No matter where you live in Indiana, it’s likely you’ve seen a building designed by the Bohlen family.
From 1853 to 1968, four generations of Indianapolis’s Bohlen family designed local buildings that include the Indianapolis City Market, the Murat Temple and Crown Hill Cemetery’s gothic chapel.
Farther afield, the Bohlens also designed the French Lick Springs Hotel in French Lick, the Shelby County courthouse in Shelbyville, the Franciscan convent and academy at Oldenburg and most of the buildings for the Sisters of Providence and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute.
With help from a Historic Preservation Education Grant from Indiana Humanities and Indiana Landmarks, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College hired architectural historian Dr. James Glass to research and share insights into examples of the Bohlens’ work, with a focus on the dozens of buildings they designed for the campus.
During talks in Indianapolis and Terre Haute, Glass highlighted the family’s architectural legacy, beginning with Diedrich Augustus Bohlen, who immigrated to the United States around 1851 from the Kingdom of Hanover, now part of Germany. After moving to Indianapolis, Diedrich Bohlen founded his architectural firm in 1853, and for the next 115 years his descendants led the company.
“They [had] a prodigious output in Indianapolis and other places,” Glass said. “It was said at one time that every block in downtown Indianapolis had a Bohlen building.”
Glass’s presentations featured historic illustrations and photos of Bohlen landmarks still in use and others lost, including the English Opera House and Hotel on Indianapolis’s Monument Circle. Glass lauded the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods campus as a showcase of the architects’ work.
“Saint Mary-of-the-Woods has a stupendous collection of over 51 buildings designed by this firm,” Glass said. “And their command of architectural idioms of all kinds—from Italian Renaissance, French Second Empire, Baroque—is really extraordinary.”
In 2017, the Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its contribution to architectural significance and religious importance.
Following Glass’s presentation at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College, visitors took a tour of Bohlen architecture across campus, including the Church of the Immaculate Conception, The Woodland Inn, the Conservatory of Music, Le Fer Hall and the Saint Anne Shell Chapel.
“This is important for us to share the beauty of this campus with the community,” Saint Mary-of the-Woods College executive director of strategic communications Dee Reed said. “We want them to experience what we experience every day and for them to . . . gain [an] appreciation for what is not only across Indiana but what is right here in our backyard.”