The Parks of Hartford

Bushnell Park, early 20th century

Bushnell Park, established in 1853, is considered the first municipal public park in America. Named after Horace Bushnell, close friend of the most famous park maker, Frederick Law Olmstead (also born and buried in Hartford), the park was designed as a natural refuge away from the trauma of an increasingly urban city, a way to foster democracy, and for Bushnell at least, a connection with nature and God. This photo, taken in the early 20th century shows the Park (or "Little") River that wound through Hartford before it was buried in the 1940’s.


Hartford’s first park began what the writer John Alexopoulos, - author of The Nineteenth Century Parks of Hartford: A Legacy to the Nation - describes as Hartford’s "Rain of Parks," a ring of separate green and natural areas around the city "adding nearly 1,200 acres of parkland to the valuable but small 40-acre Bushnell Park."


Photo courtesy of Hartford History Center

Elizabeth Park, c. 1916

The first of the parks, elegant Elizabeth Park (which slides over the border into West Hartford), was a gift from the will of Charles M. Pond and named after his wife, Elizabeth. The elegant flower gardens surrounding the former estate: perennial, annual, rock, and the famous rose garden added in 1904 were a part of the Victorian design.


Photo courtesy of Hartford History Center

Goodwin Park, early 20th century

Furthest to the south, in what is now the Southend of Hartford is Goodwin Park, across Maple Ave from the famed Cedar Hill Cemetery – a landmark in its own right. Now including a golf course, the original design was intended for outdoor activities, and the park was kept up in a way that maintained the large natural meadows of the Ct River valley.


Photo courtesy of Hartford History Center

Pope Park, early 20th century

Pope Park was named for the head of the Pope Manufacturing Company (bicylces, the first car) who wanted his workers to have a place to enjoy themselves. Unlike Elizabeth Park, this large area, on the south side of the park river was closer to downtown and the factories. Split by Park Street, it was meant for working class people, for children to play, and for long walks or drives in carriages down meandering paths.


Photo courtesy of Hartford History Center

Keney Park, early 20th century

Keney Park is, by far, the largest of Hartford’s parks. Originally over 600 acres in the north, it was purposely designed in the last years of the 19th century to be a natural place with gorges and groves of Beech and Hemlock. Within the limits of an urban area, this was the most rural space, meant for long drives, hiking and views of the city. It was a place to escape the city entirely.


Photo courtesy of Hartford History Center

Riverside Park, early 20th century

Like Bushnell Park, Riverside Park was the result of public funding. The wading pool was essential for the working class citizens, especially the poorer children of Hartford from the ethnic sections of downtown near the docks and the wharfs along the river before the highways cut off the river from the commercial sectors. The park runs along the western border of the Ct. River completing the ring of parks around the city.


Photo courtesy of Hartford History Center

Colt Park, early 20th century

Colt Park was part of the Samuel Colt family estate and its complex history and eclectic nature have to be explored in the history of Armsmear. The area was given to the city in 1905 and the park went through numerous transformations which Alexopoulos recounts in detail. The cornfields, the ponds, the greenhouses, the reflecting pool, and the replica of a German village called "Potsdam" - all made possible by Colt’s dike that protected the land from the Ct. River.


Photo courtesy of Hartford History Center