Monday, May 09, 2011

Fulton Park Greenhouse

First, some background:

The Lewis Fulton Memorial Park was donated to the City of Waterbury in the 1920s. The land was purchased by Fulton's parents in 1919. His father, William E. Fulton, was president of Waterbury Farrel Foundry and Machine Co. and lived at 150 Hillside Avenue.

Lewis Edwards Fulton died in 1917 at the age of 38. He had been the treasurer at Waterbury Farrel until 1913, when his brother took over. According to his obituary, published in the 1917-1918 Obituary Record of Yale Graduates, Lewis Fulton suffered from a debilitating illness which forced him to resign from the family business (Waterbury Farrel). From 1913 until his death in 1917, he lived with and was cared for by his parents.

I have not found any specific information about the disease Fulton suffered from--back then, it was terribly impolite to discuss something as personal and as unpleasant as a fatal illness. Today, of course, we know that fostering awareness goes a long way toward fighting diseases, and can help improve the quality of life for people suffering from health problems. What a testament, however, to the love of parents for their child, that Lewis Fulton's father paid for such a beautiful public memorial to his long-suffering son.

The park's Registration Form with the National Register of Historic Places is available online in PDF format, and the supporting images are also online in PDF format (large file, about 6 MB).

The Olmsted connection to Waterbury goes back to the 1840s. Frederick Law Olmsted, who eventually became the famous landscape architect, was a close friend of Frederick J. Kingsbury, whom he met while they were both students at Yale. Kingsbury later married into the Scovill family and became president of Scovill Manufacturing. Thanks to the connection with Kingsbury, Frederick Law Olmsted came to Waterbury in 1845 to study agriculture on the farm of Joseph Welton.

In the 20th century, Olmsted's sons took on many projects in Waterbury, including Fulton Park. They also designed Library Park with Cass Gilbert in the 1920s and numerous other parks and private properties.

The finding aid to the Olmsted Associates papers in the Library of Congress lists the "Waterbury Common" as a 1906 job. Other listed jobs and correspondence in Waterbury include William H. White (1917), Chase Companies (1919-20), Chase Park for Frederick S. Chase (1919-1921), Library Park (1919-1949), Henry L. Wade and J. S. Dye (1920), Waterbury Hospital (1920), Edward O. Goss (1920), Fulton Park (1920-24), Hayden Homestead Park for Mrs. William S. (Rose Hayden) Fulton (1920-21),  Fairmount Subdivision for Chase Companies (1920-21), North Main Street project for Chase Companies (1921), Charles H. Brown (1921), Frederick S. Chase's burial lot at Riverside Cemetery (1921-23), A. C. Swenson (1924-29), Bartow Heminway (1926-46), Church of the Immaculate Conception (1928), H.S. Coe (1928-1937), First Congregational Church (1928), Country Club Homes, Inc. for Charles Sherwood (1929), Richardson Bronson (1929-30), I. W. Day (1930-1950), Calvary Cemetery (1932-33), Bunker Hill Improvement Association (1944-45). I have no idea if all those projects were completed. In addition, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. designed the WWI federal housing project on Laval, Lounsbury, Welles and Madison Streets.

Now, the greenhouse:

A former and hopefully future gem of Fulton Park is the greenhouse. Just as the City Hall building was allowed to deteriorate over the years, the greenhouse has been neglected. More than neglected. It's completely abandoned.

A greenhouse like this could be a tremendous asset to the city. It could even generate revenue--many greenhouses have flower shows in the middle of winter and they are always very popular. The greenhouse could also be used to grow plants for sale to help support the care and maintenance of the park. At this point, however, the greenhouse is unusable.

Many people are upset that the city has allowed the greenhouse to fall apart, but as I am learning, this is pretty typical for how the city has operated for many years. The city infrastructure is falling apart everywhere. Sidewalks are crumbling apart, buildings are falling apart, and the city has no program in place for keeping things from falling apart.

The city is dependent upon state and federal funding for repairing things when they fall so far apart they can no longer be used. Funding has come in for the greenhouse--it has yet to be used for the greenhouse.

The state Bond Commission approved $250,000 specifically for the greenhouse in 2008, adding to $150,000 secured by State Senator Joan Hartley a few years earlier.  Going back further, in 2004 Waterbury received $350,000 from the state to renovate the greenhouse as well as finish some repairs to Hamilton Park's basketball and tennis courts, swimming pool and baseball field (Rep-Am, January 31, 2004). That's close to half a million dollars of state money that has been funneled to Waterbury for a project that has yet to happen.

