Meet the landscape architect behind Lilac Way.

After designing the landscapes of Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, MN, Arthur Nichols (1881-1970) moved to Minnesota with his business partner Anthony Morell.

As a consulting landscape architect for the Highway Department from 1932-40, he designed the seven roadside parks that lined Lilac Way.

Blazer Park, 1939. Waterfall and landscaping. Photo: MnDOT.

Arthur R. Nichols, Landscape Architect

Considered one of the state’s most important landscape architects

Nichols designed and supervised the execution of Highway 100 and Lilac Way. Fred Vogt, Roadside Development’s staff landscape architect at the MN Highway Department, undoubtedly worked closely with Nichols.

Unlike many landscape architects who worked for state highway departments in the early 1930s, both Nichols and Vogt were trained in engineering and highway design, as well as in landscape architecture.

  • Lilac bushes were laid out irregularly, separated by open space
  • Added evergreens, elms, trees and grassy slopes to fit natural topography
  • The unique design for seven roadside parks, beehive fireplaces and landscape plan was based on labor-intensive ‘Rustic’ style of architecture popular in 1930
  • Lilac Way parks included picnic tables, rock waterfalls, limestone pools surrounded by benches, rock gardens, fireplaces, walkways, flagpole stands, wayside rest signs and beehive fireplaces
  • Knowing how important jobs were, Nichols kept WPA workers busy planting lilacs when not roadbuilding
  • Worked with Chief Engineer Carl Graeser on Lilac Way

Nichols found a partner in the Golden Valley Garden Club.

“The WPA workers made nice stone tables and benches, and they were quite permanent!… People used them for many, many, years. They enjoyed them very much.”

Ruth Thorness, former Golden Valley Garden Club President

Nichols included more than 7,000 bushes of 12 varieties of lilacs, and thousands of shrubs, vines, and trees.

When landscaping was completed in 1938, over 30,000 deciduous plants had been planted.

Architecture firm Morell & Nichols. Anthony U. Morell & Arthur Nichols, ca. mid to late 1910s. Image: Northwest Architectural Archives, Univ. of MN Morris.

Nichols Facts

  • Born in Springfield, Massachusetts on April 15, 1881
  • First graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) landscape architecture program in 1902
  • One of MN’s premier landscape architects
  • Key player in establishing the field of landscape architecture in MN
  • Worked on landscape of “Glensheen”, Chester A. Congdon’s Duluth mansion in 1908
  • Launched Morell & Nichols firm with partner Anthony U. Morell in 1909
  • Eleven of the projects Morell & Nichols are credited for designing on behalf of MN’s Highway Department—most executed by Nichols, who served as the department’s consultant from 1932 to 1940—are listed on the National Register of Historic Places
  • Acted as the U of MN’s consulting planner, designing grounds on campuses for 40+ years
  • Designed most of MN’s waysides, scenic overlooks, and historical markers built in 1930s and 1940s
  • Worked on plans for Northrup Mall at University of MN in 1930
  • Designed Lakewood Cemetery NE section addition in 1948, which continued concept of cemetery as arboretum
  • Died in Rochester, MN on January 23, 1970
  • Morell & Nichols main archive is at Northwest Architectural Archives, University of MN, St, Paul, MN. Includes plans, sketches and correspondence

A quote by Arthur Nichols

“…the lilac has possibilities of great beauty and attractiveness. We will endeavor to keep the landscaping as naturalistic as possible, and yet have lilacs form the predominating theme during their blooming season.”

More resources

Pioneers of American Landscape Design II. Morell & Nichols section only. Contributed by by Greg Kopischke.

Glensheen Mansion, landscape designed by Arthur Nichols

Glacier Park Lodge, landscape designed by Arthur Nichols

Arthur Nichols, Pioneer – The Cultural Landscape Foundation

“Morell & Nichols”. Excerpt from Duluth’s Historic Parks: Their First 160 Years. Duluth, MN: Zenith City Press. Dierckins, Tony, and Nelson, Nancy S. 2017.