Recreation History

Elizabeth Park today has a strong recreational component that can trace its roots to 1906 when George A. Parker became the superintendent of Hartford’s parks. Mr. Parker viewed parks as a means for sustaining strong physical health, a view that was quite contemporary for his time and perhaps a bit scandalous in the post-Victorian years.

In 1909, he wrote, “Parks at first were considered a luxury – a beautiful picture for holiday purposes, but they have grown to be considered as an essential part of the every-day life in cities, and they are a necessity if a healthy municipal life is to prevail.”

During his 20-year tenure as superintendent, he transformed Hartford’s parks from 19th century pleasure grounds to centers of active recreation, providing facilities for many different sports and expanding the parks’ use.

The first formal athletic facilities appeared between 1908 and 1911, when Parker added two baseball diamonds and a gridiron to the sheep pasture. In 1911, the sheepfold was converted into a dugout for ball players and a warming hut for figure skaters. In 1921, lighting was installed to allow for night skating.

In 1914, the Hartford Times reported that thousands had come to skate at Elizabeth Park, and that use of the skating shelter was widely utilized. In 1919, the park commissioners reported that the Elizabeth Park football field was known to be the best in the city, with superior turf.

Curling, lawn bowling, tennis, and croquet became popular sports at Elizabeth Park for many years. Tennis courts were introduced in 1914. Croquet matches were held as early as 1914. Visitors came frequently to picnic and did so throughout the grounds. n 1919, a new refectory was constructed to the north of the greenhouses overlooking the pond, and from it, patrons could purchase ice cream, soda, orangeade, and bags of popcorn. The building measured 48’ x 102’ and contained a shear truss roof with no center posts. It replaced the refectory functions held up to this time at the Pond House.

By 1918, Elizabeth Park held the only year-round playground in Hartford. Parker added a curling pond and built a house for the curlers in 1915 at a cost of $195.00.

In 1914, Parker added a lawn bowling green to the park, and in 1917, constructed a new, full-sized green. In 1926, the National Lawn Bowling Association held a tournament on the Elizabeth Park greens.. The Thistle Lawn Bowling Club was formed on June 16, 1913 by the Rev. J. F. Johnstone. In 1916, the Park Commission built the present east green which included floodlights for evening play.

In 1934, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration’s architectural bureau produced plans for a brick bowling clubhouse, which was completed in time for the 1935 American Lawn Bowling Association tournament. Lawn bowling tournaments continued at Elizabeth Park into the 1940s.