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Late 1800s was park's heyday.

Byline: C.L. Kelly

WOODSTOCK - Historic Roseland Park was once a landscaped gem of Victorian opulence with more than 1,000 rose bushes, elaborate fountains, wooded walking trails and a mile-long stone wall built by farmers near a sparkling lake. That was in 1876.

Today, the original 60 acres is a shadow of its original brilliance once nurtured by wealthy New York City businessman and philanthropist Henry Chandler Bowen.

Recent restoration by the Woodstock Garden Club, members of the community and Roseland Park Trust inspire hope that the once thriving recreation area that once offered boating and swimming might make a comeback.

"In 1876, when Henry C. Bowen opened the park, it was essentially given to the town to use, but would be managed and cared for by his children and his estate," explained Gail W. White, Historic New England Roseland Cottage's educational director. Boston-based Historic New England is a charitable, nonprofit historic preservation organization.

In its heyday, the manicured park had a Gothic windmill, boathouse, gilded fountains, decorative statuary, bungalows with maid service and a dining room.

"It must have been quite a sight to see all the ladies with their parasols and the gents in their bowler hats," Mrs. White said.

The park was dedicated to the memory of Henry's first wife, Lucy, who in 1863 passed away during childbirth with their 10th child.

The immense popularity of Fourth of July gatherings that Mr. Bowen hosted since 1870 at the pink summer retreat, Roseland Cottage, led to the development of Roseland Park. Large stones were moved by horse and wagon to create the park. An ardent Republican and abolitionist, Mr. Bowen entertained famous political luminaries.

After 1894, the property went into decline. The Bowens donated the Fourth of July decorations to the town of Killingly. Gilded fountains, statuary and decorative benches were sold. A few items graced the park awhile longer. Trustees salvaged a life-like black cast iron St. Bernard that can still be viewed in the Woodstock Golf Course clubhouse.

Successive family deaths took their toll. One of Mr. Bowen's sons died in 1895. Mr. Bowen died in 1896. Mr. Bowen's second wife, Ellen, died in 1904.

Woodstock Historical Society members Cheryl R. Wakely and Lynn Smith have hosted a free Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor Walking WeekendS hike each year. In October, the pair held their annual walk for the first time in the park.

Even though the park was given to the townspeople for their use, the town does not own the park. "So the town has no responsibility towards it," Ms. Wakely said. "It's still under a board of trustees; $250,000 was originally allocated for the trust."

The historical society will be hosting a program on Roseland Park in the spring. Even though the original trust has at least tripled since it was first established, the board of trustees prefers not to touch the principal.

The Trustees of Roseland Park were recently awarded a $2,500 grant from the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor to

document the history and significance of the park's features. The study will include recommendations for preserving and managing the park as a unique cultural and historic resource.

"This study will help us to lay the groundwork that gives credibility as to why this is a significant resource and should be preserved and protected as a nationally recognized historic place," said Douglas M. Cutler, a newly named trustee who previously served on the board.

"One of the reasons I wanted to get back on the board of trustees was to bring more interest to the park section," said Mr. Cutler, who remembers working at Roseland Park during summers in the 1960s.


CUTLINE: The distinctive boxwood hedges surrounding Roseland Cottage were part of the garden's original design.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 16, 2007
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