Harrybrooke Park basks in a unique history
Published 9:30 pm, Thursday, July 23, 2015
Harrybrooke Park wouldn’t be the gem it is today in New Milford if it weren’t for the vision and foresight of Frank Harden.
As a child, he was sent to live with his grandparents in Ireland. He returned to the U.S. as an adult to take over the family business — a large linen and handkerchief factory in New Jersey.
In coming to the states, he sought a place that resembled his Irish hometown.
A wide search brought him to New Milford, where he discovered the Still River and surrounding acreage that evoked childhood memories.
The land was swampy, but he had fill brought in, had mature trees planted, and, beginning in 1942, had constructed a 4,340-square-foot home that overlooks a picturesque bend in the river, as well as other buildings on the property.
In total, 8,784 square feet make up the buildings that were completed within the year.
Elizbabeth died in 1964 of cancer, followed by Harden the following year.
In his will, Harden left the house and grounds to be used by New Milford and other surrounding communities, asking a three-member board of managers operate the site.
He left $1 million in a trust fund.
Unfortunately, in the years that followed Harden’s death, the board of managers struggled to keep things afloat.
Due to the economic challenges of the 1970s and some mishandling of funds by the bank in control of the trust at that time, the park started to fall on hard times.
Unfortunately, staff had to be let go, utilities were turned off and maintenance was neglected.
By 2008, the board of managers realized changes had to be made; otherwise, the park might be closed due to shortage of funds.
The board reached out to the community for assistance, leading to the formation of the Friends of Harrybrooke, a separate entity not affiliated with the board of managers.
One of the first fundraisers was the popular and “very successful” Pumpkins in the Park, recalled Bill Deak, chairman of the Board of Managers, who cited how proceeds helped keep the park open.
Since 2011, funds have been better invested, Deak said.
Additionally, reassessment of the trust’s account revealed the park was owed money it had not yet been awarded. Once that money was in the bank, a portion of the found funds was invested in road repairs at the park, Deak said.
Day by day operations of the park “are on the edge,” he said. Money received from the bank is not enough to cover everything.
“The board realizes we have to have fundraisers as well as look for grants and donations to meet the expenses,” Deak said, “and have some extra so we can continue to improve the park."
The house, which was neglected for many years, has been restored. Everything in the museum is close to as Harden and his wife left it.
The four-bedroom house is unique. Each bedroom has three walls of windows; a solid door, as well as a louvered door that was used for cross-ventilation; and its own bathroom, unusual for the 1940s.
Every room had a call button. A sprinkler system runs throughout the house. The master bedroom has a walk-in shower, which was very rare at the time, and a sauna.
The park is listed on the State Registry of Historic Places.