HALS Documentation: An Unexpected Discovery

Examining the stone abutments under the Japanese House on Mallard Island, 2017. / image: David Driapsa and Deborah Dietrich-Smith

During the summers of 2016 and 2017, preservation professionals took up residence on Mallard Island in northern Minnesota to document its cultural landscape. David Driapsa, FASLA, brought these groups together after first visiting the island in 2010, and subsequently preparing a Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS MN-06) of the island and submitting it to the Library of Congress.

The island was the home of Ernest C. Oberholtzer for a half century. Ober, as he was known, was an early student of landscape architecture at Harvard under the tutelage of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and James Sturgis Pray, where he became captivated with wilderness planning. As a young man, he moved from Davenport, Iowa, to Rainy Lake, Minnesota, a large lake along the international border with Ontario, Canada, to conduct an ethnological study of the Ojibwe Indians. In his exploration of the international boundary wilderness, Ober recognized the Ojibwe as a natural part of that wilderness, and saw that both this ancient culture and the wilderness were vanishing from North America. Ober devoted the rest of his life to leading the battle to preserve the international boundary wilderness. His fight to preserve the wilderness is very interesting and has been written about by others, such as by Joe Paddock in his book Keeper of the Wild. However, there are still interesting aspects of his life story that remain untold.

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