Today, when you hear the word "Hartford" the description "verdant and lush" may not come instantly to mind.
But in 1853, when the Reverend Horace Bushnell led a movement to set aside green space--"an outdoor parlor," he called it--in the industrializing city for the enjoyment of the city's citizens, the resulting Bushnell Park became the first municipally funded public park in the United States, according to the Cultural Landscape Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy group.
The Swiss-born landscape architect Jacob Weidenmann, who helped to shape Bushnell Park, used clusters of trees to wall off the sights of the city, on the philosophy that an city park should be an oasis, not a kind of public square.
By the 1930s, Hartford had one of the most extensive parks systems in the country, one that had been worked on by Frederick Law Olmstead (who, in fact, is buried in the Old North Cemetery, part of the Hartford parks network) and other leading architectural figures.
Today however, the "economic downturn threatens the very survival of Hartford's park system," according to the Cultural Landscape Foundation. "Disinvestment and deferred maintenance starting in the 1960s has eroded and weakened the historic landscape." Responsibility for the parks is unproductively split among various city entities, it adds, none of which have a vision for how to make use of the rich inheritance.
Which explains why the Hartford Parks System finds itself on the Cultural Landscape Foundation's 2009 "Landslide" list of endangered American spaces. It's the only New England spot on this year's list.
(Photos: via Cultural Landscape Foundation)
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