Every day in Indianapolis, hundreds of drivers pass over hidden gems in plain sight: sculptural concrete and stone bridges, an early twentieth century gift from landscape architect and urban planner George Kessler.
The city of Indianapolis hired Kessler in 1908 to develop parks, and his resulting plan of park and boulevard systems kept him employed by the city as a consultant until his sudden death in 1923. Kessler created park and boulevard plans, as well as estates, residences, and schools in 100 cities, as near as Terre Haute, South Bend, and Fort Wayne, and as far as Shanghai and Mexico City.
Kessler saw the landlocked city’s waterways -- Fall Creek, White River, Pogue’s Run, Pleasant Run, and Little and Big Eagle Creek -- as central to his interconnected system, even though at the time they functioned as flowing trash receptacles spanned by metal truss bridges. He created twelve parks spaced geographically around the city, connected by six parkways and two boulevards.
30th Street Bridge over White River (Photo: Lee Lewellen)
He turned the waterways into aesthetic assets flanked by curving boulevards and crossed by ornamental stone and concrete arch bridges, some with graceful curving staircases that took pedestrians to the water’s edge. The Indianapolis Star in 1911 called the new Capitol Avenue bridge over Fall Creek, “one of the most artistic structures in the city.” Kessler’s plans were as functional as they were aesthetic: they were practical solutions to flood control, pollution, and urban growth.
Capitol Avenue Bridge over Fall Creek (Photo: Paige Wassel)
Indianapolis has restored several of Kessler’s beautiful bridges, including the Meridian Street and Central Avenue spans over Fall Creek; work on the Illinois Street bridge is underway. In the most recent restoration, the lovely 39th Street bridge across from the Indiana State Fairgrounds became a pedestrian crossing on the Fall Creek trail.
Kessler’s work in Indianapolis inspired other Indiana cities to hire him. You can learn more about Kessler’s work in Fort Wayne at a free lecture on April 17, when Kurt Culbertson, chairman and CEO of Design Workshop in Aspen, CO, examines Kessler’s plan for Fort Wayne and its role and relevance in the city today. Culbertson’s talk takes place at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, 5-8 p.m. Find out more at www.indianalandmarks.org.
About Hidden Gems Indiana
Each week Indiana Landmarks uses insider knowledge to highlight historic places worth a visit, from the quirky to the sublime: small towns, neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, parks, cemeteries, scenic drives, museums -- you get the idea. Learn more about Indiana Landmarks at www.indianalandmarks.org.