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Elwood, Philip Homer

Published onJul 30, 2021
Elwood, Philip Homer

(December 7, 1884 - August 20, 1960)

Quick Facts

Elwood was the first chair of the landscape architecture department and worked to lay out a twenty year plan for the campus.

Source: University Archives, Iowa State University Library, Ames, Iowa.

P.H. Elwood was a nationally recognized designer, planner and educator who did much to advance the profession of landscape architecture in the Midwest. Born in 1884 in Fort Plain, NY, Elwood received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from Cornell University in 1910. After graduating, he worked for the landscape architectural firm of Charles Welford Leavitt in New York and in 1913, became an agent for the Agriculture Extension Service of Massachusetts State University. In this position, he worked under landscape architect Frank Waugh, a pioneer in horticultural and landscape extension, well known for his landscape photography, writings on aesthetics, and consulting work for the U.S. Forest and National Park Services. Waugh appears to have greatly influenced Elwood, who would follow in his mentor’s footsteps in horticulture, photography and public practice during his later career in the Midwest.

In 1915, Elwood moved to Ohio State University (OSU) where he became assistant professor of horticulture and helped A.D. Taylor (also a Cornell graduate) establish a landscape gardening curriculum. In 1917-18, he served in World War I as a field artillery captain and after Armistice oversaw the design and construction of the Argonne Cemetery in Meuse, France. In 1919, after returning to OSU, Elwood established his own design firm with engineer Carl R. Frye. Located in Columbus, Ohio, Elwood & Frye’s commissions included a plan for Ohio Farmer’s Insurance Company, Leroy, Ohio, .

In 1923, Elwood came to Iowa State College (ISC, now Iowa State University) as a professor in the horticulture department. During his early years at Iowa State, he produced the book American Landscape Architecture, a significant pictorial volume that comprehensively documented public and private landscape architecture practice in the United States. His reputation growing, in 1927 Elwood became a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architecture, and shortly thereafter, in 1929, the first chair of Iowa State’s newly created Landscape Architecture Department. As chair, Elwood rapidly advanced the department, initiating first a bachelor’s degree and a few years later, a master’s degree. In 1930 he oversaw the rehabilitation of a sheep barn into a departmental studio home. He established a library and a glass plate slide collection containing many of his own photos of European and Asian landscapes. He published Horizons, a department magazine that kept alumni and Midwestern practitioners up-to-date on current landscape architecture. With the help of new faculty, including John Fitzsimmons, Elwood expanded ISC’s landscape extension program into a national leader in both farmstead and state park design. He broadened student educational opportunities, collaborating with other Midwestern universities in the “landscape exchange problem” competitions. Between 1929 and 1933 he also led students on summer tours to Europe, Asia, and the western and southern United States. With Professor Allen Kimball, Elwood also worked on the “Twenty Year Plan”-a comprehensive plan for the entire ISC Campus.

In 1933, seeking to replace summer salary lost due to Depression-era University budget cuts, Elwood began working for the National Park Service, inspecting proposed state park sites from Texas to Minnesota. Elwood leveraged this position and its national connections to help his students find design, planning and construction jobs in New Deal civil works programs.

Over time, Elwood’s career increasingly focused on planning issues. At the state level, he implemented roadside vegetation planning as Chair of the Iowa Roadside Improvement Council in 1932 and served as Director, in 1935, of the Iowa State Planning Board. At the state and regional levels, he served on the National Resources Planning Board (1940-43); the Missouri Valley Regional Planning Commission (1941-43); and the Mississippi River Parkway Planning Commission (1932-1950). He also worked as a town-planning consultant for U.S. Housing Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers, though throughout it all, he continued as a department chair and teacher who famously wielded a grease pencil to mark student drawings.

Elwood served the professions of landscape architecture and city planning as the Vice President of the ASLA in 1941, 1949, and 1950 and as the President of the American Society of Planning Officials in 1942-43. In 1951, Elwood retired from ISU and moved to Tuscon, AZ where he established the firm of Elwood & Greene prior to his death in 1960. Significant projects completed by Elwood during his 40-year career included Boys’ Town near Omaha, Nebraska; New Town for the Garrison Reservoir in North Dakota; the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in Gatlinburg, TN and a plan for Canon City in Colorado.

Elwood was married to Dorothy Elwood, and had two children, Mary and David. Elwood died in Tucson, Arizona on August 20, 1960.

Selected Sources

Philip Homer Elwood Papers, RS 26/5/11, University Archives Iowa State University Library, Ames, IA.

Iowa State University Library, Digital Scholarship & Initiatives - Philip H. Elwood.,named%20Professor%20Emeritus%20in%201958.

Cardinal Tales, Blog, Iowa State University Library, “Films of landscape architecture Professor Philip Elwood”

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