Rededication of Ball Nurses’ sunken garden

Ball Residence Hall
Indianapolis, Indiana

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture and the designer of New York City’s Central Park wrote that “The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”1

A little more than half a century after he wrote those words, the same sentiment inspired the planning and development of the magnificent garden we rededicate today—a space designed to allow nurses and patients to experience the restorative and soothing power of nature.

The Ball Nurses’ sunken garden

In 1929, Indiana University hired the renowned landscape architecture firm, Olmsted Brothers—the firm founded by Frederick Law Olmsted—to design a master plan for the emerging medical campus here in Indianapolis, and to draw up plans for the grounds of the Ball Nurses’ Residence.

The firm’s master landscape architect, Percival Gallagher, was in charge of developing those plans. Gallagher had, a few years earlier, designed the grounds for Oldfields, which was home to some of the most influential business leaders in Indianapolis, including the Lilly family, and is now a National Historic Landmark and part of the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Gallagher and the Olmsted Brothers also had a major impact on the design character of the IU Bloomington campus. Their 1929 Master Plan defined a bold, picturesque vision for the campus and outlined locations for many future buildings, quads, walkways, and drives. The legacy of the Olmsted Brothers on the Bloomington campus includes the East Third Street campus edge, Wells Quad, and the preservation and refinement of Dunn’s Woods in the historic Old Crescent.

In his plans for the Nurses’ Sunken Garden and Convalescent Center, Gallagher’s aim was to provide nurses and nursing students with a special place where they could find respite from their demanding work and studies. The garden played a major part in the life of the IU School of Nursing for many decades, with a number of important traditions that grew up around it, including the school’s capping, pinning, senior day, and Commencement ceremonies.

With changing trends in hospital design after World War II, other therapeutic gardens designed by the Olmsted Brothers around the country were either demolished or built upon. Thus, the Ball Nurses’ Sunken Garden and Convalescent Park is the only remaining Olmsted Brothers therapeutic garden and park on an urban medical campus setting that exists in the United States today.

Because of its enormous historical significance, the Ball Nurses’ Sunken Garden and Convalescent Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Unfortunately, over time, the garden suffered extensively from neglect and a lack of maintenance, and sadly, completely deteriorated so that it was no longer even recognizable. But today, we finally celebrate its long-planned-for and much anticipated restoration.

The importance of public art

The rededication of the garden’s centerpiece sculpture, Eve, created, as I mentioned earlier, by the eminent artist and Herron alumnus, Robert Davidson, also reminds us of the important functions of public art on Indiana University’s campuses.

While Indiana University is home to exceptional museum collections, IU’s commitment to art as a public trust extends beyond the walls of our museums to the indoor and outdoor public spaces of our campuses around the state, where works of art become integrated into the lives of members of the university community. In these public spaces, sculptures, paintings, and other works of art not only beautify our campuses, but they also remind us of our shared history and inspire reflection.

Robert Davidson’s Eve was first shown at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair in the same Indiana exhibition that featured artist Thomas Hart Benton’s renowned murals depicting the Social and Industrial History of IndianaEve—or “Flo,” as she has been nicknamed by nursing students after Florence Nightingale—has also been an important part of the School of Nursing’s traditions. Unstable ground necessitated her removal from the garden in 1997. With today’s ceremony, we celebrate her return to her traditional home.

As we approach IU’s Bicentennial in 2020, we plan to commission and acquire—in a systematic way—new pieces of public art for all of Indiana University’s campuses. Doing so will strengthen our commitment to art as a public trust, and affirm the fundamental principle that the arts enrich the lives of all members of the university community.

Special thanks

As we celebrate the long-anticipated rededication of this remarkable therapeutic greenspace, we owe special thanks to so many people who have worked over many years to help bring this garden back to life.

Ball Nurses’ Sunken Garden is a testament to the transformative power of philanthropy—and to the great strength of the relationships that this university has fostered over many years.

On behalf of Indiana University, I want to once again express our most sincere thanks to the members of the Ball family and the representatives of the Ball Brothers Foundation who are with us today. Today’s rededication of the Ball Nurses’ Sunken Garden is a wonderful reminder of the Ball family’s legacy of philanthropy that has had an enormous impact on Indiana University and on our state.

I also want to all extend our grateful thanks to all the many donors whose support has been critical in this splendid restoration of the garden.

As well, I want to extend our thanks to a number of members of the IU School of Nursing Class of 1959, who have been passionate advocates for the garden’s restoration. Their efforts have been led by Ruth Rodefeld, Margaret McConnaha, and Audrey Corne—all of whom are with us today. Would everyone please join me in expressing our thanks for their leadership with a round of applause?

I also want to commend IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar and IU School of Nursing Dean Robin Newhouse—and her predecessor Marion Broome—for their efforts over many years that have helped us reach this day.

And finally, I want to commend Vice President for Capital Planning and Facilities Tom Morrison, as well as the many design and construction professionals, both internal and external, who played major roles in this project. In particular, I want to commend our colleagues at Rundell Ernstberger Associates, who have been working on plans for the rehabilitation of Ball Nurses’ Sunken Garden for many, many years.


Dayton Reuter, a renowned professor of Landscape Architecture at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, has written that a university campus “is not just leftover spaces between buildings. It is, in fact, a series of designed places that reflect the values for which an institution wishes to be known.”2

Today, with the rededication of the Ball Nurses’ Sunken Garden, we celebrate the renewal of a magnificently designed historic space that splendidly reflects the values for which the IUPUI campus and Indiana University wish to be known.

As we approach Indiana University’s Bicentennial and the 50th anniversary of the IUPUI campus, may the beautifully restored Ball Nurses’ Sunken Garden provide solitude and respite and companionship and inspiration; may it remind us of our shared history; and may it inspire reflection on a new era of the greatest promise.

Source notes

  1. Frederick Law Olmsted, “The Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove,” Olmsted Report on Management of Yosemite, 1865. National Park Service, Web, Accessed June 21, 2016, URL:
  2. Dayton Reuter, as quoted in David J. Neuman, Building Type Basics for College and University Facilities, (John Wiley and Sons, 2003), 2.