Riding Indy's Park System - Cultural Ride


2014-12-01 The Bicycle Tour of a Living Legacy within Our City The Indiana Landmarks’ inaugural Kessler Living Legacy Bicycle Tour of Fall Creek was a new way for Landmarks to get people out into history, enjoy some exercise and learn something about our heritage, all in three hours. The tour was doubly unusual in that it focused on the work of a Landscape Architect---the designer of the land; rather than on the many historic structures and buildings usually promoted. The man whose work was being highlighted was George Kessler, the national expert in American Town Planning. And his work; his design for our city---for its vitality and livability---that was laid out with initial construction beginning more than 100 years ago.

  Indiana Landmarks expertise in promotion and education of the richness and lessons of our history was again evident in the format of the bicycle tour. Stationed at appropriate locations and times, four speakers talked in depth about the Kessler system and its personal and regional impact. They aided in understanding the genius of the place; but even more so; how it has affected human lives for more than a century and how its enduring design features have laid the course and guided the future of the city to continue to be livable. The first speaker, Tina Jones is the co-author of the National Register of Historic Places nomination of the Indianapolis Park and Boulevard System Historic District (“the Kessler Plan”). She was stationed at the southeast corner of Fall Creek Boulevard and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. The location is significant because it is where the construction of the Kessler designed system began, and the multi-functional genius of the designed system is revealed. Jones gave an overview of the system; explaining its physiographic basis; the plan’s historic context in Indianapolis’ quest to become world-class; and then described some of the design details the tour members would see along the route.

  The second speaker, Ron Taylor, was located at Kessler Park on the southeast corner of Fall Creek Parkway North Drive and Meridian Street. Ron is a Principal at the landscape design firm of Taylor Seifker Williams Design Group. Ron’s company is preparing the 2014 Indianapolis Full Circle Plan---the 20-year vision plan update for the entire Indianapolis Greenway System. He spoke of the future of the Kessler Plan and how the original historic plan influences and guides the development of the new plan.

  Tina Jones spoke again at the third speaker site overlooking University Park from the steps of the Indiana War Memorial. The emphasis of her talk was the importance of the nomination of the “Kessler Plan” to the National Register of Historic Places with national significance, and the highest level of importance---a National Landmark—of which University Park has attained. She spoke of current threats to the park by well-intentioned groups unaware of its national significance as a work of a master of American urban design and the impact of those decisions to one of our prime cultural jewels that define Indianapolis’ identity and uniqueness.

  The culmination of the Fall Creek Bicycle Tour and speaker stops was at the Taggart Memorial in Riverside Park. Not only is the memorial important as a tribute to the man who considered the father of the Indianapolis park system; but also as the purposeful designed terminus of the sight line and drive along Burdsal Parkway to the largest park in the Kessler system. Speaking at the Memorial were James Fadely, the author of the Thomas Taggart biography; and Peggy Gamlin the neighborhood leader of the Riverside Civic League within which the park is located. Fadely spoke of Taggart’s national and local influence and his vision for a livable Indianapolis through the purchase of large tracts of parkland. Peggy Gamlin finished the tour by speaking of the personal impact of the park and how Taggart’s purchase has inspired and influenced her life.

  Prior to the bicycle tour, a first look of Kessler’s designed Indianapolis Park & Boulevard System reveals a simple system of linear parks following five of our natural waterways and connecting to our three largest historic parks arrayed throughout the city limits. For most of the population here in Indy, the lands along our parkways and greenways [Pleasant Run, Pogues Run, Fall Creek, and White River] appear “natural”---just like Mother Nature had planned. However, the nuances of a purposely-designed place; the skill of the craftsman builders, the quality of the materials, the intentional application of beautiful details, the cerebral experience; the artistry and genius that elevates the functional use to the work of a master become evident on the ground, on the bicycle tour.

  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a simple definition of a legacy is something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. A richer more meaningful explanation is located on the Legacy Project website where a Legacy is about life and living. It's about learning from the past, living in the present, and building for the future. 

George Kessler’s design of the city of Indianapolis is the essence of this description. Take a (bike) ride and see for yourself!


Article by Tina Jones