Elizabeth Park is a 102-acre expanse of grass, trails and trees that has been sitting on a hill overlooking the city of Hartford, Connecticut for more than one hundred years. The significance of the gardens, the greenhouses, and the people associated with the establishment and building of the park landed Elizabeth park on the National Register of Historic Places.
The park was established in the 1890s when wealthy Hartford, Connecticut businessman Charles Pond died and left his estate to the city. Pond was a prominent financier who’d been president of the Hartford Trust and the local railroad, and was a director of the Phoenix Insurance Co. When he at the age of 57, he bequeathed the property to the city of Hartford on the condition that it be named for his late wife, Elizabeth.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the city hired the landscaping design firm of Olmstead and Son to plan the design of Elizabeth Park. Frederick Law Olmstead was renowned as the great mind behind Central Park in New York City and had achieved great acclaim for his layout of the grounds of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Elizabeth Park incorporated many of Olmstead’s favorite design elements, with open meadows, flowing water, and prominent lookouts – all of which were trademarks of Olmstead’s work.
In 1904, Elizabeth Park’s first superintendent decided to plant a rose garden in the park. He started with 100 rose bushes and, today, the rose garden has grown to the point that it covers more than two-and-a-half acres. More than a century after it was first planted, the garden now includes over 15,000 rose bushes of more than 800 rose varieties, and it remains the oldest municipal rose garden in America.
The rose garden at Elizabeth Park is one of less than two dozen All America Test Gardens in the country, where horticulturists grow and test new varieties of roses before they are released for sale to gardeners for growing at home.
Thirty years ago, the city of Hartford said it could not justify the expense of caring for the Elizabeth Park rose garden. With the government making plans to abandon the garden and actually plow it into the ground, a group of volunteers from the Hartford community formed the Friends of Elizabeth Park. The group raised $10,000 to save the rose garden, restore it to its previous glory, and continue to financially support the park’s upkeep.
Today, the Elizabeth Park rose garden remains a popular site for summer weddings and photographers. Though most of the park is located in what is now the town of West Hartford, administration and maintenance of the entire park is under the control of the city of Hartford. The park is open from dawn to dusk every day of the year.