By Melica Bloom
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Summer 2019
What does your backyard mean to you? Is it a place where you relax, entertain, play, and cook? Have you ever thought about why or when backyards became a “thing?” Connecticans have experienced the joy of their backyards in many forms for many generations—and continue to do so!
The Connecticut Historical Society recently hosted the traveling exhibition Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyardfrom the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The exhibition explores the birth of the suburban backyard in America. The backyard as we know it emerged in the mid-20thcentury, a byproduct of many factors such aspostwar peace, the growing middleclass, a rise in homeownership, the baby boom, and ado-it-yourself attitude. Construction of residential developments spiked during the middle of the century, and in those developments patios replaced front porches as places to relax and the backyard became an extension of the home. Time for leisure and the desire for privacy became affordable realities for many families, and the backyard provided the perfect space away from the street. Outdoor living became a trend, and glossy magazines promoted new, modern designs for backyards across the country—marketing the hottest new furniture and supplies, promoting DIY home improvements, and advertising ways in which to maintain lush, manicured lawns and gardens.
Connecticans are resilient and use their backyards in all seasons. Leaf piles in the fall become a place for children to play, and snow transforms backyard hills into personal amusement parks.
When land, resources, and income are limited, real-life backyards often look very different than those pictured in magazines. Many residents of Connecticut are fortunate to have the resources and the space to create a model backyard for their family to enjoy, but a private backyard oasis is not a reality for everyone. Hartford and other large Connecticut cities are home to several low-income housing developments, and shared public space is the place where residents play, eat, relax, and socialize. Those who cannot afford the luxury of a private backyard oasis look to shared community spaces to fill the backyard void.
The story of the Connecticut backyard is ongoing. It’s a story of diverse experiences that traverse seasons, generations, and town lines. The backyard is revered as a special place that ignites creativity, fosters comradery, cultivates gastronomical invention, and defines the American tradition in many ways. Photographs from the Connecticut Historical Society’s collection and photos submitted by individuals from across the state help tell this story.
Melica Bloom is an exhibit developer at the Connecticut Historical Society.