The Summer 2023 edition of the Clifton Chronicle, the quarterly newsletter of Clifton Town Meeting, is dedicated to Clifton’s walkability and engaging environment. Of course, these traits are the result of much hard work by neighbors past and present to improve pedestrian safety and preserve Clifton’s historic features, greenspaces and small-business district.
This article was first published in the Summer 2022 Clifton Chronicle.
A chance meeting in London in 1851 began a relationship that shaped the way we experience parks and gardens in Cincinnati. Robert Bonner Bowler (owner of a Clifton estate that became Mt. Storm Park) was visiting the World Exposition at London’s Crystal Palace when he met Adolph Strauch, a Prussian gardener. During their garden tour conversation, Bowler invited Strauch to visit him in Cincinnati – if he was ever in America. Not long after, Strauch indeed did visit America. While waiting to change trains in Cincinnati for a cross-country trip, he recalled Bowler’s offer. He visited Bowler, who in turn invited him to stay to design the landscape of his estate. The master gardener decided that Cincinnati would be his new home, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Strauch (1822-1883) had studied in Vienna and worked at the Schonbrunn Palace gardens. The form and beauty he introduced at Bowler’s estate was noticed, and many wealthy Cincinnati residents contracted Strauch to redesign their own properties. It seemed everyone wanted a Strauch design, which eliminated fences and created flowing landscapes of lawns with stands of trees that framed views. He designed the grounds of Henry Probasco’s estate at Oakwood and George Schoenberger’s estate at Scarlet Oaks, among others. Though these landscapes are long gone, Probasco’s house remains on West Cliff Drive, and Schoenberger’s remains at Scarlet Oaks.
Just three years after settling in Cincinnati in 1851, Strauch was hired to redesign and redefine the landscape in Spring Grove Cemetery, where he later became superintendent in 1859. His hand can be seen in the winding roads, lakes, the groupings of plantings, and his open lawn design, which became a model for other “garden” cemeteries that followed. He eliminated fencing and railings between plots to create a free-flowing design of space that he called a “landscape lawn plan,” introducing plants from around the world. He also designed other important cemeteries, including Forest Lawn in Buffalo and Oak Woods in Chicago. While still working at Spring Grove, Strauch became superintendent of parks (1871-1875) and designed Eden Park and Burnet Woods.
Due in large part to Strauch’s work, Clifton became known as a garden spot of America, and our hilltop community took on the look of a single large park. An 1875 publication described Clifton as “…hill, dale, lawn, ravine, field and forest, interspersed with bright evergreens and shrubbery, blossom with shady nooks and sunny glades in which nestle the roomy, cool verandas and graveled walks of the fine homes of Clifton.” Strauch talked of his own designs as expressing “cheerfulness, luxuriance of growth, shade, solitude and repose amid scenery designed to imitate rural nature.” Other than the “Temple of Love” – an elegant domed landmark that covers the cistern over a reservoir that watered the gardens and greenhouses of the Bowler estate – little remains of Strauch’s landscape design there today. A recent effort to rejuvenate the park’s landscaping is inspired by the precepts of Strauch’s work.
This article was first published in the Summer 2022 Clifton Chronicle.
Robert Bowler (1803-1864) came to Cincinnati from Providence, Rhode Island in 1820. In 1842, he married Susan Pendleton, granddaughter of the politically powerful Judge Nathaniel Pendleton, and made his riches in dry goods and railroading. His 1845 two-story brick and stucco house – Mount Storm – featured two terraces and a porch with views of the Kentucky hills sweeping up the Mill Creek. A tower was added later.
Bowler’s landscape included shade trees from around the world and 17 greenhouses, making it like none other in the Midwest. A lovingly-tended collection of rare roses, 90 varieties of camellia, 60 begonia varieties, a collection of bananas and palm trees were splendidly complemented by seven Australian black swans gliding on small lakes. A publication of the period noted, “The entire residence was most lavishly decorated with rare plants, bright flowers and buds, exotics evergreen and smilax, the perfume of which filled the air.”
Sadly, Bowler enjoyed this paradise for only 19 years. He was struck and killed in 1864 by an urban stagecoach. His wife, their three children and grandchildren stayed on with the help of Irish laborer James Cluxton, who worked for 53 years to care for the property and helped to rear the children born at Mount Storm.
The city of Cincinnati purchased Mount Storm and its 70 acres from the Bowler family in 1912 with a promise to make it a park. The former grand home was demolished when a battle to save it was lost in 1917.
The Cincinnati Parks Department has announced a temporary closure of Burnet Woods Drive. It will be effective June 29, 2020. Below is their communication on it, and their plans for feedback after a 90 day period. We will share the Cincinnati Parks Department survey with the Clifton community when it come out so everyone has adequate time to share feedback. Please note that Brookline Drive is and has been closed to through traffic for many years.
The Urban Forestry division of the City is accepting applications for this year’s ReLeaf program. The annual ReLeaf program began in 1988 with a mission to provide trees for homeowners who either have lawns that are too narrow to be planted by Urban Forestry or for those with conflicting utility service structures. The program has expanded to include schools, community areas, and other public green spaces. Eligible participants are provided a tree to plant in their front yard, providing the beauty and energy-saving benefits street trees bring.
Why are street trees important?
The benefits of street trees are vast, the most obvious being the aesthetic value of a tree-lined street or parkway. However, the value of a healthy urban forest extends beyond beauty and can include one or more of the following:
reduction in heating/cooling costs through creation of shade or windbreak
aid in abatement of storm water
reduction of erosion through abatement of stormwater runoff
increase in air quality
decrease in the effects of noise and visual pollution through buffering and screening
Interested in participating for 2019? Click here and apply before the Oct 4, 2019 deadline.
There is a limited supply. Applications are a first-come, first-serve basis. A higher priority is given to planting trees on private property along streets the Cincinnati Park Board cannot plant due to narrow right-of-ways. Other priority areas include community focal points such as entranceways, street triangles, areas near street intersections, and public frontages along major streets. Approved applicants are responsible for pickup and planting.
Pickup will occur October 19, 2019 at 3215 Reading Road. Forestry staff will inspect each planting location before approving tree requests and will inspect locations after planting to ensure guidelines are followed. If you have additional questions, please contact Urban Forestry at 861-9070.