Fountain from long-vanished park being resurrected on Plantsville Green

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SOUTHINGTON — Half buried in an Elm Street backyard for decades, the Walkley Park fountain is getting a new home in downtown Plantsville.

The fieldstone fountain was the signature feature of a park built by Plantsville entrepreneur Lucius V. Walkley and is now the last remaining feature of his estate.

The park was cut up for building lots in the 1920s and the disused fountain ended up on the property of Reno and Barbara Pelletier who built their house in 1968.

The couple recently agreed to let the town excavate the fountain and move it to the Plantsville Green.

“Nobody sees the fountain in our backyard, nobody appreciates it. Let the town enjoy it,” Barbara Pelletier said.

‘Colorful, enterprising’

Lucius Walkley made his money by manufacturing square-bottomed paper bags at a plant on West Main Street. His Pultz and Walkley Co. factory churned out three million bags in 1899, the same year that Walkley built his 18-room mansion on Summer Street.

His house overlooked the block bordered by Cowles Avenue and Elm, Summer and Prospect streets, land which he also owned and that he turned into Walkley Park. Postcards from 1910 show the fountain, a pond in the background near Summer Street, neat paths and carefully maintained vegetation. Walkley brought in exotic trees and plants from all over the world for the park.

Phil Wooding, the town’s historian and a Plantsville resident, said he hasn’t come across any writings from the Walkley family that would explain the entrepreneur’s motivation for building the park. Lucius Walkley wasn’t adverse to spending money, having paid $65,000 for a prize bull to build his herd at Belleview Farms. The animal would have cost more than $800,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

“It turned out to be a dud stud,” Wooding said.

Reno and Barbara Pelletier stand in the backyard of their home on Elm Street. The couple agreed to relocate a historic fountain from their backyard to the Plantsville Town Green. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

Walkley sold his paper bag company to a competitor for $1.2 million. He then became president of H. D. Smith & Co in Plantsville, rebuilding the company after a fire destroyed much of the factory at the corner of West and West Main streets.

Walkley also donated half the money for the town’s first library, now the Historical Society building on Main Street.

“He was colorful, enterprising,” Wooding said.

Housing replaces park

A map of Walkley Park at the Southington Town Clerk’s office shows building lots dividing the land in 1924, six years before Walkley’s death.

Clarence Cowles, a member of one of the town’s first families and owner of Cowles Blue Seal Feeds, bought the Summit Street mansion and at least portions of the park. The gardens and paths went untended and some land was used for houses.

“We used to do sledding in the wintertime over in that area down the hill,” Wooding said of the late 1940s. “Back then, there was probably two or three houses on Elm Street. As time went by, it just filled in.”

The Pelletiers bought the land for their house from Clarence Cowles. Reno Pelletier heard through Clarence Cowles that Walkley offered the park to the town for $1 before his death. The town turned him down.

Reno Pelletier shows a 1910 postcard depicting the historic fountain from Walkley's Park in Plantsville. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

Former state Sen. Joe Markley, grandson of Clarence Cowles, lives in the Elm Street house his family built in 1927 on the former park. He enjoyed seeing the fountain’s top poking out of the ground in the Pelletier’s backyard next door. Markley said while he’ll miss seeing a reminder of Walkley Park, he’s glad it will be preserved and worried that a future homeowner might tear it out.

“It will enhance the notion of having a Plantsville Green by putting it down there,” he said. “I’m all for it.”

He said the fountain and park were a reminder of a different way of life in Plantsville when people could walk downtown for all their basic needs or take the train or trolley out of town.

“You could pretty much do everything in the center of Plantsville,” Markley said. “It was a different way of looking at life.”

Moving, rebuilding fountain

Paul Chaplinsky, vice chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission and a newly elected town councilor, and other town officials had been asking the Pelletiers about moving the fountain for several years.

The couple had initially buried much of the fountain to prevent it from being considered a pool by the town. Reno Pelletier said town officials told him to put a fence around it since it would hold water. After burying the center pillar about halfway up, he put a stone cherub sprinkler fountain on the top.

Digging out the old Walkley Park fountain from the backyard of Reno and Barbara Pelletier's backyard. | Submitted by Paul Chaplinsky

Crews were able to excavate the center pillar intact, Chaplinsky said. The mortar holding the surrounding 20-foot diameter stone wall together had crumbled and masons will have to rebuild it.

He was able to recruit volunteer labor and materials for much of the effort. Ali’s Nursery, HQ Dumpsters & Recycling and Marek Construction were among the local companies that helped with the move.

The fountain will be hooked up to a water line and fitted with a sprinkler head that will spray water as the original one did. 

The Pelletiers agreed to move the fountain on the condition it stay in Plantsville. Chaplinsky said the downtown site would give it maximum visibility and highlight an important piece of Plantsville’s history.

Concerns about move

Liz Kopec, a former historical society president, wrote a book on Southington history which included photos of the Walkley mansion and park. She’s opposed to moving the fountain from its original location.

“Once you move something, it does lose some of its historical perspective,” Kopec said. “I drive by those piles of stones every day and think, ‘What a mistake.’”

Digging out the old Walkley Park fountain from the backyard of Reno and Barbara Pelletier's backyard. | Submitted by Paul Chaplinsky

There are only images left of the park and without the fountain in its original location, it’ll be hard to place where things were a century ago.

“You place yourself, you know where the house was, you know where the trails were,’ Kopec said. “Without that fountain, you’re lost.”

Most of Walkley estate gone

Housing lots fill in the former park land. The pond near Summer Street is gone.

A 1914 map of Southington shows Walkley Park in the Plantsville area of town.

Walkley’s mansion passed through a few hands before it became one of the town’s first convalescent homes, Wooding said. It was demolished in 1974 to make way for the Woodmere Health Care Center, the predecessor to The Summit at Plantsville.

Wooding said he understands concerns about moving the last remaining piece of the Walkley property, but supported the fountain’s move.

“As long as it’s put together as you would look at it in the post card,” Wooding said. “I think the view was that, if it could be accomplished, it’d be more seen by the public and enjoyed.”
Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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