Wild Garden Monument

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What might appear to be Litchfield’s newest monument is simply an older one, once again back in sight.

In 1922, the White Memorial Foundation leased 150 acres east of Little Pond to the Litchfield Garden Club for the “creation and maintenance of a wild garden containing trees, shrubs and flowers native to Connecticut and to Litchfield County.”  (The Garden Club paid $1.00 to lease the land for ten years.) Trails were opened allowing visitors to access the gardens and Little Pond, and the Sutton Bridge was built to cross the Bantam River.

Wild Garden Map

A 1932 map showing the Litchfield Wild Garden. The Sutton Bridge appears at the bottom. “Map of the Litchfield Wild Garden” Litchfield Historical Society, Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library. Thanks to Linda Hocking at the Litchfield Historical Society for providing the digital image.

One trail began at the intersection of Old South Road and Gallows Lane, and there the Garden Club placed a monument to greet visitors. It read:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,                                                                                                     The song of the birds for mirth,                                                                                                           One is nearer God’s Heart in a garden                                                                                       Than anywhere else on earth.

The lines are from the poem “God’s Garden” by English poet Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858-1932), and are commonly found on plaques in gardens.

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In 1975, the Wild Gardens reverted back to White Memorial, and the small plot of trees at the intersection of Old South and Gallows soon engulfed the monument. Recently, however, it has been been brought back into view, and while several words are missing from the poem, it remains a tribute to the splendor of the natural world that surrounds Litchfield.

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The Litchfield Garden Club

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This stone flower urn stands at the intersection of North Street and Norfolk Road in Litchfield.  There are no markers or inscriptions to tell the curious passerby when or why it was built, or by whom.  Further investigation, however, reveals that this is one of the many contributions made by the Litchfield Garden Club to beautify the town.

LGC-CentLogoFinal_jan2012_722013 marks the 100th anniversary of the Litchfield Garden Club.  On September 9, 1913, nine women from the Litchfield area met at the home of Edith and Alice Kingsbury on North Street and organized the club, with annual dues of two dollars.  S. Edson Gage, an architect who had designed the Litchfield Playhouse that stood at the  site of the current town hall, was elected president.

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The old Litchfield train station on Russell Street.

The organization’s first civic project took place in 1914, when – in cooperation with the Village Improvement Society – they spent ten dollars for plantings at the town’s train station on Russell Street.  After the First World War the club was active in maintaining the plantings at the train station as well as beautifying the grounds of the town’s schools and library, and in creating Litchfield’s Wild Gardens on land leased from White Memorial.

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Flowers planted by the Garden Club in the trough of Litchfield’s Water Monument.

The Norfolk Road planter was installed in 1954 (the club’s website indicates there may have been others along Norfolk Road), flowers were planted at traffic intersections, and the organization was also instrumental in getting Litchfield’s Historic District added to the National Registrar of Historic Places.  More recently, the club has replanted the trees along North and South Street that were originally planted by Oliver Wolcott, Jr. to commemorate the original 13 states and installed period lighting on the Litchfield Green.

Happy 100th anniversary to the Litchfield Garden Club, which has done so much to enhance the natural beauty of our town!

The Frances Howe Sutton Bridge

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The Frances Howe Sutton bridge on the Little Pond Trail in White Memorial Note the plaque on the right side of the bridge.

The most popular trail in the White Memorial Foundation is the boardwalk that encircles Little Pond.  The bridge in the photograph above, which carries a plaque honoring Frances Howe Sutton, spans the outlet of the pond, where the Bantam River turns toward Bantam Lake.

Wild Garden Map

A 1932 map showing the Litchfield Wild Garden. The Sutton Bridge appears at the bottom. “Map of the Litchfield Wild Garden” Litchfield Historical Society, Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library. Thanks to Linda Hocking at the Litchfield Historical Society for providing the digital image.

In 1922, the White Memorial Foundation leased 150 acres east of Little Pond to the Litchfield Garden Club for the “creation and maintenance of a wild garden containing trees, shrubs and flowers native to Connecticut and to Litchfield County.”  (The Garden Club paid $1.00 to lease the land for ten years.)  The garden club created trails through this area to allow visitors to access the flora.  This became known as the Litchfield Wild Garden.  In 1928, the Munroe Bridge was built to offer visitors access to the west side of the Bantam River as it flowed into Little Pond.  (This is the bridge near the Litchfield Country Club.)

suttonTen years later, Herbert L. Sutton financed the construction of a second bridge, which was built in memory of his wife, Frances Howe Sutton.  This bridge crossed the river as it flowed out of Little Pond, and gave visitors access to the Pine Island section of White Memorial.

sutton 3In subsequent years management of the Wild Garden passed from the Litchfield Garden Club to the Wild Garden Association and then to the Litchfield Hills Audubon Society.  In 1959, the boardwalk was completed around the entirety of Little Pond, in memory of Ralph T. Wadhams.  Finally, in 1975, the area of the Wild Garden reverted back to White Memorial.  While the trails in this area are no longer maintained, the careful observer can still locate where they once ran.

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The view from the bridge.

In September 1985, flooding from Hurrican Gloria necessitated a rebuilding of the boardwalk.  Ultimately this project required 57,000 board feet of lumber, 2,600 hours of labor, tons of nails, and $73,000 to repair the 1.2 mile trail.  While entire sections of the trail and uncounted individual boards have been replaced since 1985, the structure of the boardwalk remains today.  Those who have ventured to Little Pond for birding in the spring or to admire the stark beauty of a New England winter understand why this trail remains White Memorial’s most popular.

For more information on the Little Pond boardwalk, see Keith R. Cudworth, The White Memorial Foundation:  The First 100 Years, The Legacy of Alain and May White (White Memorial Foundation, 2012).