by Jim Meehan
It All Began with Ice
The“Recreational Facilities” portion of the Wethersfield Connecticut official town website describes Wintergreen Woods as “110.0 acres containing open space and nature trails”. The park’s main entrance is located at the north end of the portion of Folly Brook Boulevard that extends in that direction from Welles Road – # 26 on the map below.
And it all began with ice.
The Wisconsin Glacial Episode, the most recent major advance of continental glaciers in the North American Laurentide ice sheet, began 70,000 years ago and ended 60,000 years later. This “glaciation” significantly changed the geography of North America north of the Ohio River. At its peak, ice covered most of Canada, the Upper Midwest, and New England – as well as parts of Montana and Washington. The marks left by these glaciers can be seen in New York’s Central Park (I) – and in Wethersfield’s Wintergreen Woods.
[Wintergeen Woods] is situated in the Connecticut River Valley, and is underlain by silt and clay sediments from Glacial Lake Hitchcock, which drained between 14,000 and 12,000 years ago. The remnants of rare post-glacial features, Pingos, may exist in the park. These remnants today comprise a prominent feature in the park; several shallow water filled vernal pools in the southern section of the park. (II)
The “Four-Fold” Division
Fast-forward to the 1600’s and the founding of Wethersfield.
Seventeenth century maps of the town referred to the land that is now partly occupied by Wintergreen Woods as “Great West Field” (south of “Nott’s Hill”) and “Tappin’s (Topping) Hill” (in the Jordan lane area). A stream labeled Beaver Brook ran north-south through the area to the Hartford border. There it turned east towards the Wethersfield Cove, and then southward along the east side of what is now the Silas Deane Highway.
Shortly after John Oldham and his “Adventurers” settled Wethersfield they divided up the territory. First the adventurers occupied land for themselves. Phase two was to grant land along the Wethersfield Green, and 2 – 3 acre home lots on Broad, High, and Main Streets, and Sandy & Bell Lanes.
The next step in this distribution probably, was of certain outlying meadow lands, in 1635 or earlier; of cleared lands, called plain; and lands on the Great Island in 1637; and of areas known as field, and of swamps, etc. in 1638.
As to the Fields, or large sections, they were usually granted not as home lots, but as outlying woodlands, or for farming and grazing, appurtenant to homesteads. “Lands in the Great Meadow and Swamp were made on the basis of grants to uplands; the proportion of upland to that in the meadow, being 4 to 1. This explains why the Great West Field, which was mostly upland, was sometimes called the ‘four-fold division’.
When John Clarke, October 10, 1638, sold his Wethersfield lands to John Robbins, among which were ten acres in the Great Meadow, it was provided in the deed that the grantee should [also] receive the ‘four-fold uplands’ (whenever laid out), which belonged with the meadow.
Accordingly, some years later, forty acres of upland were laid out to Robbins in the Great West Field. It is probable that this last mentioned Field was mostly divided in 1639.
In these allotments…thirty-four men seem to have share; the acreage allowed to each individual being based, apparently, upon the means and social status of the donee; and proportioned very nearly to that of his homestead.
In theory the allotments were made by the proprietors (land owners) of the township, by and among themselves. They were like the shareholders of a join-stock company, so far as the undivided lands were concerned. (III)
“Furthest West Field” at the Hartford south town line had seventeen lots laid out in 1640, each one reported as 96 rods long. “Little West Field”, bound on the north by “The Road to the Country” (Jordan’s Lane) had 166 acres divided into 22 lots (“short lots”). “Great West Field, 1,600 acres, contained one tier of lots running east-west, each one and one-half miles long. (IV)
A map done by Jared Standish representing major locations of the 17th and 18th century, but not defined to any particular date, lists places such as “Great West Swamp”, “Wolf Swamp”, “Woodhouse Clay Pit”, “Goodrich Clay Pit”, “Wolf Point”, “Wells-Quarter” and “Churchville” in the area. And Stiles, in his book “Families of Ancient Wethersfield”, mentions the “Great West Field” and “Tappin’s Hill”.
But the term “Wintergreen Woods” does not appear in any of the early literature or maps that I have researched. The lands remained in private hands through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Parks and Parkways
In 1928 the Wethersfield Town Plan Commission hired Herbert S. Swan, City Planner, New York to prepare a “Plan of A Residence Suburb” to guide the village in its transition from a “semi-rural” community to “one of Hartford’s densely-built suburbs”. The transformation however, actually began earlier with the purchase of much of the land that would become Wintergreen Woods by private residential developers. These speculators recognized early on that the towns’ farming days were a thing of the past and that Wethersfield’s future, and possibly their futures also, lay in the suburban housing arena.
Some of this property was slated, on paper, to be part of proposed developments with names like “Franklin Avenue Gardens”, “Nott Street Tract”, and “West Woods”. One of the major purchasers of this land was Charles Woodward (The Woodward Land Corporation) who in 1917 purchased much of what would later become Wintergreen Woods.
