Pope Park was donated to the city of Hartford by Colonel Albert Pope for his employees and city residents to enjoy games, walking and out-of-door activities. Colonel Pope was the head of the Pope Manufacturing Company, which manufactured bicycles and automobiles, including the well-known Columbia bicycle.
The park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in 1898, and originally consisted of 90.5 acres. In its original form the park had three separate sections. Its western boundary was defined by the southern branch of the Park River, which today runs underground beneath the park. The southern section, then known as Hollowmead, was the largest, consisting of 73 acres. The second section was the Bankside Grove, 13 acres laid out along the Park River. The third and smallest section was only 4 acres and was separated from Bankside Grove by Park Terrace.
Pope Park was deeded to the City of Hartford by the Pope family in 1895 “for park purposes only”, and was designed by Olmsted firm as an example of the best that a park can contribute to the neighborhood. Up to this day, the land is being utilized for a public park. The Park has athletic fields, a recreation center, a pond, and various other components that the surrounding community enjoys.
Unfortunately, the last half century has seen a gradual decline of this valuable neighborhood resource. Preserving and restoring the park is an essential component to the area’s revitalization.
Although the integrity of the Olmsted plan is still evident in the Pope Park of today, many elements integral to the original design have disappeared. Updates for modern uses have violated some of the basic design elements. Intrusions by roads, increased volume of vehicular traffic and a lack of formal parking spaces has degraded the health of the lawn.
The Hartford Parks Master Plan, prepared in 1992 by the City of Hartford, addressed the need “for wise stewardship of all parks” and made recommendations for improvements in thirty-two city parks.
In 2000, Friends of Pope Park, the Pope Hartford Designated Fund and the Knox Parks Foundation began the collaborative work to create a Pope Park Master Plan which would provide a vision from which to orient all restoration and enhancement efforts.
The Pope Park Master Plan was developed in 2002 by landscape architect Carol R. Johnson and Associates working with park neighbors, the Friends of Pope Park, public meetings, user surveys and historic research. It reflects a thorough examination of the existing conditions and historic elements. Current uses and desired uses are described, and potential park improvement areas are noted. The Master Plan Report described the costs of the plan, the potential funding sources and the ability to construct the project over a 3 or 10 year time period.
Since that time four phases of rehabilitation and reconstruction have been completed in the park, with $4.8 million of funds from public, city, state, and private sources. Plans continue for next phases of work.