Sunday, July 10, 2016

Why Do We Like It Here? History, Art – and Recreation!

I submitted the following essay to our local paper's "Living Here" op-ed section, but it was not selected for publication – the very reason that blogs were invented.

“The Father of America” slept in Wethersfield within, what is now, one of our state’s largest historic district.  The artwork of the “Father of American Painting” hangs at world-class museums in New Britain and Hartford.  One of the great things about living here in Central Connecticut is being in such close contact with so much history and art.

But there is even more.  Just recently my wife Marsha and I discovered that we have been taking divots out of the combined handiwork of the “Father of the Hartford Park System” (the Rev. Dr. Francis Goodwin), and the “Father of American Landscape Architecture” (Frederick Law Olmstead).  We play at Goodwin Park Golf Course in Hartford – 27 holes of grass, trees, sand and water in the middle of an urban public park

Now this may not mean much to more serious golfers who willingly travel great distances and pay big bucks to strike the little white ball on courses architected by names such as Robert Trent Jones and Donald Ross  – but to those of us for whom a morning on the links is literally a walk in the park, this Olmsted connection is a really big deal.

A walking and biking trail separates Marsha and me from a softball diamond, public swimming pool, picnic and play area, and a basketball court.  The aromas of barbecues and the rhythms of Salsa, Rock and Rap music – as well as the sights and sounds of joggers, dog walkers, arguing couples, people fishing, plus the occasional fox or deer are as much a part of “Goodie’s” ambiance as are the azaleas at Augusta National, site of the Masters Tournament.

But golf was not a part of the original plan.  Goodwin was built between August 1894 and November 1895, along with Pope, Elizabeth, Riverside and Keney Parks, during the so-called “rain of parks” – spearheaded by the Rev. Dr. Francis Goodwin.  In 1930 Connecticut’s capitol city was said to have the largest number of park-acres per capita in America.

At Goodwin, the landscape firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot created, in their words  “a grand meadow framed by tree plantations with individual trees and small clusters within the meadow space, and a small water feature.”

Evidently there also was enough empty grass area for a number of local clergy to go to the park and informally hit a few golf balls around.  And, like when the first players hit pebbles on the sand dunes and rabbit runs of Scotland, this too became the impetus for one of the first public golf courses in this country.  A formal nine-hole layout was opened in 1907, with another nine added five years later.  In 1922 a group of 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.

In retirement we have learned about public art and public history – much of it local.  Artwork is more than just paintings on a museum wall, and there is a lot more to the past than dates, wars, and presidents.   There is also the story of how the places that we see and use every day came to be – and of people like Francis Goodwin and Frederick Law Olmsted who believed that service to human needs, and not simply the creation of decoration, should underlie all true art.

Being surrounded by so much history and art is reason enough for us to live in Connecticut.  Being able to literally step inside of it is even better.  Something I will keep in mind when, with loud music and other joyful noises echoing in the background, I look out at wind-blown trees in the undulating meadow and prepare for my next shot.

History, art – and recreation.  How good is this!

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