(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Spring 2003
With its pagoda, moon bridge, and Italian shrine, Wickham Park is an unexpected destination tucked away in Manchester. The park’s beautifully landscaped 250 acres provide a restful venue for the enjoyment of nature.
Originally the estate of industrialist Clarence Wickham (1860 – 1945) and his wife Edith (1872 – 1960), the park has an international flair and attention to ornamentation, including the English, Irish, and Scottish gardens and the Oriental Garden which has been updated and modified to its current seven acres. It houses distinct structures such as the Torri Gateway, a teahouse, and the arched Moon Bridge. Another feature is the centrally located Lotus Garden, which is home to a pagoda, pond, and fountains. The other two gardens, the Italian Shrine and Cabin gardens, also have their own distinct plantings and features. Other attractions at Wickham Park include woodlands, open fields, ponds, picnic areas, and sports facilities. Many residents come to learn of Wickham Park through its annual cross-country events for high school and college athletes.
The park’s uniqueness can be traced to the lifestyle of Clarence and Edith Wickham. Clarence came from a Connecticut family whose roots traced back to Puritan settler Thomas Wickham. Clarence’s father, Horace Wickham, was responsible for a veritable envelope revolution with his invention of a new stamping machine. Henry Stiles in the second volume of A History of Ancient Wethersfield declared Horace’s invention to be “fully as remarkable and important as that of the cotton gin and the spinning jenny.” This machine made stamped envelopes so inexpensively that Horace’s company, Plimpton Manufacturing, was able to hold the government contract for 33 years. Among their many innovations was a feature we take for granted today, the clear partition in front of the “window” envelope.
The characteristic Asian themes in the park relates to the Wickhams’ connection to China. During the time when Clarence was a student of Hartford Public High School, groups of students were sent by the Imperial Chinese Government to be educated there and at Yale. Years later, Clarence and Edith visited former schoolmates in China, where several of them had since achieved prominence.
The Wickhams had cultivated their 130-acre estate, known as the Pines, with the intention of leaving it as a park for the public when they died. The land was left as a privately owned trust maintained by the Hartford National Bank. Wickham Park was opened on July 1, 1961, a year after Edith died. Wickham Park is open to the public from the first weekend in April through the last weekend in October. It is located at 1329 West Middle Turnpike in Manchester. There is a nominal per-car fee for entry to the grounds. Hours of operation and other information are listed on the website www.wickhampark.org or call 860-528-0586.
Maureen Welch was a senior at Trinity College in Hartford and the design editor for the college’s student magazine, The Other Voice. She was an intern at the Hog River Journal.
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