A Jens Jensen Landscape

Portions of the Sommers estate were designed by Jens Jensen, a renowned Chicago-based landscape architect.

Jensen created a comprehensive landscape design for the James A. Allison family estate next door to the Sommers in 1910. Bringing a naturalist perspective to his work, Jensen called for a layout and style native to the area and plantings of native plants. He called the landscape “Riverdale.” It encompasses what is now Marian University’s EcoLab and a large part of Cold Spring School’s natural area (from the middle bridge south).

The Cold Spring portion, called “Riverworks,” sat at the edge of Crooked Creek and was designed for outdoor entertaining. Although originally designed for the Allisons, it passed into the Sommers’ hands in the late 1920s.

Riverworks was the site of many a party hosted by the Allisons and the Sommers. Crooked Creek was deep enough to be navigable, and mechanical waterworks created a dock area much wider and deeper than now. Jensen called this a “prairie pool.” Boats came down the creek, docked at the stone wall by the prairie pool, and guests entered the recreation area via steps leading up from the creek. First they would encounter a large tiled swimming pool, then a stone bath house (constructed 1929) with elegant marble-walled dressing rooms. Tennis courts, a miniature gold course, woodland paths, and shady rest areas with benches completed the guests’ entertainments.

It is said that, in the 1930s, every Sunday night during fair weather the Sommers had their evening meal poolside with neighbors and friends. The servants drove all the food and serving dishes down from the main house.

A Cultural Landscape Report developed for the Allison Estate during 2002-03 tells more about these amenities.