June 18: Crowds Bloom at America’s Oldest Municipal Rose Garden


For over a hundred years, crowds of visitors have flocked to Connecticut’s Elizabeth Park in June to see the thousands of roses in bloom in the park’s historic Rose Garden. One peak example of this annual pilgrimage occurred today in 1933, when nearly 15,000 people in one day — some from as far away as California and Washington state — came to experience the Rose Garden, even though it was raining. The Hartford Courant enthusiastically reported that, but for that wet weather, the crowd would have been substantially larger.

Roses blooming 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 is also the third largest rose garden in the country, home to over 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties of new and heirloom roses that continue to captivate thousands every summer. Small wonder that Elizabeth Park remains perennially one of the most often visited public parks in the state.

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

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