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An Idyl of the Wabash and Other StoriesAnna Nicholas

Hoosier Connection: Nicholas moved to Indiana from Pennsylvania. She worked as editor and contributor to the Indianapolis Journal and Indianapolis Star.

Works Discussed: An Idyl of the Wabash and Other Stories, The Story of Crown Hill, "The Beginning of Conservation in America"

Anna Nicholas was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania, in 1849 to Dr. John and Rachel Nicholas. She spent most of her life working for the Indianapolis Journal, which later became the Indianapolis Star.

Nicholas’ best known work is the collection of short stories entitled An Idyl of the Wabash and Other Stories. All of the stories are set in Indiana, and deal with subjects as varied as lost love and outsiders' opinions of the state. The tales here indicate what the landscapes of Indiana looked like in the late 1800s. In the story titled "An Idyl of the Wabash," the main character has moved to northwest Indiana from Vermont. She disapproves of the people, the lifestyle, and the landscape, saying, “The country was too level.... The prairie was monotonous and the sky shut down too close.... It’s perfectly scandalous the way they let grass grow in the gutters and the way they let the pigs and cattle run loose in the street" (4-5). This difference in land and habits is very offensive to her, and serves to illustrate the feeling of the time that Indiana was an uncivilized wilderness.

Dunes at Lake Michigan
Dunes at Lake Michigan

There are other stories in Idyl that cast Indiana in a less-than-favorable light. "At a Way Station" describes the area that the train passes through as "lonely" and desolate, with "ghostly" trees and "gray, sodden" earth (39). "An Itinerant Pair" opens with five pages of negative impressions of Michigan City:

A native of the state living elsewhere can conceive of no reason why a man should voluntarily take up his residence in the place, or even why he should "stop off," except to visit some erring and unfortunate relative.... In every direction was sand—mountains of sand, valleys of sand. It was in drifts upon the sidewalks, in hillocks in the street. The houses were built upon it. Many dwellings leaned from the perpendicular at various angles, according to their age, the shifty foundations had so worn away and blown away.... The scattering tufts of grass in the front yards seemed to have given over the ambition to cover the earth with green, and were creeping under the sand. (177-79)

The narrator goes on to describe a treacherous and fruitless climb up the side of a large sand dune in a vain attempt to find a pleasing panorama, and finds only Lake Michigan and "outward bound" boats and ships.

There are rare instances of positive representations, but they are given by characters who are natives of Indiana. In "An Occult Experience," a mother reviews her land in anticipation of her son’s return and finds it beautiful, though Nicholas adds that "it was the contentment of her soul that made the Indiana landscape doubly fair" (147). The female protagonist in "An Abiding Love" takes a trip down the Ohio River to the Mississippi, and finds the early summer state of the land pleasing.

Nicholas also wrote an incredibly comprehensive, novel-length history of Crown Hill Cemetery, located in Indianapolis. The work, titled The Story of Crown Hill, contains facts about the cemetery’s conception and founders, eye-witness accounts of happenings, and information about the city at the time of construction. Nicholas gives a detailed description of the land prior to human alteration and notes the changes necessary for creating the cemetery:

The beautiful contour of the tract, with its low, irregular elevations, crowned by the commanding and conspicuous hill, left little to be done in the way of lowering or upbuilding, except in the grading of roadways. The natural forests, too, that covered much of the ground was a fortunate possession.

But there was low marshy ground that needed to be drained, there were trees and thickets to be cut away, also trees to be planted; there were roads to be built and space to be made suitable at once for the laying of the dead. (18)

In the newspaper story "The Beginning of Conservation in America," Nicholas analyzes a Revolutionary War era document. The letter was written in 1796 by an American, William Tatham, out of concern for the destruction and decimation of the landscape in America. Tatham wrote about the disappearance of plant species in the United States to the monarch of Spain. At the time, Madrid had the most comprehensive botanical gardens in the world, and Tatham was entreating the Spanish government to harvest and cultivate North American flora to be preserved in these gardens. The essay makes only vague references to Indiana in mentioning lands north of the Ohio River, but Tatham describes in layman’s terms several species of plant life that are found in the state. He also notes the losses caused by settlers' activities:

[I]t is greatly to be lamented that many valuable natural productions have perish’d for want of Scientific attention, as thro’ the wantonness and ignorance of the first settlers of New Countries.

In the Animal Kingdom the destruction of the Buffaloes (of recent date) is a striking Instance in the Population of Kentucky.... (576)

Tatham realized in 1796 what many people today have yet to see: wildlife is a valuable part of the world in which we live. Nicholas's article served to emphasize this tradition of conservation and environmental awareness.

The writings of Anna Nicholas give insights into the attitudes of both residents and non-residents toward the lands of Indiana during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She also provides descriptions of what the landscape was like before intense development became the norm.



Banta, R. E. Indiana Authors and Their Books. Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash College UP, 1949.

Nicholas, Anna. "The Beginnings of Conservation in America." Journal of American History. 4 (1910): 570-79.

---. An Idyl of the Wabash and Other Stories. Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill, 1898.

---. The Story of Crown Hill. Indianapolis: Crown Hill Association (private printing), 1928.

"Nicholas, Anna." Who Was Who in America: 1897-1942. Vol. 1. Chicago: Marquis, 1943.


An Idyl of the Wabash and Other Stories. Violet Books. 19 Oct. 2002 <http://www.violetbooks.com/gallery/nicholas-wabash.html>


Crown Hill Cemetery website