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Useless, Idle Land

By Wethersfield Historical Society on September 5, 2011 1:41 PM

The June 15, 1946 Hartford Times announced that Mill Woods Park would officially open for its second season that day with several improvements - eight stone fireplaces, several newly constructed picnic tables, a re-sloped and re-sanded beach bordering the pool, freshly planted shrubbery around the bathhouse, and a new gravel walk along the entrance road.  In September the Wethersfield Rotary Club donated a fieldstone fireplace in memory of former School Superintendent Wilson Green.  The fireplace is no longer in existence.  And in October work was begun on an earthen dam and spillway between the Upper pond and the swimming pool.  According to the October 1949 Board of Park Commissioners minutes, the embankment was completed, to the month, three years later.  

The pool was off to a great start - 9,370 paid admissions and approximately 2,000 people used the picnic grove.  But in 1947 an issue arose around the fifty-foot wide Griswold Road entryway to the park.  John C. Risley, the lessor of the property, wanted to develop it into a town road as the basis for a proposed residential community.
According to the Hartford Times:

"A survey by a sanitary engineer of a possible building development on proposed Risley Road, was advocated at the Town Planning Commission public hearing Tuesday night when the application of John Risley, requesting the acceptance of the proposed street running east from Griswold Road to Mill Woods park was presented.
'Three persons said they did not oppose development of the area but feared that Mill Woods Park swimming pool would become polluted because of lack of sewer facilities for homes in the development."

F. Ellis Backman said the proposed development properties were not suitable for septic tanks and the resulting seepage and drainage would create a serious hazard at the pool.  Frank T. Briggaman added, "It would be a dangerous procedure to the future of Mill Woods to put the street in without sewers."  James J. Devlin questioned whether the acceptance of the proposed street and subsequent development would injure others.
Attorney Howard B. Phelan, representing Mr. Risley, countered that the real estate in question was "useless. Idle land" because the town had leased it from his client in 1942 with the expectation that the long term Mill Woods Park development plan would be adopted and the town would purchase more of Mr. Risley's acreage.
"To keep the land available, without development, for the town to purchase is unfair.  If the town wants the property it is available for sale and equitable arrangements can be made."
In July 1947 Superintendent Backman recommended to the Park Board the "purchase of more of the Risley property to prevent development close to the swimming pool.
At about the same time an organizational meeting "designed to form an association to 'create and promote' interest in Mill Woods Park and its future development was held.  Organizers included Mrs. David C. Brown, Mrs. Paul H. Twaddle, Mrs. Harold B. Mann and Mrs. William O. Mosher.  An organization was formed with officers of Dr. Eugene E. Lamoureux, Mrs. George Bragdon, Mrs.  David Cornwall and Thomas Kelleher.  F. Ellis Backman was named to the Executive Committee.

In June of 1948, after tabling the issue for several meetings, the Town Plan Commission formally disapproved the Risley Road development project and the Town of Wethersfield acquired nine and one-half acres of property - including the Griswold entryway - from Mr. Risley for $3,500.  The land was under cultivation at that time and it was agreed not to disturb it during that growing season.
"Purchase of the land is in line with the long range plan for development of the park.  Harry S. Griswold, park commission chairman, said...that the commission hopes eventually to have a baseball diamond and to improve the area near the swimming pool."
The plan for a residential development along Risley Road was abandoned.  By the end of the 1947 swimming season more than 33,000 people (21,371 paid) had used the Mill Woods Swimming Pool.  The American Red Cross officially commended the facility for its swimming program.

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