The Elizabeth Park Conservancy was formed in 1977, as the Friends of Elizabeth Park, by a small group of dedicated neighbors, both urban and suburban, to save the historic rose garden from almost certain demolition. After 35 years of preserving and maintaining, restoring and protecting, not only the rose garden, but also all gardens, grounds and buildings, the organization changed its name to the Elizabeth Park Conservancy. This name change reflects their mission and stewardship of this great park.
Elizabeth Park opened to the public in the spring of 1897, and is home to America’s oldest public rose garden. In 1894, Charles Pond donated his estate to the City of Hartford to be named a public park in honor of his wife, Elizabeth. By the mid-1970s, the rose garden had fallen into disrepair, and the City of Hartford could not allocate funds to sustain it.
Once the rose garden was restored, the Conservancy’s mission expanded to include the whole park, the gardens, the grounds, and the structures. Working together, the City of Hartford park department and the Conservancy maintain the gardens and grounds, plan improvements and renovations, and are a model of community group and municipality collaboration.
Once the rose garden was on a path to success, the Conservancy began to restore and maintain other gardens, renovate buildings and the greenhouses, and take on more responsibility as leaders in the park. In addition to the Rose Garden, the Conservancy oversees the maintenance of the Annual and Tulip garden, the Shade-Rock garden, the Perennial Garden, the Heritage Rose Garden, and Sunrise Overlook.
The Conservancy recruits and manages hundreds of volunteers to work in the gardens and grounds of the park, and hires and manages key gardening personnel, contractors, and summer gardeners. The Conservancy links with Connecticut Horticultural groups, garden clubs, corporate and community service organizations, and students from high schools and local colleges.
The Conservancy hosts events and educational programs for the public such as Rose Weekend to celebrate the park and the community with music, tours, and family activities. They organize a free Summer Concert Series, hold plant sales, gardening lecture series and workshops, and organize tours for the public such as garden tours, history tours, and tree tours.
The Elizabeth Park Conservancy has been supported by many foundations and trusts over the years for capital improvements, free public events, operating funds, and staffing. A partial list includes the Ethel F. Donaghue Foundation, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the Greater Hartford Arts Council, the John G. Martin Foundation, the Richard P. Garmany Fund, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Elizabeth W. Stedman Fund for Elizabeth Park, the CT Trust for Historic Preservation, CT Commission on Culture and Tourism, the Ensworth Charitable Foundation, the George and Grace Long Foundation, the Evelyn Preston Fund, and the Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation.
In 1983, Elizabeth Park was awarded the National Register of Historic Places, a huge honor for the Conservancy, the park, and the City of Hartford. The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of historic properties recognized by the Federal Government’s National Park Service as worthy of preservation for their significance in American history, architecture, and culture.