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
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
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
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)
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
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,
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