Swan argued that “this growth should be planned; it should be guided; it should be directed.” (V)
The thirty-two page, single spaced report made many specific recommendations in the areas of: Thoroughfares, Parkways, Land Subdivisions, Parks, Schools and Playgrounds, Amenities of a Residence Suburb, and The Town Plan Commission. The general thesis of the document was that Wethersfield needed to leverage its geographic proximity to Hartford by becoming an attractive residential area with good transportation thoroughfares to and from the capitol city. Part of this would be accomplished by having well-placed parkways and well-planned parks.
In the new residential Wethersfield “nearly every family will possess an automobile. The whole countryside can, therefore, be readily reached within a few minutes of every home.” Large public parks will become obsolete and be replaced instead by smaller neighborhood play areas “in order to get the children off the streets, to avoid needless traffic accidents and death.” (VI)
The area of the several parks recommended in the comprehensive plan is as follows:
Goodwin Park (Within Wethersfield)/84
Goodwin Park Extension/206
Cove Park (land)/27
Cove Park (water)/67
Rocky Hill Park (Within Wethersfield)/22
Goodwin Park, in its current configuration, already existed. (The golf course would open two years later.) The plan proposed a two hundred six acre Goodwin Park Extension projecting southward for about one and one-half miles up the course of Beaver Brook.
The park has, moreover, been laid out principally as a parkway to afford a proper outlet to Campfield Avenue and to take the low marshy area on either
side of Beaver Brook out of the field of private development. The design of this park extension would, therefore, follow the lines of a parkway, rather than those of a park. (VII)
The roadway was to be called Goodwin Parkway.
Shortly after the plan was published, and independent of the plan, the Silas Deane Highway and the Berlin Turnpike were improved and enlarged, negating the need for another major thoroughfare from Wethersfield to Hartford. As a result, the Goodwin Parkway was never built. Instead, as described in its minutes, on July 10, 1933 The Bureau of Public Works of the Metropolitan [Water] District “respectfully” recommended “the layout of a street or highway to be known as Folly Brook Boulevard extending from Camp Field Avenue in Hartford to Griswold Road in Wethersfield.” (VIII)
Land was appropriated for the boulevard, narrower than the proposed parkway, but wider than the actualresulting Folly Brook Boulevard. Properties “were affected by thebuilding line of the lay-out of the Folly Brook Boulevard as laid out bythe Metropolitan District Commission [and]…are subject to said
building line…” such that today the apron, sidewalk, and the outer rimof trees of houses on the boulevard are officially on town/MDCproperty. The street itself was only completed in those areas whereprivate development occurred, resulting in today’s discontinuousroadway.
Buy Now – Plan Later
Nothing, however, became of the proposed Goodwin Park Extension. Nor,until 1938, did the town begin to acquire, mostly by foreclosure, theland in that area – including 30.2 acres from Charles Woodward.
The land purchases continued up to 1964, one year after it officially received its current name. The majority of these properties were a part of the proposed Franklin Avenue Gardens development. I traced one of the parcels of land back to February 5th, 1887, at which time it was inherited by Felicia Wells as two tracts – one from John Hanmer (the“Homestead”) and another from Hannah Hanmer (“Andrus Pasture”). I suspect that further investigation would discover more instances of these and other surnames that are woven into the history of our town.
March 9: Seven Lots acquired by Wethersfield
July 9: Twenty-five Lots acquired by Wethersfield
June 30: Thirty-six Lots acquired by Wethersfield
July 30: Two Lots acquired by Wethersfield
Charles Woodward sells 30.32 acres to Wethersfield
July 16: Two Lots acquired by Wethersfield
August 25: Two Lots acquired by Wethersfield
October 27: One Lot acquired by Wethersfield
January 21: Two Lots acquired by Wethersfield
November 10: Three vacant land parcels acquired by town and incorporated into the park
December 16: One more vacant land parcel incorporated into park
February 26: One vacant land parcel taken over by Wethersfield and included into the park
October 9: Two Lots acquired by Wethersfield
In addition the Pine Acres Club, which opened in April of 1958, purchased its ten acres of property in 1957. I was not able to find any other formal plans for the woods until the “Report on Planning – 1960″, a.k.a. “The Allen Report”, presented to the Park and Recreation Board in July 1961.
Folly Brook Land
November 17, 2010
A memo prepared by the Town Engineer on December 5, 1952 entitled “Park Acreage in Wethersfield lists “Standish Park, Soldier’s Monument, State Street and Main Street, Hamner [sic] Park, Main Street and Hartford Avenue, Church Street and Main Street, Broad Street, Prospect Street, Jordan Lane and Wolcott Hill Road, Nott Street and Wolcott Hill Road and Mill Woods Park” for a total of 82.7 acres. Likewise the 1953 town Annual Report contains a section “Origins of Our Parks” by Jared B. Standish that lists Mill Woods, Hanmer, Standish and Warehouse Parks with no mention of the Wintergreen Woods area by any name.
