Col. Albert Pope must be resting easy. His eponymous Hartford park, which he created just before the turn of the 20th century for the "health, happiness and orderly life" of the workers in his manufacturing empire, is breathing with new life.
In donating 90 acres to the city, the far-sighted Pope insisted the park be designed for the "recreation and pleasure [of] all classes of law-abiding citizens." His vision was ably carried out by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his sons, and included large open areas with such elegiac names as "Hillside Ramble," "Nethermead" and "Thithermead."
But like most urban parks across the nation, Pope Park fell on hard times in recent decades. Happily, The Friends of Pope Park, a nonprofit board (which happens to include Pope's great-grandson, Albert Pope III) has worked as industriously as the good colonel himself and recently unveiled the completion of the first phase of a comprehensive master plan to restore to its former glory this public resource. Emphasis on public.
"We held a series of meetings with the community, which were very well attended and spirited," said Nancy Macy, vice president of The Friends of Pope Park and president of the Pope Hartford Designated Fund Board, an all-volunteer board that administers the group's funds. "It's been a true collaboration among the city of Hartford, which assigned to us city architect Antonio Matta, the nonprofit boards, our consultants, such as Shadley Associates of Boston and the Parisky Group, and, of critical importance, the neighborhood people themselves. The public's input was very important to us, and we learned we needed to start this major renovation with a highly visible project whose benefits would be immediately available to everyone."
So the group started with a beautiful new entrance at Park Street and Park Terrace, which beckons passers-by with a safe, well-landscaped esplanade featuring eight new benches, a low, curving wall engraved with the park's name, and several garden beds overflowing with ilex shrubs, stella d'oro lilies and hydrangeas. The footpaths have been repaved and lined with young dogwoods, maples and oaks. And smaller entrances at the terminus of York and Ward streets make crossing Park Terrace safer and more inviting. The city and state picked up the $550,000 tab.
Up next: Phase II, highlights of which include the removal of the road bisecting the park, the construction of a lighted path and the restoration of the Albert Pope fountain. Eventually, the groups will embark upon Phase III of the master plan, which will feature improved drainage, erosion control, improved ballfields, an amphitheater for public performances and, farther north, near Russ Street, new tennis courts in what's colloquially known as "Baby Pope." Undoubtedly, the colonel is well pleased.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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