At the end of the nineteenth century, Indianapolis city leaders recognized the need to respond to the health, transportation, and housing issues caused by rapid job growth and industrialization. Inspired by the City Beautiful movement, in 1894 the Commercial Club (predecessor to the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce) hired Joseph Earnshaw, a landscape engineer from Cincinnati, Ohio, to develop a comprehensive park system, and enlisted John Charles Olmsted as a consultant. By 1907 the project had stalled with only a small segment constructed. In February 1908, the Board elected to contract landscape architect and planner George Kessler, who had completed successful park systems in many other Midwestern cities. He submitted the Indianapolis Park and Boulevard System Plan (“The Plan”) within the year.
The Plan’s greatest achievement was the comprehensiveness of its design. Kessler united individual parks and curvilinear parkways with an array of east-west and north-south boulevards, linking the city to a network of transportation and recreation corridors that also functioned to conserve the natural environment and guide urban growth.
The original Plan was bounded by the 1909 city limits. Upon Kessler’s unexpected death in 1923, landscape architect Lawrence Sheridan was hired to continue the project, and extended the system to Marion County limits. The Indianapolis Park and Boulevard System’s 2003 listing in the National Register of Historic Places identifies three property types spanning 3,474 acres: individual parks encompassing more than 1,118 acres of parkland; parkways, totaling 2,154 acres and extending 35 miles; and boulevards, totaling 202 acres and extending fifteen miles.