The Allen Report however talks in great detail about the area – albeit by a different name. The Hartford Courant states the following regarding Wethersfield park development.
Folly Brook and Mill Woods were two of the three major areas for park development. Mill Woods Park is the principal town area devoted to open land uses and with the Golf Club and 1870 reservoir, will preserve the open characteristics of residential neighborhood in the southern part of town. A substantial part of Folly Brook land is in a natural state and well suited for open use. Considering the future generation, and their need of land for future uses, and in view of the continued and rapid disappearance of open land, the Plan Commission and other town bodies recognize the critical importance of the Folly Brook area to the overall plan of development of the town. (IX)
The report recommended the following development projects – again quoting the Hartford Courant.
Mill Wood [sic] Park is recommended should be a town-wide park and play field.
Recommended installations are: three softball diamonds, two football-soccer field; and 18-hole par three golf course; two parking areas; expanded picnic facilities; daycamp [sic]; nature trails and council ring in woods; two boccie [sic] courts; carousel; and a recreation building. A town-wide park is also recommended for Folly Brook Park. Recommended installations include: A pond in the northern end use fill obtained to raise level of surrounding area; two softball diamonds and one baseball diamond; two tennis courts; a football-soccer field; a swimming center. A day camp with nature trails and council ring was also recommended as well as a group picnic shelter. (X)
In overall order of priority “An access road, parking, family picnic facilities and group picnic shelter at Folly Brook” was ranked second “Day camp, council ring and nature trails at Folly Brook” fifth, “Softball, baseball and soccer facilities at Folly Brook” ninth and “Construct dam and excavate pond, tennis courts, catwalks and nature area; swimming center, parking area and access roads at Folly Brook” at number twelve. The report mentions “Wintergreen Woods”, by that name, as “to be acquired”.
On November 21, 1961 the Advisory Recreation and Park Board recommended action on the Allen Report. One year later (1962) the Village improvement Association informally presented a plan for future recreational use of “Folly Brook Park” to the Parks and Recreation Department.
“Charles Schirm, board chairman, said the plan follows closely to the Allen Report plan for the same area prepared for the town in June, 1961. Some of the changes from the Allen Report recommendations include a recreational center at Folly Brook, instead of Mill Woods, and changes in a series of park roads.” XI
From the Minutes for the Meeting of the Advisory Recreation & Park Board, December 20, 1962: “It was suggested that after all the property for the Folly Brook Park has been purchased, a sign should be erected designating the Park area. It was recommended that excerpts from the Allen Report Master Plan be submitted ….. as a six year program with the understanding that it needs periodic review and revaluation.”
The Preservation of Old Wethersfield formally asked the Town Council to “give the Folly Brook park area back its old name of ‘Wintergreen Woods.” (XII)
On 12/4/61 the petition was tabled for discussion, and at the next meeting it was suggested that it be referred to the Parks and Recreation Department. Parks & Rec. Dept. records however show nothing about the referral. The matter lay dormant until the January 21, 1963 council meeting at which the “Manager said the historians in town had suggested that this area was originally known as Wintergreen Woods and they had suggested that the park be called Wintergreen Woods Park.” The area in question was in the “general boundary of Nott Street and Wells Road; and between Western Boulevard and Folly Brook Boulevard.” The Town Council then formally approved the name change from Folly Brook Park to Wintergreen Woods. (XIII)
Now all I needed was the letter from the Committee on the Preservation of Old Wethersfield wherein they undoubtedly gave documented evidence for their claim as to the appropriate name. The Town Clerk’s copy was destroyed, probably in 1962 since such papers legally need only be retained for one year. The Wethersfield Historical Society, source for many of the maps and other historical material referenced throughout this paper, had boxes of correspondence from hundreds of town organizations, but no information at all on the Committee on the Preservation of Old Wethersfield.
This name change came as a complete surprise to the Advisory Recreation and Parks Board, which reported in its minutes of February 23, 1963: “[Re]
the change of name from Folly Brook to Wintergreen Woods. Question – why was the Advisory Recreation and Parks Board not notified? This is not an isolated instance of bypassing our board.” (XIV)
But the Advisory Recreations and Parks Board was independently involved in their own etymological adventure. At their January 18, 1962 meeting, the name Wintergreen Woods also appeared on the agenda.
Wintergreen Woods has long been the name of a group of woods in the Folly Brook area. The board had hoped for to use that name for a road to be built in the Folly Brook area. Mr. Bauer stated that there is a street – Wintergreen Street – with but two houses on it. It was suggested that perhaps the residents would be willing to have another name for the street, so that the town could use the name for the proposed road. Mr. Bauer will contact the residents. (XV)
I could not find any record of the outcome of this name-changing effort. But the current maps of Wethersfield shows a short street called Wintergreen Lane behind the tennis courts at Wethersfield High School. I suspect that this was the existing roadway talked about at the meeting and that efforts to rename it went nowhere.
