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Luther College

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Founded 1861, moved to Decorah 1862. College Dr., north off North St.

In 1875, Luther College was housed in a building described as “an imposing structure in the Norman-Gothic style of architecture.” 6 This building (built in 1865 and completed in 1874) was destroyed by fire in 1889. Its successor also burned, in 1942, and was replaced in 1951. The campus today is dominated by post-World War II Modernist buildings. Architecturally the most enticing structure now on campus is the Pioneer Memorial, located at the college entrance north of the junction of Leif Eriksson Drive and Ohio Street. It is a stone outdoor chapel with a pulpit modeled after a hollowed-out tree trunk.

The dominant quality at Luther College is not the architecture, however, but the landscape, a beautiful site overlooking the upper Iowa River to the west which was revamped in 1910 by the Chicago landscape architect Jens Jensen. Of his approach to design in the Midwest prairie, Jensen wrote, “As I look over the field of my endeavor, it seems to me that each locality had within it the possibility of certain definite expressions, or motives.” 7 Jensen developed the feeling of a natural prairie park interspersed with native oaks and supplemented by evergreens and maples. He was emphatic that the blufftop view of the river valley below be maintained, and it has been.



Leonard K. Eaton, Landscape Architect in America: The Life and Work of Jens Jensen, 179.

Writing Credits

David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim


What's Nearby


David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim, "Luther College", [Decorah, Iowa], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Iowa, David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 379-380.

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