June 18: The Nation’s Oldest Municipal Rose Garden in Bloom

 

For over a hundred years, crowds of visitors have flocked to Connecticut’s Elizabeth Park in June to witness thousands of roses in bloom in the park’s historic Rose Garden.  One notable example of this annual pilgrimage occurred on this day in 1933, when nearly 15,000 people — some from as far away as California and Washington state — visited the Rose Garden in a single day.  The Hartford Courant reported that the number would have likely been much higher if not for rainy conditions that persisted throughout the entire day.

Roses blooming on one of the historic 1904 rose arches at Elizabeth Park.

Located on over 100  sprawling, pastoral acres in Hartford and West Hartford, Elizabeth Park remains free and open to the public over a century after it was first established.  The land that became Elizabeth Park was bequeathed to the city of Hartford in the 1890s by wealthy financier Charles M. Pond, who mandated that it be transformed into a public park in honor of his wife Elizabeth.  In 1897, the city hired Olmsted and Son — the famous landscaping firm created by Frederick Law Olmsted — to design the park’s layout.  The park gained its most famous feature in 1904, when park superintendent Theodore Wirth created a formal rose garden, replete with dozens of large, curved arches laid out in a geometric pattern.

Today, the original arches installed by Wirth remain the centerpiece of Elizabeth Park’s Rose Garden, which is the oldest municipal rose garden in the United States.  It also lays claim to the title of the third largest rose garden in the country,  home to over 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties of new and old roses that continue to captivate thousands every summer.

A postcard (circa 1937 – 1945) depicting the layout of Elizabeth Park’s rose garden.

Further Reading

Mary Muller, “Elizabeth Park’s Rose Garden: June Is Busting Out All Over,” connecticuthistory.org

Rose Garden,” The Elizabeth Park Conservancy

Lea Anne Moran, “Connecticut’s Historic Rose Gardens,” Connecticut Explored