Into The Woods
In 1963 the first nature camp was held in the newly named woodland park.
“Sponsoredby the Department of Recreation and Parks and the Council of Garden Clubs, these four-day camps were held in Wintergreen Woods, behind the Emerson Williams School.” Barbara J. Brown, formerly a teacher at Emerson Williams and at the time a teacher in Glastonbury, was the camp leader. Leslie St. Jermain, a paid college student, and six volunteers assisted. (XVI)
Activities included bird walks led by Mrs. Paul Twaddle, guessing games, scavenger hunts, and arts & crafts using materials found in the area. The participants built a bridge over asmall stream using tree branches lashed together
“The children were taught how to build a fire – and put it out safely. Each child cooked his own meal once and cook-out guests included Town Manager David
J. Bauer, Recreational Director William Pitkin and Mrs. Eleanor Wolf who initiated the whole project.” (XVII)
The camps ran for four days from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and students from the fourth, fifth,sixth and seventh grades attended. “Based on the results of this first year, both Miss Brown and Pitkin reported they hope to continue the camp.” (XVIII)
In 1965 The Village Improvement Association hired Morton Fine Associates to develop a detailed plan for the southend of Wintergreen Woods. Like the Allen Report four years earlier thisplan called for the development of the area into a combination of recreation and nature, with the major emphasis on the former.
Among the specific proposals were: two parking lots, supervisor’s residence and other buildings (tower, nature cabin, etc.), two picnic shelters, a band shell, two “playfields”, and tennis courts. The park would have a full-time, live-in supervisor. The “natural” area of the park would be reduced by 1200′ to 800′.
After a tour of the effected area inAugust 1965 the Town Council tacitly approved the plan on September 7,1965. In May of the following year funds were appropriated to implement it, and bids for the work were solicited. The estimates that were received exceeded the appropriation and in September 1968 the Town Conservation Commission persuaded the Advisory Recreation and Park Board to request a study by the State Board of Fisheries and Game.
The resulting “DiCarli Report” covered the entire area of Wintergreen Woods. Its major suggestion was that the public recreation needs of Wethersfield be taken care of in other parks in other areas of town, and that the natural areas would be preserved.
“‘Its proximity to two schools lends itself very well to many youngsters as a nature study area and it would be a shame and a waste not to pursue this source as far as possible.” (XIX)
“He had two main themes running throughout the plan. The first was in the maintenance and development of the land in the park to push it to its carrying capacity for animals and plants living in the vicinity. The second major theme was to make improvements in the park to create a rich learning environment for students to study management techniques and the marvels of nature.”(XX)
The DiCarli plan broke the park into seven sections,and a distinct plan was created for each section…. Area 1 is a cattail sedge type marshland that he believed should be deepened to create a higher natural integrity of vegetation and animals. …..Area 2 consists of trees and shrubs, and many of the pingos that he described as shallow depressions. He proposed this area be turned into the main study area for students by creating trails, having soil studies, tree finders, animal track casts, and labels of all the different plant species. ….. Area 3 was a mature white pine grove that is still there today. He believed that this area should remain untouched because there were not a lot of pine groves this old remaining in Connecticut. Area 4 was an old field beginning to revert to woodland. He thought this should remain a field. This could be done by removing dominant tree species, like the birch and maple …..
Area 5 was a cedar field, and partially open field with fewer trees……He felt the fields should also be maintained, and not allowed to become forest by mowing the fields every one to two years. Area VI was a wooded area with smaller trees. He believed this area should become a tree field observation area, with things such as an age ring project, and a log decomposition succession. He also proposed for a stand, or photograph blind to be installed for the purpose of observing wildlife in the marsh close by. This part of the plan was later vetoed by the town police due to concerns of vandalism. The final area, Area 7, was a wildlife marsh. (XXI)
Semi-circular catwalks would be added and volunteer groups would provide the upkeep of the woods. The principal activities available would be walking, nature study, ice-skating, and fishing. A concrete weir was to be constructed on the pond to maintain the marshland. That weir was completed in 1970. (XXII)
The Boston to Washington Megalopolis
In July 1971 a group led by Mrs. Elizabeth Dodge met with the Advisory Recreation and Park Board to “discuss criticism of plans [the Fine Plan] to make the Wintergreen Woods a major recreation area.[Opponents] contend the ecology of the 110-acre wildlife area was being damaged by dredging work there, and a proposed evacuation for a 8-acre pond area would be disasterous [sic] to wildlife. Charles Sherm [sic], Chairman of the Advisory Recreation and Park Board, promised critics a hearing on the plan, while asking them where they were when the plan was approved in 1965.”
