Historic Parks in Haddam
A scenic roadside picnic area with hiking trails derives its name from a series of small cascading falls in Bible Rock Brook. The stop over was the state's first rest area and was extremely popular when Route 154 was the main road from Hartford/Middletown to the Connecticut shoreline.
Cockaponsett State Forest and Camp Filley
Cockaponsett is named after an Indian chief buried in the Ponsett section of Haddam. It is the second largest state forest in Connecticut with 15,000 acres in seven towns. In 1933 Camp Filley, a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, was established within the boundaries. The CCC was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a public works program that put young men and adults to work during the Great Depression. Camp Filley had a great impact on Haddam and surrounding towns by providing services and help during the great flood of 1936 and the 1938 hurricane. A number of young men remained in town and married locally and their families still reside here today.
Haddam Meadows State Park
Located along the western shore of the Connecticut River, Haddam Meadows is accessible from Route 154 just north of the historic village of Haddam. In Colonial times this area played an important part in the town's agricultural economy. Each spring the meadows were fertilized by the flooded Connecticut River, which in turn would yield abundant crops of hay and grain. The meadows were also used as a common pasture for local livestock.
Because the meadows are located on the channel side of the river, shipping also played a significant role in the history of the area. Early maps show that a pier, stores and other buildings were located within the park during most of the 19th century. The railroad passed through starting in 1876 and two of the town's railroad stations were located in the area. The Walkley Station was located on the north and the Haddam Station was farther south.
In the 20th century the property was part of the extensive Hazen Farm and used as pasture land. In 1944 the park was created with a gift of 154 acres from the Hazen Foundation. Today the park features a public boat launch and is the site for many town events including Little League games and Haddam River Days.
Constructed in 1878-79, Field Park was dedicated as a memorial to Dr. and Mrs. David Dudley Field, Sr. of Haddam by their four sons, David Dudley Field, Jr. Stephen J. Field, Henry M. Field, and Cyrus W. Field. The senior Field and his family came to Haddam in 1804 when Dr. Field was called to serve as pastor of the Haddam Congregational Church. During the course of his career, Dr. Field served the community as pastor for 28 years at both the Haddam and Higganum Congregational churches. He served Haddam from 1804 to 1818 and again from 1836 to 1844. In 1844 Dr. Field helped found the Higganum Congregational Church and served as pastor there from 1844 to 1850. While residing in Haddam, Field studied and wrote on the history of the area and published the well known "A History of the Towns of Haddam and East Haddam (1814) and "A Statistical Account of the County of Middlesex" (1819). He was also involved with Brainerd Academy where he served as chairman of the board and chief manager for several years.
The site of Field Park consists of Isinglass Hill, a rocky promontory rising behind the village of Haddam and overlooking the Connecticut River. In April of 1878, landscape architect B.S. Olmstead of Rye, New York was hired to prepare plans for the memorial park. Mr. Olmstead is known for his work in Williamstown, Massachusetts and the Miriam Osborn Home in Rye, New York. During the late 19th century, formal landscaped parks became popular in America and were modeled on the "pleasure grounds" of England. Originally the beautifully laid out Field Park featured a winding carriage drive, open lawns, shaded walks and was embellished with a variety of exotic and rare plants. In 1880 the park was deeded to the Village Parks Society, a corporation established to care for and maintain both Field Park and Meetinghouse Green as "pleasure grounds for all times."
The 1938 hurricane took more than fifty large specimen trees, including many of the original exotic plants. The Park at one time featured ball fields, tennis court and croquet lawn and was once considered the center of social and cultural activity in Haddam. Today the Town Office Building and Town Hall are accessible by Field Park Drive. The park now exhibits deciduous and coniferous trees which have obscured the view of the Connecticut River but remains a peaceful, tranquil place for the residents of Haddam.
The triangular shaped green is located at the intersection of Candlewood Hill and Saybrook Roads in the center of Higganum. The Higganum District Union School stood on the northern portion of the green from 1894-1945. Prominent on the green is the War Memorial honoring Haddam veterans who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and Vietnam War; it is the site of the town's annual Memorial Day observance. There is also a traditionally designed gazebo where concerts and other events are held during the summer months.
