When I first started shooting old film cameras again about ten years ago, my sons were still young enough that a trip to the park was great fun. And boy, was I ever broke. Trips to the park fit my entertainment budget.
I had learned the hard way in the years prior that a man absolutely, positively must have a good hobby or he will lose his mind. So my budget included a little money for old gear, film, and processing. It was a guess, really. I had lost touch with myself so badly in the years before my first marriage ended that I had no idea what I would like. But I remembered enjoying old cameras and photography as a kid and even as a young adult. And eBay showed me I could get back into the hobby inexpensively enough. So I went with it. It’s worked out, as you can see.
And so a lot of my early photographic excursions were to Holliday Park on Indianapolis’s Northside, because I could do double duty and let my kids blow off some steam on the playground. We’d also sometimes hike the wooded trails along the White River. They were good, simple times for us to be a family.
I have a man named John Holliday to thank. Born in 1846, he lived all his life in Indianapolis. At just 23 years of age he founded The Indianapolis News, an independent newspaper that advocated for government that served the people well. His wealth from running his newspaper enabled him to become a prominent philanthropist; he advocated chiefly for the poor and their children.
While running the News he met Evaline Rieman, whom he married in 1875. They had seven children together.
John fell ill in 1892, ill enough that he sold his newspaper to focus on his recovery. During this time he bought an 80-acre farm north of the city and built a 23-room main house overlooking the adjoining White River. The family lived there five months each spring and summer, returning to a home on North Meridian Street in the city the rest of the year.
In 1916, on Indiana’s statehood centennial, the Hollidays donated their country estate to the city. Holliday stipulated that “the land is singularly suited to be a place for recreation and the study of nature and the grounds should be used as a public park and a playground.” It became a park first, and a playground much later.
John Holliday suffered a stroke in 1921 while walking the grounds of his estate. He died in his country house there a few days later.
The city took over the grounds over the next few years, just in time for the Great Depression. One of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs was the Works Progress Administration, which put the unemployed to work on construction and beautification projects across the nation. Holliday Park benefited, as the WPA built what became the Rock Garden and created the hiking paths in the wooded area along the river.
Over the years other projects have transformed Holliday Park into a botanical garden and an arboretum. Various, and often contradicting, visions guided those projects, and in time those uses were deemphasized. But today many exotic trees and plants remain.
But perhaps the best-known project at Holliday Park is The Ruins. In 1958, in New York City, the St. Paul building was demolished. But several architectural features were saved, particularly three statues of Indiana limestone known as “the Races of Mankind.” Indianapolis artist Elmer Taflinger conceived an art installation of giant scale featuring these statues and several other sculptures rescued from destruction around Indianapolis.
That headless statue fascinates me and I’ve photographed it many times.
The Ruins were originally open; you could walk through them. But they deteriorated to the point where safety became a concern, and the site was fenced off. A complete renovation was completed in 2016. Sadly, I’ve not been back to Holliday Park to see the Ruins renovated. But I did get a couple photographs of part of the work underway.
Much effort has been expended over the years to make Holliday Park the jewel it is in Indianapolis’s park system. A group called Friends of Holliday Park formed in 1990 and saw to it that the park had a master plan. They were instrumental in the playground being built; it was completed in 1992. The city followed that in 1993 by spending $800,000 to restore the trail system. And a rock garden placed at some point in the distant past was discovered, badly overrun with brush. It, too, was restored.
Holliday Park is a short drive from my home. I’ve even reached it by bicycle; it makes for a nice ride on a cool evening. I’ll miss it when I move in a few weeks.