In July 1971 Charles Shirm asked Charles Kearns to “serve as Chairman of a special committee to the Advisory Recreation & Park Board regarding the current and future development of the south end of Wintergreen Woods.” (XXIII)
The committee was established as a result of strong opposition to plans to develop the area, which would have included dredging and excavation of the south end. A petition of opposition signed by approximately 1,000 persons was presented by Mr. and Mrs. [Charles] Kearns to the Town Council at a public meeting. Several garden clubs and private citizens objected to the alleged ecological damage the dredging and excavation would do to the swamp area and a state biologist suggested further study of the plan. However at a meeting last November, committee members were assured that no dredging will be done in the area to avoid flooding…area residents were being offered flood insurance instead…Since then, however, the town’s plan to provide flood insurance has been shelved through public rejection. (XXIV)
The Members of the Wintergreen Woods Study Committee were: Mrs. Patricia Martinson, Mrs. Margaret Wallace, Mrs. Eleanor Buck, Dr. Roger Beck, Mr. Kenneth Graf, Mr. Joseph Hickey, Mr. James Hughes, Mr. Clifford Johnson, Mr. Ballou Tooker and Mr. Charles M. Kearns, Jr. Charles McFarland represented the Town Council and William Pitkin represented the Town Manager.
The council re-evaluated the Fine and DiCarli Reports and visited the Springfield Massachusetts Forest Park. Their recommendation was written by member Kenneth Graf, a science teacher at Wethersfield High School. In March 1972 “The whole committee concluded…that we have a unique and priceless asset in the character and location of the Woods, situated as it is within walking distance of five schools and containing a wide variety of plant, animal and bird life.
As outlined in Mr. Graf’s evaluation and proposal…if the area be left almost untouched: the cost will be minimal; the educational value will be preserved for our schools and community; an ideal area will be available for passive recreation; the esthetics will remain unsurpassed for natural beauty, diversity of terrain, view and natural landscapes; the present biological and geological features would be preserved in the best ecological sense; access is presently adequate and no further cost need be undertaken; the park and its surrounding interact favorably with each other; only minimal change need be made to accommodate the hydrological problem; and finally, that in considering the future – ‘One may project the future of an affluent suburb town like Wethersfield and find that it lies in the center of a predicted impacted population area called the ‘Boston to Washington Megalopolis’. This ominous possibility should be enough to convince most thoughtful people who have a stake in the future of Wethersfield that all such areas lying within the jurisdiction of the townspeople should be protected from unnecessary or mechanistic intrusion by man.
On the basis of our study, we recommend…
(1) to eliminate any intention to ditch the brook between Wells Road and Nott Street. Instead, the area should be left as is or, as a maximum, the minor natural narrowing opposite Wells Farm Drive should be widened only as required by further hydrological study.
(2) That the Wintergreen Woods be designated as a natural preserve and that a permanent citizens group be designated to oversee its use for educational and contemplative purposes …
(3) That a full-time naturalist be retained by the town…
(4)…no further action be taken to develop the park… (XXV)
Snake Eggs and Environmental Appreciation
In August 1972 the Recreation and Parks Department hired Siah St. Clairas the town’s first park naturalist. “St. Clair [24 years of age] was elected from 37 applicants residing in various parts of the country. The position results from recommendations by the Wintergreen Wood [sic]study committee appointed by the town council last year. The job pays an annual salary of $7,500. St. Clair holds a master’s degree from the Department of Park and Recreational Resources at Michigan State University. His major area of study was in a newly developed course entitled ‘Environmental Interpretation.” (XXVI)
St. Clair reported to work in September 1972 carrying nine snake eggs.
“[He]found the snake eggs in his parents backyard in Tipton, Mich… St.Clair brought them back to Connecticut with him. He visited Beaver Brook with town historian John C. Willard. Willard told him that bricks used to build several homes in Old Wethersfield were made from clay that lies at the bottom of the brook. One house was built in 1798 Willard told him. (XXVII) Unlike St. Clair, the snakes could not survive in the woods in Connecticut so they were sent back to Michigan to be released there.
Also in 1972 a parking lot off Folly Brook Boulevard was constructed and a skating pond (in the north end of thepark) and cross-country ski trails were proposed by Bill Tompkins.Funds were allocated but the town rejected making any changes to the park. (XXVIII)
In December of that year Town naturalist Siah St. Clair presented a comprehensive “environmental appreciation” plan to“bring land and people together on intimate terms. St. Clair’s long-term plans call for the establishment of a town nature center and a network of trails through the Wintergreen Woods. He said he is already‘keeping an eye out’ for a temporary facility to use as a nature center.” (XXIX)
Educational and Interesting all The Same
The temporary nature center was officially opened in the Stillman School with an open house on April 19, 20 and 21 in 1974 – “temporary to be sure, but educational and interesting all the same.” (XXX) Deborah McQuade was awarded a $50 savings bond for her winning design for the town’s insignia for its environmental program.