William Fulton created a trust fund for Fulton Park in May 1923. Following his death in 1930, the fund was given to the city, at which point it was estimated to be worth about a quarter of a million dollars. If that fund had been well managed over the decades since then, it would be quite sizable, generating more than enough money to keep up Fulton Park. I don't know anything about what has happened to the fund since 1930, but I suspect there's not much left. Finding out what happened to it could be very interesting.

The brick house in front is a lovely building and looks like it's structurally sound and relatively easy to fix up. There is a matching brick structure at the opposite end of the greenhouse. The architectural details are refined and complex, the sort of thing you don't see in modern buildings.

The greenhouse sits on a rustic stone foundation that looks very much like the other Olmsted-designed buildings in the park. The cinder blocks on top of the foundation look like something that would make the Olmsteds scream in horror. As you can see from the photo below, there's also a doorway that's been filled in with cinder blocks.

The framework of the greenhouse is rotted out and most of the glass is broken (be careful walking next to the building, the ground is layered in broken glass hiding in the grass).

The interior looks like something from a horror movie about a haunted house.

Below is a detail showing the name of the greenhouse's manufacturer, the American Greenhouse Mfg. Co. of Chicago. They were very active around 1920, when Fulton Park was being built.

The American Greenhouse Manufacturing Co. advertisement from the September 1919 issue of House and Garden magazine, and another of their ads from the August 1919 issue of Garden and Home Builder magazine, show greenhouses very similar to the one at Fulton Park. 

This suggests that at least part of the greenhouse is original. It's not impossible for there to have been cinder blocks originally. I can't tell from the ads how the AGMCo greenhouse foundations were constructed.

The next photo shows part of an addition to the brick building in the back of the greenhouse. On the right of the image you can see the cinder block addition, possibly from the 1950s.

Here's another shot of the addition, showing its very faded NFPA Diamond hazard signage.

The Connecticut Post ran an article by Ken Dixon about the state's growing deficit on February 21, 2010, criticizing the state funding of projects like the Fulton Park greenhouse. Dixon wrote "How about the new $250,000 greenhouses at Waterbury's Fulton Park? Some of those geraniums are yours." Imagine what he might have written had he known that the figure is over $400,000 and none of it has been spent on the greenhouse.


Anonymous said...

Get ready for the big excuse that bureaucrats cling to when they need to justify destroying an historic building: asbestos and lead paint. It will be something like: "We always wanted to restore the greenhouse and attached brick building, but there is asbestos and lead paint everywhere, so it makes more economic sense to just destroy it." Of course, this applies to EVERY historic structure and can be remediated as part of a restoration as happens constantly in every city in the country, but it is a very convenient excuse when the administration would rather just not deal with the responsibility of preservation. It is far easier to destroy than to rehabilitate, and the "safety" issue is a convenient rock to hide under.

Anonymous said...

I remember when I heard that Rep. Noujaim and Joan Hartley had received funds to fix that extraordinarily wonderful city asset. I was so excited because they were using that greenhousein part) not that long ago.
What I can NEVER figure out in this city filled with wonderful, caring people, is that our government leaders never have a vision, never have a plan and NEVER understand the value of preservation and maintenance.
They all just seem to understand--grab the dollars where you can and use them to make the numbers look better than they are. That seems to be a tradition among all of the mayor's that have led the city in my memory.
Our city is so filled with wonderful history(that which wasn't knocked down until WATCH was formed).
I am so impressed that so many more citizens are becoming caring, involved people.
It seems to be up to us to help our "public servants" become just that, so we can get to the business of preserving our wonderful city.
Now, if we can all get together with the hundreds of us that do something positive, our power could do just that.

Litchfield Jen9 said...

This is Sosa to read about. I lived on Byrneside Avenue for two years while I was in college in the early 90's and I loved walking through Fulton Park on quiet mornings. I was encouraged to see the tennis courts received fresh nets a few years and many young athletes using the courts one sunny Spring afternoon. Mayor Neil O'Leary has made blight a major platform for his administration - hopefully park maintenance and restoration can be a part of that. As for the secured funding - it's got to be somewhere for crying out loud?! What an amazing thesis project for a team of UCONN horticultural students or Eagle Scouts over a few years...find that $ and just get it done!!

shutterbroke said...

Thank you for the info. As someone who takes a lot of pictures around Waterbury and surrounding areas I appreciate the tidbits of history that you have provided.

Steve Crane said...

I sincerely thank you for your efforts in your research and writings. My Family resided on Greenwood Avenue for over 75 years until my Father's passing in 2017. How fortunate we were to have known Fulton Park at its glory. I do thank the current FRIENDS OF FULTON PARK for their restoration efforts.