Remember the idea for a
botanical garden that we all thought was deader than last year's
It just poked its head up and suddenly looks healthy and strong.
If all goes well, an 18.5-acre swath on the west side of Colt Park
will become the Hartford Botanical Garden and Conservatory. There
is a very good chance to pull this off. The city owns the land, which
lowers the cost considerably. There are potential funding sources
that aren't part of the usual touch. It's got strong people behind
it. It's a good idea.
The garden would offer a great resource for Hartford adults and
students, enhance the Coltsville project, provide a major tourist
and convention attraction, and preserve some historic buildings to
It's also fitting that the project begin this year, the 100th anniversary
of the death of Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, who gave the park and
so much else to the city. When Elizabeth and her husband, Sam Colt,
owned the 105-acre greensward, it contained a world-renowned estate
The idea for a new botanical garden surfaced in late 1997, amid
the swirl of plans for downtown development. Some prominent people
formed a committee and engaged Toronto planner Kenneth Greenberg,
who said, in effect: Great idea.
Greenberg's 1999 feasibility study concluded that a well-conceived
and well-run garden would draw 100,000 to 125,000 visitors annually
and create or stimulate the creation of 110 jobs. Most botanical
gardens are ``cultural treasures in their communities,'' Greenberg
reported. Most include a glasshouse or conservatory in the midst
of an outdoor garden, as is the plan for Hartford.
The committee then went looking for a site. They were interested
in the sawtooth building on the Colt property, but the timing was
wrong; the factory restoration project was then unsettled. They looked
at a site in the Asylum Hill neighborhood. It was bordered by Hawthorn,
Laurel and Forest streets, which seemed fortuitous for a botanical
garden, but a variety of issues made it unobtainable.
The group kept plugging away, however. With Coltsville now moving
ahead, the convention center about to open and the Dutch Point housing
project gone, Colt Park now made sense. Neighbors and park advocates
loved the idea. Mayor Eddie Perez warmed to it and the project leapt
If all goes well, the garden will be behind Armsmear, the former
Colt family home on Wethersfield Avenue, and will include three little-known
historic buildings that were once part of the Colt estate.
The cook's house, just off Stonington Street, may become a visitors
center and shop. The carriage barn is built with heavy wooden trusses
that leave a wide, clear space in the middle, suitable for weddings
and other celebrations. The wood-paneled ice house would also become
part of the complex.
There will be a glass conservatory and a system of paths through
the outdoor gardens. Importantly, the project doesn't interfere with
any of the heavily used athletic facilities in the park.
I walked through the historic buildings one day last week with Lisa
Musumeci, president of the garden project board of directors, executive
director Frank Chiaramonte, board member Linda Osten and city parks
official John Kehoe. The city has used these buildings, along with
a newer park building on Stonington Street, for storage and office
space for years.
The bad and good news is that not much has been done to them. They
need work, but they were well-built by the Colt family and can be
rehabbed. Because they've been left alone, the buildings still have
remarkable details. In the loft in the barn, for example, is a cockfighting
ring, a square floor with a wooden railing around it where the Colt
children were entertained by fighting birds. In the icehouse are
plaques that were placed on elm trees in the park in honor of every
Hartford veteran who died in World War I. Though the trees were lost
to blight, all of the plaques, except a few that were given to families,
With expected approval from the council, the committee will begin
the process of selecting a master planner for the project. They've
hired marketing and development consultants to begin the fundraising.
Musumeci envisions a three- to five-year development, with the funds
coming mostly from private and foundation sources. She said the facility
will cost ``$10 million on the outside,'' thanks to the city's land
donation, and she thinks the parks trust fund will be one of the
supporters. The state's many horticultural organizations may support
it as well.
Let's do this. It will be another reason to come to Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at