“Of primary importance in long range planning is the development of the nature center – and interpretive building and associated trails – in Wintergreen Woods. (XXXI)
Among the possible programs discussed were: “General Nature Walks, Night Nature Walks, Insect Nature Walks, Edible Plants Nature Walks, Early Morning & Afternoon Bird Walks, Star Gazing Interpretation, Photography Nature Walks, AnimalHomes Nature Walks, Medicinal Plants Nature Walks, Slide Programs, Maple Syrup Making, Cider Making.” (XXXII)
On June 16, 1974 the Hartford Courant reported, “Groundwork is being laid for development of a nature center at Wintergreen Woods. The town will consider an architect for a $1,500 feasibility study to develop a permanent nature center for the town.” (XXXIII) The Ecological Affairs Committee (a subcommittee of the Advisory Recreation and Parks Commission) proposed a permanent nature center, amphitheater, pond and walking paths with acost ceiling of $350,000.
The October 17, 1975 Wethersfield Post published a photo of “Young Mark Fontana and young Tom Linden took off on their raft, a la Huckleberry Finn, this weekend, on the new pond established just east of Western Boulevard, in Wintergreen Wood. The raft is made of two tire tubes fastened to the bottom of the raft.”(XXXIV)
One year later, on Monday November 8, 1976, a two-alarm fire struck the Stillman building and “forced the evacuation from the building of the 12 snakes, two turtles and the Wethersfield Social Services Department. “One fireman said it was eerie to be in the smoke filled room on the second floor and hear the snakes thrash about. Six of the snakes – contained in a glass display – were poisonous. At least one had rattles, the fireman said. St. Clair said the snakes, turtles and fish caught in local streams all survived the smoke.” (XXXV)
Eleven days later, in a letter to Town Manager Ralph DeSantis, a group of more than 100 senior citizens accused the snakes of being responsible for the conflagration.
“Seniors Blame Snakes In Fire at Their Club[headline] The petition said the town keeps the thermostat there at anintense level because ‘there are snakes on the second floor that have tobe kept warm. However DeSantis disagreed with the blame being put on the snakes. He said the thermostat in the building is kept at 70 degrees to maintain an acceptable heating level for the top floor, which houses the Wethersfield Art League, Social Services and nature center. The fire appears to have started in the boiler room area…” (XXXVI)
Ten days later the twelve snakes and two turtles, along with the town naturalist, moved back into their temporary nature center.
Meanwhile The Friends of the Wethersfield Nature Center held its first public meeting in September, 1976.
Quilts and Motorcycles
“Their goal [is to raise money for] a nature center building with garage, home for a naturalist to go along with the nature trails presently making up Wintergreen Woods.” (XXXVII)
In June of1977 the town of Wethersfield received a federal grant of $608,000. One of the uses discussed for that money was the building of a nature center but in July, 1977 the Town Council voted, following the recommendation of Town manager DeSantis, to fund an addition to the Town Hall-Library building instead. In July of that year the Friends of the Wethersfield Nature Center launched a campaign to raise $100,000.
Siah St. Clair resigned in March 1978 to accept a position as senior park naturalist in Fridley Minnesota. “St. Clair said there is ‘nothing
negative about Wethersfield’ that led to his decision. Under St. Clair’s guidance, registration at nature camps has grown from about 30 to 150 registrants and trails, boardwalks and ponds in Wintergreen Woods have been developed [Park and Recreation Director William] Pitkin said.” (XXXVIII)
Edward Ruth, 28, became the town’s new park naturalist in May, 1978. Ruth wanted the nature center to be an “action place” and seconded the view of the Friends of the Nature Center that the facility should be located in Wintergreen Woods
“However it is also plagued with persons riding through on motorcycles and litter. He said. “Recently he saw pheasants in the woods but he also saw some
youngsters with BB guns and bows and arrows.” (XXXIX)
In October of the same year Ruth left the nature center and returned to his previous position in Florida. He missed the Everglades but also was disappointed by the turnout for activities such as nature walks and was frustrated by the motorcycle traffic and campfires in the woods.
Paul Krashefski of Vernon, Connecticut who had worked as assistant director and on programs for the summer day nature camp was named temporary park
Also in 1978 The Friends of the Wethersfield Nature Center created a quilt memorializing the woods as a fund-raising activity.”Eleanor Wolf of Hartford Avenue and Ruth Hunter of Wells Road came up with the idea for the quilt and asked former park naturalist Siah St. Clair for a list of things found in the woods. Around the edge of the corner squares are tree leaves and vines, including poison ivy. The inside boxes are the birds, animals, amphibians and flowers that are found in the woods.” (XXXX) The quilt is currently on display in the Keeney Memorial Cultural Center of the Wethersfield Historical Society.
