Thanks to the efforts of Iowa leaders over 100 years ago, including people here at Iowa State, state parks were established within the state of Iowa just a few years after legislation for national state parks was passed. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Iowa’s General Assembly passing state park legislation. The Special Collections and University Archives is excited to announce a new reading room exhibition to celebrate this achievement: “This movement for a more beautiful Iowa”: The Early Years of Iowa’s State Park System.” Iowa’s landscape of native prairie, forests, and wetlands was rapidly disappearing by the early part of the 20th century due to an expanding population and growing agricultural operations. Individuals from across Iowa advocated for the legislature to set aside land to conserve Iowa’s dwindling natural landscapes, resulting in the passage of Iowa’s state parks bill on April 12, 1917. Iowa State played a central role in establishing the state park system and the state of Iowa soon became a national leader in the state park movement.
Louis Pammel (far left), Iowa State botany professor and leader in Iowa’s state park movement, with students at Ledges State Park.
The exhibit highlights Iowa State’s role in the state park movement, and includes individuals such as botanists Louis Pammel and Ada Hayden, forester G. B. MacDonald, and landscape architect John Fitzsimmons. A brief history of the work to establish state parks in Iowa opens the exhibit, followed by background on Iowa’s first state parks. The exhibit concludes with examples on how Iowa State has used state parks throughout the years, up until the present day – including a current student’s field notebook.
Why was this exhibit theme chosen? In addition to celebrating an anniversary, it was a great way to highlight the work of Iowa State individuals in ways they are not often mentioned. In fact, I was surprised to learn that a number of Iowa State administrators were involved – in addition to faculty and staff in botany, forestry, and landscape architecture. The quote from the exhibit’s title is from May H. McNider’s article “Women Want Iowa Scenery Preserved,” published in the 1919 Report of the State Board of Conservation. MacNider, who would later become president of the Board of Conservation, was a civic leader in the town of Mason City, Iowa.
The development of exhibitions involve a variety of components, including staff from throughout the library. This one was no exception. The primary areas of responsibility for the exhibition’s curators (Becky Jordan, Brad Kuennen, and myself – Laura Sullivan) were: developing the exhibition’s themes, researching their assigned areas, selecting exhibition items, writing the exhibition’s text, designing the case layouts, and installing the exhibition. In addition to the three curators who developed the exhibition, the preservation department helped on a variety of levels including conducting a preservation assessment, digitizing, and building the labels and display supports. We also received support for communications and the window display panels. Digital initiatives is currently designing an online exhibit, which will be ready in a few weeks.
General Plan for the Landscape Development of Backbone State Park (Iowa’s first state park), 1925 (RS 13/5/13, tube 73)
In conjunction with the exhibit Heidi H. Hohmann, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, will be giving a presentation on Tuesday, June 6th at 7 p.m. in the Farwell T. Brown Auditorium at the Ames Public Library. Hohmann’s lecture, “Designing State and National Parks,” will focus on Iowa State and the Department of Landscape Architecture’s influence and role in the development of national parks and Iowa’s state parks.
Whether you’re looking for summer excursion ideas, would like to immerse yourself in the history of state parks here in Iowa, or would like to take a look at the exhibit for any other reason – please visit us on the 4th floor of Parks Library. Most of the exhibit is located within the reading room, but if you’re only able to stop by after hours, the window displays and a few exhibit cases are available for viewing after the department is closed. The exhibit will run through the end of 2017.