Capitol Fountains highlight legacy of Lincoln landscape architect

Pure Nebraska
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 1:14 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The descendants of landscape architect Ernst Herminghaus recently came to Lincoln to experience the Nebraska State Capitol courtyards that he once designed.

“He was a native of Lincoln,” Capitol Administrator for the Nebraska Capitol Commission Bob Ripley said. “He was born and raised here, a graduate of Lincoln High, and a graduate of horticulture from the University of Nebraska on what we know as the East Campus today.”

Herminghaus went on to get a graduate degree in landscape architecture from Harvard in 1915. He was Nebraska’s first professionally-trained landscape architect. Herminghaus tied in the beauty of the capitol with places like Pioneers Park.

“While he was designing Pioneers Park and Woodshire Residental Park, he was designing views to the capitol when the tower wasn’t built yet,” Ripley said. “The bison at the main entrance of Pioneers Park right off Coddington is fascinating. I often thought, why is that bison not at 90 degrees with the road? Well, it’s not 90 degrees because it’s pointing directly at the capitol. So, as you drive out of the park, if you look over the bison’s shoulder, he’s pointed exactly at the capitol. There are two other locations in Pioneers Park that have the capitol as the centerpiece of that view corridor on the distant horizon.”

That corridor is just another example of Herminghaus’ work. There is actually a Capitol Environs Commission in place today to help protect those view corridors.

When it comes to the State Capitol, Herminghaus envisioned fountains at the center of each capitol courtyard. But in the 1930′s, during the Depression, there wasn’t the money to finish the four fountains.

“It was only in 2017 they were completed and dedicated at that time,” Ripley said. “It was after that when the former legislators came along. They were able to convince the Governor and Legislature in 2014 to appropriate the money to build the fountains.”

Once that was done, money was raised to re-landscape the courtyards to match the very planting that Ernst Herminghaus had done in 1934.

“So, what you see here is the restoration of the historic landscape that has been put in place twice now. First in 1934, and the last time was two years ago, in 2020,” Ripley said.

Now, the original vision of the capitol is complete. The son and daughter, along with a grandchild of Ernst Herminghaus, were on hand to see his work recently. As you might imagine, they are happy to see his legacy overflowing with splendor and new life.

“He always thought in long terms, with all of the vistas, from Pioneers Park, to Woodshire Park, to the capitol,” son Fritz Herminghaus said.

“It’s marvelous,” daughter Willa Dyche said. “I couldn’t believe that this could actually happen. It’s such an endeavor, and it’s done, and I’m thrilled with it.”

Now, all Nebraskans can enjoy the fountains, the capitol courtyards, the capitol vistas, and remember the impact Ernst Herminghaus had on it all.

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