In December 1978 the nature center was moved from Stillman School to the Wethersfield Community Center and in March of the following year Paul Krashefski was named full- time park naturalist.
During this time the Friends of the Nature Center continued to lobby for the construction of that facility, and more security in Wintergreen Woods. Several improvements were made and proposed. In February, 1979 the FotNC and Recreation Director William Pitkin talked to the town council about the abuses taking place within the park – including beer cans, wine bottles, overflowing trash cans, and a gun-toting youth; as well as motor bikes. A report prepared for Police Chief T. William Knapp indicated that it would cost about $17,500 yearly plus $4,500 to $5,000 in startup costs to provide patrol officers at the park from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m..
“The friends [of the Nature Center] have maintained that if there is more activity in the woods, there will be less vandalism, Mrs. [Estelle] Pellettieri said.” (XXXXI)
In August, 1980 the Town Council tabled a motion to approve the “concept” of a nature center in the park because of the uncertainty of the price. In April, 1981 the “Friends” proposed a 3,400 square foot log cabin projected to cost about $40,000 plus $10,000 to $20,000 in utility hookups.
In 1980 improvements to the park began. The now permanent red and blue trails became a permanent fixture in the park with blaze marks, and the addition of wood chips to designate the paths. Before 1980 they were just foot paths with no designation, and since then, every year the town and volunteers go in once a year around Earth Day, and put down new wood chips on the trails, and clean them up. Also in that same year Boy Scout Rich Antaya constructed the white trail, which is now defunct. The town let this trail fall into disrepair because they believed that the Boy Scouts would continue to do the maintenance. The white trail had two entrances as shown in the Park Pamphlet Map, one at the northern part of the park, and one coming off of a northern portion of the blue trail to form a loop in the park. (XXXXII)
Paul Krashefski continued to lead activities in Wintergreen Woods and other town locales – for example the national Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird census in 1983 involved the woods as well as Millwoods Park and the Great Meadows area. Paul left the position in September, 1989 and was replaced by Rick Duffy in January, 1990.
In 1981 a proposal for a nature center in Wintergreen Woods was brought before the town and denied and in 1990 a town referendum on the same subject was held.
The ballot measure argued “A nature center with an outdoor interpretive area brings the land and people together in intimate terms where people of all ages, under the inspiration of trained naturalists, can comprehend the natural worlds around them, and come to an appreciation of it which will lead them into being better stewards for the environment in their care.” (XXXXIII)
The referendum was rejected.
In the same year the town acquired 2.69 more acres of land to bring the park to even 110 acres. In 2001 three new bridges were built in the woods. In September 1993 Laura Briggs became Town Naturalist replacing Rick Duffy who left in July of that year. In 1995 she was honored by the Wethersfield Chamber of Commerce for her work educating the town’s youth.
A Hartford Courant article talks about some of the taxidermy additions Laura made to the nature center.
The red fox pup killed recently on a Wethersfield road could have been scooped up and discarded by a town crew along with the fast-food litter. Instead, the unlucky critter was taken to a Rocky Hill taxidermy shop where it’s being prepared for a second life as an educational exhibit. [The Wilderness Connection] Owner Bruce Wynn and his business partner Ray Carter have mounted birds, fish and other animals for Hartford’s Old State House Museum, the Audubon Society in Glastonbury, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Windsor’s Northwest Park Nature Center and the Wethersfield Nature Center. Fresh from the blacktop, the fox pup, which is bound for the Wethersfield Nature Center, was frozen in time by a vacuum freeze-dry machine. Now, its thimble-sized jaw bares tiny teeth and the pup seems to peer at the world through lifelike glass eyes. In addition to the fox, The Wilderness Connection also is preparing two other roadkills — a woodchuck and a wild turkey — for the nature center. Town employee Bob Horgan, Wethersfield’s self-dubbed “King of the Roadkill,” volunteers his time to pick up carcasses. Horgan brought the nearly unscathed animals to Nature Center Director Laura Briggs. Impressed by the beauty of the specimens, Briggs said she decided to bring them to The Wilderness Connection. Not just any road pizza can become an artifact for the ages. Some animals that are killed on the road, they just bounce off the tires and the fur and skin are intact. That we can work with,’ Carter said. ‘We can sew up small incisions, but any abrasions of the fur, we can’t really cover that up. (XXXXIV)
Laura Briggs held the position until July 2004 and was replaced by Christopher Shephard, the current Town Naturalist in November 2004. During that time the FofNC continued their efforts to find a permanent home for the facility.
In 2005 the Nature Center was moved to its current location, the former Moeller Home at Mill Woods Park. The remodeling of the building, which the town had purchased in 1990 was funded by the town ($110,000), The Friends of the Nature Center ($85,000), state grant ($250,000) and a $250,000 gift from the family of Eleanor Buck Wolf after whom the facility is named.
