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Did the Olmsted Brothers help design Meriden’s Hubbard Park?

Did the Olmsted Brothers help design Meriden’s Hubbard Park?

I love a good mystery, so I was intrigued a couple of Saturdays ago when I was told I had it wrong.

At issue was a column of mine that ran Friday, Oct. 30, about Hubbard Park and Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect who designed New York’s Central Park.

An article in The New York Review of Books had connected the rise of Olmsted’s career, launched by his Central Park effort, to “a pivotal moment in the recognition of our environmental treasures and their increasing endangerment.” The article’s author, Martin Filler, noted a “distinctively American form of nature worship” that stemmed from the writings of Emerson and Thoreau, and the paintings of the Hudson River School.

In my column, I tried to connect that “distinctively American form of nature worship” to the efforts of the “Save Giuffrida Park” movement, which is seeking to protect Chauncey Peak from further mining.

This was all well and good. What wasn’t, according to a reader who called me on a Saturday night after the column had appeared, was my observation that in designing Hubbard Park, Walter Hubbard had enlisted the help of the Olmsted Brothers, the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted.

The reader told me this wasn’t the case.

The Olmsted involvement is widely accepted, and even the remote possibility that it could be wrong was a lure I couldn’t pass by.

The following day I told the story to my friend Anthony Pioppi, who at one time worked for the Record-Journal and is the author and co-author of two fine books about golf, “To the Nines” and “Haunted Golf.”

He was also intrigued, and the next day sent me an email: “Jeff: Olmsted Brothers were involved with Hubbard Park.” What followed was a link to the “Olmsted Research Guide Online.”

There, you could see that there had been correspondence with Walter Hubbard but you couldn’t see what it was.

I sent a request to the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C. I heard back just a few hours ago, as in a few hours before writing this on Thursday afternoon.

Hubbard was a city store clerk who became one of Meriden’s greatest industrialists. He was so impressed by the beauty of Merimere Reservoir that he started acquiring land, and by 1888 he had about 1,000 acres for his park. Today, the park has about 1,800 acres.

What the Library of Congress sent to me is an account from April 27, 1898 by J.C. Olmsted, who I take to be John Charles Olmsted, the nephew and adopted son of Frederick Law Olmsted who with Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. founded Olmsted Brothers.

The account opens thusly: “Met Mr. W. Hubbard (of Bradley & Hubbard, mfgrs. of gas and electric brass brackets and chandeliers and architectural metal work,) at 9:01. He showed me through his works as a matter of locating himself. We then went to his house and drove by minor streets to the north end of the long reservoir in the park.”

What follows is a lot of detail about water flow, trees, ravines and ridges. There is talk of views, and areas that would be good places for picnics.

“Mr. Hubbard finds it hard to plan his work for such permanent effects,” writes Olmsted. “At the east end of this shelf Mr. Hubbard proposes a shelter and thought it should be a Greek temple, suggestive of the Acropolis, but I protested that it would be better built roughly of the local weather-beaten stones.”

So, it appears Olmsted Brothers did indeed have a hand in helping Hubbard design Hubbard Park, details of which I plan to continue exploring.

“A large part of the ground between West Main Street and the foot of the peaks should gradually be opened up and smoothed and grassed and planted with ornamental trees, and provided with plenty of wide walks, seats, fountains, shelters, playgrounds and the like,” writes Olmsted, “ because it will always be crowded on pleasant Sundays ...”

It sounds so familiar.

“... the semi-formal treatment will afford a striking contrast with the remarkably fine, wild scenery of the peaks.”

Reach Editorial Page Editor Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213 or jkurz@record-journal.com. Follow him on Twitter@jefferykurz.


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