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A legend in the landscape

A legend in the landscape

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Viewing the work of one of the nation's most influential landscape architects is as easy as visiting the Hauberg Civic Center in Rock Island.

Danish-born Jens Jensen was living in Chicago when Rock Island lumber heiress Susanne Denkmann hired him to design the grounds of the 29-room brick mansion she had built on a bluff in 1909-11.

Other wealthy Jensen clients included Henry and Edsel Ford, Frederick Pabst, the Armour and Florsheim families, and the founder of Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Although the sweeping 10-acre hillside at 1300 24th St. has changed from when it was finished, at about the same time as the house, the "bones" are still there if you know what to look for.

And finding them is easier now with the completion of an illustrated walking tour booklet by Linda Anderson and published by the Rock Island Preservation Society.

Anderson will give a talk about the gardens at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 21, at the German American Heritage Center in Davenport, with the booklets available. Her program is part of the center's current Land and Water exhibit that features the contributions of Jensen and Ernest Oberholtzer, an early conservationist and Davenport native.

A made-for-PBS documentary on Jensen will have its debut in Davenport the day before: Saturday, July 20, at the Figge Art Museum.

Denkmann was an Eastern-educated woman and leader in Rock Island community affairs who had the mansion completed in time for her 1911 marriage to John Hauberg, a Rock Island lawyer. 

The grounds reflect Jensen's near-mystical belief in the renewing and civilizing powers of nature. He believed it was important for people to maintain the natural heritage of their region, and to achieve this, his designs emphasized native plantings in a natural setting.

Photos taken at the time the work was done show how the large hillside — a pasture, actually — was painstakingly sculpted and planted.

The property had three sections, Anderson explained: terraced gardens at the top, including a massive grape arbor; an open meadow in the middle and a woodlands on both sides of the walking path at the bottom.

The terraces were planted with food — strawberries, raspberries and blackberries — and peach, cherry and plum trees were planted along paths next to the terraces.

The meadow provided open space for gatherings, a place to enjoy the warmth of sunlight and see the stars at night, Anderson explained.

To create woods where there were none, Jensen recommended the planting of native white birch, white pine, oak, linden and Canadian hemlock in a way that, over time, would look natural.

The combination of woods and meadow introduced "a play of light," that Jensen strove for, Anderson said.

Specific pieces of the Jensen plan that remain visible today include a bridge over a ravine, a light pole, a walking path from the bottom at the corner of 12th Avenue and 22nd Street and a pillar with the initial "H."

But Anderson hopes that by walking through the hillside with her guide, a visitor will get an even stronger impression of Jensen's vision — an understanding of how he "combined the elements of sky, sun, clouds, wind, water, native flowers, shrubs, trees and organic structures to create a living landscape that was, and is, beautiful, understandable and ongoing."

The photos included in the booklet are copies of glass slides that Rock Island researcher Jeanie Dasso tracked down several years ago in a Jensen archive at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., Anderson said.



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Around the same time that Susanne Denkmann was having her mansion built on a bluff in Rock Island, her older sister Mary and Mary's husband, J…

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