Your Town Friday: Getting to the root of Zionsville’s flowery past

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ZIONSVILLE, Ind. – If you’ve driven through Zionsville lately, you may have noticed something very plain has turned into something quite fancy.

The Zionsville Cultural District had a vision for a traffic utility box based on life here a century ago.

“Back in the late 1920s through maybe the early 1940s, there was a big national craze for growing dahlias,” said Mark Zelonis, a member of the Zionsville Cultural District.

Zionsville was known as “Dahlia City” and two local nurseries did very well. They were called Tudor Gardens and Parkway Gardens and they were adjacent to each other in the Zionsville village. In 1933, both competed at the Chicago World’s Fair.

“Mr. Fred Gresh with Parkway Gardens won the top prize, a gold medal for a dahlia that he produced and bred himself that he termed Zion’s Pride,” said Mark.

Mark happens to be a retired horticulturist. In fact, he was the director of horticulture at the Indianapolis Museum of Art before retirement. He searched dahlia groups high and low worldwide for a Zion’s Pride.

“And they all think it’s gone to the dahlia heavens somewhere, but we know what it looked like because we found an article about Mr. Gresh in the Indy Star way back in 1933. It has a depiction of the flower, describing it as being lemon yellow.”

Zionsville artist Cynthia Young won a competition to decorate the traffic box at 106th and Zionsville Road. She was given the theme and the Indy Star clues, and she started sketching.

“They told me they wanted it to be dahlia related, and so I thought of a botanical look,” said Cynthia. “In my normal artwork I use a lot of ink and so my original drawing was in ink. It gave it a Japanese botanical quality, and then it was figuring out the colors that I wanted to use.”

She thought blue worked nicely with the lemon yellow.

Check out her transformation.

Mark and the Zionsville Cultural District have more traffic boxes in the works.

There are plans for more murals around town.

And they also want you to make sure you look down to enjoy the work of local poets!

“We have a stamp made where they actually stamp that poem right into the sidewalk, so it’s there permanently,” said Mark.

The next poetry competition starts soon and a new round of poets will get to christen their work. There are about a dozen etched into sidewalks around the village right now.

You might also see some artistic crosswalks in the future.

“Zionsville only has I think 3 stoplights here in town, but there are a lot of places where people need to cross the street where there is no stoplight,” said Mark. “So we’re hoping to get an artist to design some very decorative crosswalks that people would be safer on, but also bring more attention to the talents that are here in town.”

In the meantime, Mark will continue his quest to make Zionsville a dahlia destination again, and with any luck, find the legendary Zion’s Pride.

For more on Cynthia’s artwork, click here.

Cynthia also did the Walking Man statue near one of the town’s walking trails. She put maps of the trails on him, along with plants and flowers native to Indiana. The state bird, a cardinal, is on his shoulder.

For more on projects the Zionsville Cultural District is working on, click here.

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