Hartford, Connecticut: Landmarks~History~Neighborhoods | Downtown: Bushnell lPark
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Bushnell Park is one of the jewels of the city. It is named for the Reverend Horace Bushnell, who was an early advocate to create an open space for the public in Hartford.

In the early 19th century, the area around the Park (aka Hog) River just west of downtown had become an unsightly, foul-smelling industrial slum. Rev. Bushnell deplored that fact, and that it was the first glimpse of Hartford visitors would see as the train rounded the bend into Union Station. He struggled to convince the city to turn the area into a park that would be an attraction for its residents. In 1854, 37 acres of land was purchased and, after some years, it was developed into the nation's first municipal park.

Jacob Weidenmann, a Swiss-born architect and botanist, designed its layout which featured bridges across the Park River, a fountain and walking paths. It was called Central Park until three days before Rev. Bushnell's death in 1876 when the park was renamed in his honor.

The park changed dramatically after the floods of 1936 and 1938 when all of Hartford was inundated from water backing up from the Connecticut River. By the 1940s, the Park River, which has flowed along the north edge of the park, was streaming underground through a concrete vault, its flow assisted by a series of pumps. The Bushnell Park Pump House was designed by H. Hilliard Smith to resemble a Cotswold Cottage.

As a result, the foot bridges were disassembled, save for the one containing the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. Stones from the bridges were used to build memorial gateways into the park as well as the Pump House cottage.

Built of local brownstone and terra cotta, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch is one of Hartford's most distinctive landmarks (more).

On the park's west side is the bronze and granite Corning Fountain, featuring Native Americans of the Suckiaug tribe. The hart–a symbol of the city–is at the apex with its antlers 30 feet above the ground. The sculpture was a gift to the city in 1899 by John J. Corning in memory of his father. J. Massey Rhind sculpted this work, as well as the monument to Samuel Colt, located in Colt Park. During the 1860s, the location of that fountain in the park was roughly where home base was sited for the Charter Oak Base Ball Club of Hartford, a group primarily of local businessmen who formed the club to play socially against rival teams from Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Maine, New Jersey and elsewhere in Connecticut.

Other monuments in the park include Horace Wells, Israel Putnam and the Spanish American War Memorial.

The park contains dozens of varieties of trees and shrubs from North America, Europe and eastern Asia. Most notable is the scion of the Charter Oak. In 1995, the First Company Governor's Foot Guard placed a marker near the white oak inscribed with the story of the Charter Oak Tree, Connecticut's state symbol.

Other features of the park include a working 1914 Stein and Goldstein carousel with a 1925 Wurlizer band organ that is housed in a pavillion designed by Hartford architect Jack Dollard. The carousel is open seasonally.

And, while not technically a part of Bushnell Park, the Connecticut State Capitol Building overlooks its southern border. (More)

Although Bushnell Park has seen tremendous change since its early days, it continues to be a place where residents and visitors alike can enjoy open space, passive recreation, historic monuments, the carousel, a playground, festivals and events, including First Night and Winterfest which features an ice skating rink that is free of charge.

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©2013 Karen O'Maxfield. All rights reserved.

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