Located at the intersection of Russell, Meetinghouse and Walkley Hill Roads, this small green is named after the town's third Meetinghouse, which was erected just to the north circa 1771. (The first two Meetinghouses were located on Saybrook Road further to the south). 19th century maps indicate there were buildings located on this parcel and may have included small edifices used on Sundays by families who traveled some distance to church.
A new church was constructed in 1846 on Saybrook Road about a mile to the south. The old church was standing in 1859 but had been removed by 1874. The old foundation and debris of "the old house" were on the site in 1878 when the four sons of Reverend David Dudley Field purchased this triangular piece of property and created a park in memory of their father who was pastor of the Congregational Church and lived in the parsonage across the street at 19 Russell Road.
Landscape gardener B.S. Olmstead of Rye, New York was hired to survey and plan the green and larger "Field Park" located farther south behind Brainerd Academy. His recommendations for the green included introducing evergreens, a fringe of flowering shrubs, rustic seats and fencing to keep out the cattle and swine. It has been erroneously reported that Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame was responsible, but documents and newspaper reports clearly give credit to B.S. Olmstead of Rye, New York as the engineer and landscape gardener.
In August of 1878 the Middletown newspaper reported, "the two acre, triangular piece on which stood the old church where Dr. Field preached is fast assuming an attractive appearance. It is to be called the "Meeting House Green. On it will be a memorial on stone with the following inscription:
'On this plot stood the Ancient Meeting House, in which David Dudley Field, S.S. preached from 1803-1819 and from 1837-1843, his four surviving sons have purchased the site and given it to the town for a public green in memory of their father.'
Over 3000 people attended the dedication of the parks which included a day-long ceremony with a procession led by South Manchester's Cheney's Band. The town of Haddam would not accept the gift of Fields Parks from the family and instead a group of local citizens formed a corporation named Village Parks Society, which is responsible for the care and upkeep of the parks. The deed for the two parcels stated that the parcels be kept and used as a pleasure-grounds for the people of Haddam forever.
Today, Meetinghouse Green is the focal point of a well-preserved historic neighborhood and a tangible link to the town's past.
This small triangular green is located along Route 154 at the intersection of Hayden Hill and Walkley Hill Roads directly across the street from the Thirty Mile Island Plantation Cemetery. In 1785 Middlesex County was created and Haddam and Middletown were designated as the county seats. Haddam had formally been part of Hartford County. Called half-shire towns, court was held in each town twice a year. In Haddam court sessions were held in April and September.
The first Courthouse, built in 1786, was a wooden building with town offices on the ground floor and a courtroom on the second floor. A new stone courthouse was erected in 1829 on the site. Haddam remained a half-shire town until the 1890s when Middletown became the sole county seat. The entire stone courthouse became the town hall and remained so until it burned to the ground in 1929. The stone retaining wall surrounding the green is said to be made up of stones salvaged from the courthouse. Today the green, which is owned by the town, features a memorial tablet commemorating the courthouse and a large plaque honoring Haddam's original proprietors.
Haddam Island State Park
Located in the center of the Connecticut River between Haddam Neck and Haddam, this 14 acre state park was originally known as Thirty Mile Island. The original name was derived by early settlers who mistakenly thought that the island was 30 miles from the mouth of the Connecticut River at Saybrook. The original name of the settlement was known as Thirty Mile Island Plantation and when the Native Americans sold the land to the English in May of 1662 they reserved certain areas for their use including the island and 40 acres at Pattaquonk (now Chester). By the end of the 18th century much of the island had been purchased by local Haddam residents from the descendants of the Native Americans. For many decades the island was one of the most valuable fishing stations on the river. In the 19th century two successful fishing companies operated from the island, one on the northern end and one on the southern end. Piers were constructed by sinking large amounts of stone which were brought across the river in the winter by oxen and piled on the ice. The island was also used for grazing cattle and growing corn.
Legend has it that some of Captain Kidd's treasure was buried on the island, although nothing has been found. The Island was used for many public and private events including fish fries and camping trips by the American Canoe Association. In the early 20th century many families would picnic here and on weekends young people of town would attend dances. It was such a popular place that a refreshment stand was open here for some time.
In 1944 the State of Connecticut purchased the island and it became Haddam Island State Park and is only accessible by water.