summer of exploration and inspiration. My passion for this project has grown leaps and bounds as I have uncovered who this man might have been by reading his personal correspondence, his essays and lectures, and studying his design plans. I have also read and studied what others have written about him. I am ready to offer to the academic world and beyond a thoughtful and coherent portrait of the design intent of Oak Hill Cemetery which Horace W. S. Cleveland laid out in the NE qtr. of Sec 27 of Rapids Township in Linn County, Iowa.

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