Winergreen Woods continues to evolve. On June 26, 2009 the tornado that struck Wetherfsield cused significant damage to several trees in the park and in July the town purchased one more lot to increase the size of the preserve.
The history of Wintergreen Woods has pretty much paralleled the history of Wethersfield. For the first three hundred years, as the town grew into a largely rural community, the woods were privately owned lands that served the agricultural open-land needs of the town.
In the 1920’s, as Wethersfield converted from semi-rural to suburban, those planning that transition sought to develop the area into an active recreation area with sports and other man-made facilities. These plans never came to fruition, mostly for economic reasons – however, the town purchased the majority of the land required for them. Then, beginning in the 1960’s as the ecology movement was burgeoning, the woodland’s value as an already-in-place passive recreation area was recognized, and the land was officially established as a nature preserve.
If however the history of Wintergreen Woods is not a mystery, the back-story of the name is less certain. The designation was made official by the town council in 1963 in response to a 1961 petition from the Committee to Preserve Old Wethersfield – “historians in town had suggested that this area was originally known as Wintergreen Woods”.
I was however unable to find any documentation to support the history of that name other than one or two other similar second-hand statements. The land in general in that area is officially referred to as “Folly Brook Land (or Park)” in town documentation. Yet the town council seemed to unquestioningly accept the suggested name change.
It is possible that Wintergreen Woods was the unofficial local label for the woodland portion of Folly Brook Land and as such appeared commonly in
day-to-day informal conversations, but never in official communications. Folly Brook itself was accidentally created in 1726, and that negatively connotative appellation seems not to have set well with a portion of our town’s long-term families – as witnessed by Jared B. Standish’s 1935 effort to redesignate that stream as Beaver Brook and to label the (then newly constructed) eponymous boulevard as Great Swamp Parkway. Perhaps the naming (or renaming) of Wintergreen Woods was another attempt by these town traditionalists to put the follies of our youth behind us.
II A Natural Resources Inventory of Wintergreen Woods
III Stiles, Ancient History of Wethersfield
V Plan of a Residence Suburb, 1928
VIII Minutes of the Metropolitan District Commission, 7/10/1933
IX Hartford Courant, 7/16/1961
XII Minutes of the Wethersfield Town Council, 12/4/1961
XIII ibid. 1/21/1963
XIV Minutes of the Advisory Recreation and Parks Board Minutes, 1/23/1963
XV ibid, 2/18/1962
XVI Hartford Courant, 7/21/1963
XX A Natural Resources Inventory of Wintergreen Woods
XXIII Hartford Courant, 7/8/1971
XXIV ibid, 7/16/1972
XXV Wintergreen Woods Study Committee Recommendation
XXVI Hartford Courant, 8/15/1972
XXVII ibid, 9/17/72
XXVIII A Natural Resources Inventory of Wintergreen Woods
XXIX Hartford Courant, 12/29/1972
XXX Wethersfield Post, 4/19/1974
XXXIII Hartford Courant, 6/16/1974
XXXIV Wethersfield Post, 10/17/1975
XXXV Hartford Courant, 11/9/1976
XXXVI ibid 11/20/1976
XXXVII Hartford Courant, 2/24/1979
XXXVIII Hartford Courant, 2/14/1978
XXXIXHartford Courant, 5/29/1978
XXXX Wethersfield Post
XXXXI Hartford Courant, 2/24/1979
XXXXII A Natural Resources Inventory of Wintergreen Woods
XXXXIV Hartford Courant, 9/25/1998
In my research I found the author of the 1968 plan for Wintergreen Woods listed as both DiCarli and DiCorli. I chose to use the former in this report.
Budris, Aaron, et al, A
Natural Resources Inventory of Wintergreen Woods, Wethersfield, CT,
Field Research Methods – Department of Geography – Central Connecticut
State University, 2009
Stiles, Henry Reed, The History of Ancient Wethersfield, Volumes I & II
New Hampshire Publishing Company, 1900
Minutes of the Metropolitan District Commission
Metropolitan District Commission
Minutes of the Wethersfield Advisory Recreation and Park Board
Wethersfield Parks and Recreation Department
Minutes of the Wethersfield Town Council
Wethersfield Town Clerk
“Plan of A Residence Suburb Wethersfield Connecticut”, 1928
Library of Wethersfield Historical Society
Report of the Wintergreen Woods Study Committee, 1972
Wethersfield Parks and Recreation Department
Town of Wethersfield Annual Report – 1953
Wethersfield Historical Society
Historical Hartford Courant (1764-1922).
[Online] Available, http://www.cslib.org/newspapers/
Historical Hartford Courant (1923-1984)
[Online] Available, http://www.cslib.org/newspapers/
Hartford Courant (1992-current)
[Online] Available, http://www.cslib.org/newspapers/
[Online] Available, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsinan_glaciation
About the Author: Jim Meehan