Harkness Park: Waterford, CT’s Haven of Botany, History, and Nature
“The results of philanthropy are always beyond calculation.” Miriam Beard
In Waterford, there is a magnificent estate overlooking the shimmering waters of Long Island Sound. It is a temple of a building, its Renaissance-Revival architecture is draped in a series of manicured gardens and bolstered by vibrant greenhouses. It attracts lovers of art, history, and the botanical arts from all around, yet this place…it is so much more…
In Waterford, there are 304 magnificent acres hugging the shimmering waters of Long Island Sound. There are wide open spaces for children to play and dogs to be walked. There are tables and accommodations for waterside picnics. There is a rocky coastline for anglers seeking out that summer striped bass…all that complimented by incredibly inspiring gardens and architecture. It is for such reasons, that Harkness Park is so much more than a magnificent Estate overlooking Long Island Sound…it is a Place for the People and it has a little something for everyone.
How the Park Came to Be
Stephen V. Harkness was an investor in J.D. Rockafeller’s Standard Oil Company, and as a result, became a man of considerable wealth. This wealth was inherited by his son Edward and his wife Mary. This couple would deploy their impressive means towards a wide variety of philanthropic endeavors throughout their lives. The couple owned a farm on Long Island Sound and commissioned the construction of a summer estate in 1907. The resulting beautiful Renaissance-Revival mansion was called Eolia–after the Greek god of Winds.
Eolia and its West Garden would be renovated several times over the 20th Century, including several additions such as the East Garden, the Boxwood Parterre and the Alpine Rock Garden. It was the will of Edward and Mary Harkness that Eolia, its gardens and its coastal land become the continuous asset of the Connecticut People. When Mary passed in 1950, Eolia was given to the State of Connecticut and became Harkness Memorial State Park.
Art, Architecture & Botanicals: A Place for Every Fancy
The greatest thing about Harkness Park is its near-universal appeal to all ages and interests. Anyone interested in art or history will be entranced by the Renaissance-Revival architecture and statues, each commissioned by the unfeasible wealth of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. Those with a green thumb will spend hours looking over the manicured botanical collections. For those particularly interested in these aspects of the property…mansion tours are available and recommended!
With horizon views of Long Island Sound, the scenery of Harkness Park is worth the trip alone, especially when it comes to having an open space for a family picnic or a romantic sunset. For those interested, the mansion and gardens are available for private functions.
Anglers: A Decent Place to Seek Salty Bites
Harkness Park is also revered for its coastal access to Long Island Sound and overall decent fishing spot. Freshwater discharge from the Thames River drives congregations of bait nearshore during the spring and early summer. This makes for some exciting early morning and late afternoon bites for bluefish, striped bass, blackfish, scup and summer flounder. The rocky shore is dangerous to navigate in some areas, so proper footwear and caution is encouraged.
Harkness Park is also frequented by both local and traveling birdwatchers seeking out migrating songbirds and raptors in the spring. In the Winter, birders can be seen lined up along the Park’s shore seeking waterfowl in mating colors.
Harkness Park is a standing testament to how philanthropy can manifest in incredible public spaces. Spaces that act to inspire and invigorate the people of Connecticut as well as attract travelers from abroad to share in our states’ cultural and natural beauty.