Opened to the public in 1897, Elizabeth Park was born of the American Park Movement. Elizabeth Park is the botanical gem of the Hartford park system. It is 101 acres in size, with 82 acres in West Hartford and 19 acres in Hartford. Elizabeth Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The current park was once called Prospect Hill, a Hartford farming estate of wealthy businessman and politician, Charles Murray Pond, and his wife, Elizabeth Aldrich Pond.
Today the gardens and grounds of the park are maintained by the Elizabeth Park Conservancy and the City of Hartford in collaboration with volunteers, horticultural societies, and garden clubs as well as contractors and gardeners hired by the Conservancy.
When he died in 1894, Mr. Pond left his entire estate to the City of Hartford for a public park in his will. The estate consisted of 90 acres of land and a generous fund to purchase additional land, hire a park designer, and for maintenance. He requested that the park be a botanical park and named after his wife, Elizabeth, who predeceased him.
In 1896, the city of Hartford hired Swiss-born landscape architect, Theodore Wirth, as the city park superintendent to design this new space. Mr. Wirth worked with the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted as consultants. Elizabeth Park reflects a combination of both schools of landscape design: the European formal gardens and the Olmsted natural setting with serpentine roadways, sweeping vistas, and peripheral trees,
The park has four major sections: the Gardens and the Farmstead, the East Lawn, the Pond Area, and the Western Loop. The rose garden is the centerpiece of Elizabeth Park. Designed by Theodore Wirth in 1904, it is our country’s oldest public rose garden. The rose garden is 2.5 acres with 475 beds and over 15,000 rose bushes and arches. Opposite the rose garden, four gardens connect through pathways and entrances creating garden rooms: the perennial garden, shade-rock garden, heritage rose, and tulip-annual garden.
Along the greenhouses, three gardens are maintained by horticultural societies: the herb garden, iris garden, and dahlia display beds. The city gardeners maintain the beds. One has flowers to form the American flag, and one spells out Elizabeth Park in flowers.
The Farmstead contains historical buildings and the greenhouses. In 1897, the park designer, Theodore Wirth, assembled all buildings in one unified area called, The Farmstead. The Caretaker’s Cottage, built around 1875, is the Conservancy’s Information Center and the oldest building in the park.
The three large greenhouses were built by Lord & Burnham Company of New York during 18981899. Putnam Greenhouse, also built by Lord & Burnham, was moved to the park from a private home. The gardener’s head house, built in 1898, serves as the center for the city gardener’s staff. The cold storage building, built in 1910, is used to store plants during the winter. The Brownstone House of Comfort, the public restrooms, was built in 1935.
The ponds, Laurel Pond and Lily Pond, are divided by a stone bridge built in 1905. The Pond House Café was once the park’s community center and is now a fine dining restaurant.
East Lawn encompasses 19 acres of open lawn with trees along its borders. From a vantage point called Sunrise Overlook, visitors have a large vista of the Hartford skyline. East Lawn is encircled by a gravel track for walkers and runners, two baseball fields, two basketball courts, and a playscape.
The Western Loop has remained pretty much the same undeveloped woods-like area since the 1900s except for the wider road and six tennis courts. The park is bordered on the north side by Asylum Avenue and on the east by Whitney Street. The west is bordered by Steele Road and Walbridge Road. Prospect Avenue, which divides Hartford and West Hartford, runs through in a north-south direction. In many sections, the park is bordered by private homes.