The Frances Howe Sutton Bridge

sutton bridge

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  While the trails in this area are no longer maintained, the careful observer can still locate where they once ran.

little pond

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).

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Road Race Park

Road Race parkWith the 37th annual Litchfield Hill Road Race only days away it seems appropriate to highlight a relatively new monument that shows that commemoration is an ongoing process.  Where the trail over Plumb Hill intersects with Whites’ Woods Road stands Road Race Park, a small plot of land with markers to recognize the contributions of those who have helped make the race possible.

lhrr

Photo courtesy of Waterbury Republican American

What began in 1977 as the brainchild of a few friends to bring to Litchfield a road race modeled after the famed seven-miler in Falmouth, Massachusetts, has grown into a weekend of events that culminates with approximately 1,500 runners making their way through town and White Memorial.  Participants have come from all age groups and dozens of countries and have included those who walk the course to marathon champions Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson.  Runner’s World Magazine declared Gallow’s Hill the eighth most difficult hill in racing.

Of course, none of it would be possible without the volunteers.

flamingoOne of the race’s notable volunteers was George Dwan, who served as race marshal at the site of Road Race park from the first race until his death in 2008.  With his friend Roberta Coffill Healy, Dwan would decorate the area with pink flamingos, silver Christmas trees, pinwheels, and other tacky trinkets.

LHRRWhen George passed away, Roberta continued the tradition with her husband Jack.  She also was instrumental in commemorating the work that Dwan and others put into the race.  On the Saturday before the 2009 race, Road Race Park was dedicated.  It consists of three large stones; those on the left and right are sitting stones.  The center stone is inscribed with the words of race co-founder (with Bill Neller) Joe Concannon, “A labor of love and a celebration of the community.”  On the back of the stone is a running beer mug, a reminder that a sense of fun has always pervaded the race.

DwanIn front of the stone is a marker honoring George Dwan’s service to the Litchfield Hill Road Race.  It is fitting that a flamingo sits in the marker’s upper left hand corner.

Special thanks to Roberta Coffill Healy for sharing her memories of George Dwan and the story of Road Race Park!

The Windmill Hill Windmill

Cistern and Windmill

We take to the woods for many reasons.  Thoreau famously wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  Most of us take to the woods for less philosophical reasons – to hike, run, snowshoe, mountain bike, or bird watch.  Hidden amongst the Litchfield woods, however, are reminders of the way the land was used in the past.

There is little old growth forest left in Litchfield County.  In the southern environs of the county the land was cleared for farms.  In its northern reaches, Litchfield County’s woods were utilized for the charcoal needed to power iron furnaces.  When these industries began to transform or fade away, the forests reclaimed their original territory, engulfing many man-made objects and alterations to the landscape.

Perhaps this is most true of the White Memorial Foundation, which owns approximately 5,000 acres in Litchfield and Morris.  In these woods remain many implements of the county’s agricultural and industrial past.

bw windmill

The windmill and cistern on Windmill Hill, White Memorial. From Rachel Carley, Litchfield, pg. 212.

One fascinating example is the base on which the White family’s windmill once stood.  The explorer can find it on the appropriately named Windmill Hill, very near the White Memorial visitor center and museum.  The proximity is no coincidence.

John Jay White, whose children established the foundation in the early 1900s, was a New York real estate magnate who moved from 5th Avenue to Litchfield in 1863.  The home he built, Whitehall, in many ways epitomized the Victorian architectural fashion popular at the time.

View of Whitehall

The view toward Whitehall from the site of the windmill.

On the top of a nearby hill White had a cistern built.  A nearby windmill pumped water into the covered cistern.  Pipes then brought the water more than a quarter mile to the house, which thus enjoyed natural water pressure.

windmill

This structure stands on the approximate site of the windmill.

Today, a concrete slab marks the site of the cistern.  A concrete structure stands nearby; it was built to house the electric pump that replaced the windmill but was rendered obsolete a number of years ago when a new well was dug.

carriage house

White Memorial’s carriage house.

Whitehall still stands, albeit in modified form, as the visitor center and museum of the White Memorial Foundation.  Its top floor was removed and modifications made that erased the structure’s Victorian elements.  Only in the carriage house are glimpses of the Victorian splendor that once marked the estate evident.

Alain and May White Memorial Boulder

Here is among the most hidden in plain sight of Litchfield’s many monuments and markers.  How many hundreds, if not thousands, of hikers and bikers pass by this engraved boulder near the intersection of White Memorial’s Mattatuck and Beaver Pond trails without seeing it?

The boulder honors two of Litchfield’s most distinguished residents, Alain (1880-1951) and Margaret “May” (1869-1941) White.  Together they preserved nearly 9,000 acres of land that today comprise the White Memorial Foundation, Mohawk State Forest and Mohawk Mountain State Park, Kent Falls State Park, Macedonia Brook State Park, the People’s State Forest, Campbell Falls State Park, and portions of the Steep Rock Preserve.

The Whites were the children of John Jay White, a New York City real estate magnate who built Whitehall, a Victorian summer estate in Litchfield that today is the main building of the White Memorial Foundation.  Alain was educated as a botanist at Harvard in the era of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, a combination that may have led to his first impulses of conservation.  (It is interesting to note that White was a champion chess player, who is credited in some circles with breaking the German code in World War I, which was based upon a pattern of chess moves.)

Fishing the Bantam River with his friend William Mitchell Van Winkle in 1908, Alain commented “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to preserve this river, lake and countryside as we see it now?”  With his sister May he would devote nearly the next half century to acquiring additional lands for a preserve dedicated to the memory of their parents, including the Babbit farm along today’s Route 63, on which this boulder stands.

Their goal was not simply to allow nature to run its course on these lands, however; rather, they hoped to “make shoreline available for youth camps, simple vacation home and convalescent retreats” (Rachel Carley, Litchfield, p. 225).  This, then, was practical conservationism.  Nor were their philanthropic impulses limited to nature; Alain was deeply involved in the establishment of the Connecticut Junior Republic, and in fact collaborated with Cass Gilbert, the architect of New York’s famed Woolworth Building, on its design.  He also wrote a detailed history of Litchfield in 1920.

May was a Sunday school teacher and avid theater aficionado who began a series of children’s performances at Whitehall, and who worked to turn the Lakeside Hotel into a summer getaway for children from New York City, a forerunner of the Fresh Air Fund.


Still, they are rightly best remembered today for their remarkable contribution of a 4,000-acre backyard for Litchfield, a refuge not only for animals but for hikers, bikers and kayakers.  As real estate development infringes upon more and more open spaces, the words carved on the boulder are increasingly appropriate:

In most grateful memory of

ALAIN AND MAY WHITE

brother & sister who loved

the quiet and beauty of the

forest and who saved these

thousands of acres for us.

To find the monument, park in the small parking area near the intersections of Routes 63 and 61.  Walk east on the Beaver Pond Trail (white blazes) until the trail intersects with the Mattatuck Trail (blue blazes).  Follow the fork to the left, the Mattatuck Trail.  The monument will soon appear, set in the woods on your left.