Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Elephant Haiku of an Old Joke

We've always been told

"elephants never forget."

What's to remember?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Untitled Haiku 1

I went out for a walk this morning hoping to think of something to write about.  As I turned out of my driveway –

I thought "black trash bag".

Instead it was a dead crow

sprawling on our lawn.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Continuous Property

Frederick Law Olmsted (April 26, 1822 – August 28, 1903 – born in Hartford CT.) is generally considered to be the father of American landscape architecture designing such public spaces as Prospect Park and Central Park in New York City, Elizabeth Park in Hartford, and Walnut Hill Park in my birth-town of New Britain, CT.    
And this past weekend on a lecture walk at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford (a rural landscape cemetery of the Olmsted style) I found out that for the past fifteen years or so Mars and I have been playing golf on an actual Olmsted-designed landscape.  This probably doesn’t mean a thing to serious golfers who travel great distances and pay big bucks to strike the little white ball on courses architected by names such as Robert Trent Jones, Peter Dye, Allister MacKenzie, Willie Park Jr., and Donald Ross  – but to us for whom a morning on the links is literally a walk in the park, the Olmsted connection is a really big deal.
Our “home course” is the Goodwin Park Golf Course in Hartford Connecticut – 27 holes of grass, trees, sand and water surrounded by a public park in the capitol city of Connecticut.  We normally play on what is known as the “North Course” (aka the “flat nine”) – “a perfect course for beginners and those looking for a quick nine.” 

Across the way from the fourth, sixth and eight greens are (respectively): a softball diamond and a soccer field; a public outdoor swimming pool; and a picnic and play area with an adjacent basketball court.  The smells of barbecues and the rhythms of Hispanic music – as well as the sights and sounds of players, fans, joggers, dog walkers, backpack carrying students, arguing couples, people fishing in the water hazards, and the occasional fox are as much a part of the course’s ambiance as are the azaleas at Augusta National, the site of the Masters Tournament (designed and modified over the years by the above mentioned MacKenzie and Jones and most recently (1930s) by Perry Maxwell.)

“Our” golf course takes up about three quarters of Goodwin Park’s 237 acres – but it was not always so.  – as we learned on our cemetery walk and as the Hartford Courant reported in “Hartford’s Ring of Parks”:

“All cities go through phases as they develop from small ports or county hubs. In the mid-1890s, Hartford went through a phase known as ‘the rain of parks,’ which fell around the city's periphery. In a span of months — August 1894 to November 1895 — Pope, Elizabeth, Goodwin, Riverside and Keney parks came into existence.

“The leaders of Hartford knew the potential present and future value of a park system even in 1894 when the city created a committee to oversee the new park system.

“’It should be the aim of the city not to have these parks mere isolated spots of ground for decorative purposes but a continuous property,’ noted a December 1894 Hartford Courant article, ‘for the benefit of all the people, especially for those people who are unable to enjoy the large grounds and gardens which those more fortunate have. They should be for the daily use of the people and no part of the city should be neglected in the movement.’

“Rev. Dr. Francis Goodwin, a wealthy amateur botanist and architect, was known as the father of the Hartford Park System.”

And Rev. Goodwin talked some of the city’s richest men and biggest landowners into giving land to the city of Hartford for the public’s use – resulting in Keney Park (Henry and Walter Keney), Pope Park (Col. Albert Pope), Riverside Park, Elizabeth Park (Charles M. Pond – wife Elizabeth), and Goodwin Park.  In the 1930s Hartford was reputed to have the largest park acres per capita in America.

Originally known as South Park and renamed in 1900, the land for Goodwin Park was acquired via purchase and condemnation proceedings in 1895.  The landscape firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot were hired to design a “meadow and tree plantation.” 

“The park site, selected by Charles Eliot and John Olmsted of the Olmsted Brothers, benefitted from its placement outside the city’s dense downtown development and served as a complement to Cedar Hill Cemetery, across the street, one of America’s first rural landscape cemeteries from the 1860s designed by Jacob Weidenmann.”  (tclf.org)

Weidenmann was also the designer of Hartford’s Bushnell Park when Frederick Law Olmsted was unavailable because he was working on New York’s Central Park.

The Olmsted Goodwin Park plan showed “a grand meadow framed by tree plantations with individual trees and small clusters within the meadow space, and a small water feature.  The park was constructed essentially as designed.”  (Hartford.gov)

 Evidently there was enough grassland for a few local clergy to go to the park and hit a few golf balls around.  And like origin of the sport when the first players hit a pebble around a natural course of sand dunes, rabbit runs, and tracks on the eastern coast of Scotland in the Kingdom of Fife, this too became the impetus for one of the first public golf courses in the country.  A planned nine-hole course was opened in 1907, with another nine added five years later.  In 1922 a group of the golfers petitioned the city of Hartford to charge for playing so that "better attention might be given to the course."  A fee of ten cents for nine holes was established.  (The cost today of playing the North Course is $9.00 walking for an unlimited number of holes.)

Mars and I discovered golf and the Flat Nine at Goodwin about fifteen years ago in preparation for retirement.   She has said that if it were not for the informal, unpressured atmosphere at “Goodie” she never would have gotten started.  We have yet to keep score during a round.  Five years later when we stopped working we stumbled upon “public history” at Wethersfield Historical Society and The Cedar Hill CemeteryFoundation, and realized that there was much more to learn about the past than dates, wars and presidents – there were, e.g., builders of public recreation areas and the effect they had on the people who used them.

Frederick Law Olmsted believed that service to human needs, and not simply the creation of decoration, should underlie all art. "Service must precede art," he declared, "since all turf, trees, flowers, fences, walks, water, paint, plaster, posts and pillars in or under which there is not a purpose of direct utility or service are inartistic if not barbarous. … So long as considerations of utility are neglected or overridden by considerations of ornament, there will be not true art." (http://www.olmsted.org)

Something I will try to remember when, with Salsa music reverberating in the background, I look out at autumn-turning trees in the undulating meadow and prepare for my next shot.


BTW:  It is commonly reported that Hartford Superintendent of Parks Everett Pyle who built Triggs Memorial Golf Course in Providence, R.I. for the above mentioned Donald Ross was the architect of the current layout at Goodwin Park.  But research by Anthony Pioppi indicates that in 1937 it was in fact “designed by R.J. Ross [not related to Donald Ross], assistant city engineer who has made golf course architecture an avocation and [was] built by WPA labor under the supervision of the Parks Department.”  Ross also created the second nine holes at the golf course in Hartford’s Keney Park.

Goodwin Park Golf photos from Google maps. 

Further thoughts on Olmsted and Walnut Hill Park.