Hyde Park - Riverside Section
Stafford Springs, CT
Take a leisurely stroll in Stafford's Hyde Park. This one-mile walk is around the park's riverside section in a hidden green valley next to downtown Stafford Springs. Visit the historic mineral springs and walk along Middle River just upstream of where it joins Furnace Brook at the headwaters of the Willimantic River.
From the south: Follow Route 32 (Main Street) as it crosses the railroad tracks and turns left around the Holt Fountain. In 500 feet, turn left onto Spring Street, which immediately crosses an arched bridge over the Middle River. The park entrance is the first driveway on the right between stone walls. Park on the left behind the Stafford Historical Society's museum.
See Headwaters Map
A good place to start is the at the Historical Society's Museum, which is open on the second Sunday of the month (except in July and August, when it is open on Thursdays) between 2 and 4 p.m. The museum's Hyde Park exhibit includes photos of the park 100 years ago. Other exhibits illustrate the history of the mineral springs resort. Walk to the area between the museum and the adjacent church, where you will find one of the two mineral springs. "Iron water" flows out of the base of a stone shelter. The "sulfur spring" is next to stone steps behind the baseball diamond. It is currently under restoration.
These springs originally flowed out of the hill and across the park's level field to the Middle River. The Nipmuck tribe visited the springs, which reportedly "made them lively." In the 1700's, colonists began traveling there for medical cures, including John Adams in 1771 (before he was elected President in 1796). This became America's first "health spa" with grand hotels to accommodate visitors. The Converse family owned a hotel and both springs from the mid-1800's until the early 1900's. They also sold bottled spring water, which was advertised as a cure for various ills. (The museum is in the former Converse office and bottling plant.) Eventually, the spring water and soda business moved to wells on West Street, so now the springs are part of the park.
1878 Map of Hyde Park Area - Enlarge Map, 330k
Stroll Along Middle River
At Hyde Park's entrance, a stone monument honors Civil War soldiers. Walk past this to the bank of the Middle River, which is ponded behind a dam downstream. In summer, perennial flower gardens bloom along the fence. Stone walls guide the flow of the river past a mill on the opposite shore. In 1839 the Converse family built a water-powered mill there to manufacture wool cloth. The family's stately home was on the hill at the far end of the park (shown on the 1878 map). Today you can see a brick building (the former Stafford High School and middle school), where the house stood until it burned down in 1929.
In the 1800's, the park was part of the Converse estate, known as "Woodlawn." Julius Converse rode in his carriage along paths that led down the hill, across the field and over the river to his mill (see 1878 map). Look for the old bridge pier still standing mid-river. The Converse mill burned in 1911 and was replaced in 1916 by the brick mill you now see across the river. It currently houses the American Sleeve Bearing Company.
The town purchased the 150-acre "Woodlawn" property in 1911 with funds given to the town by Isaac Perkins Hyde, and it became Hyde Park. Then the sulfur springs were given shelter and a pump, and the first baseball diamond was installed.
To continue this walk, follow the riverbank past the ball fields and tennis court. The river runs noisily over stones in this section. At the bridge, turn left onto the road (Highland Terrace, formerly Highland Avenue) and walk up to the school building, passing the Hyde Park Duck Pond. At the parking lot across from the school is the entrance to Woodlawn Trail, which leads uphill to the ridgetop section of Hyde Park with views of the Willimantic River valley.
Walk around the former school to enjoy a view of lower Hyde Park and the river. One can imagine the Converse family sitting on their porch and looking out over the valley and river. From the school you can take the high road or the low road back to the museum. The low road (Hyde Park Road) follows the former Converse Avenue along the base of the hill past the sulfur spring and baseball diamonds. The high road is a steep climb up the Highland Terrace road, which is lined with homes dating from the 1800's and early 1900's. This road gradually descends past the church and iron spring to the museum.
Thanks to Isabell Zabilansky and the Stafford Historical Society for their assistance.
Top photo: V. Wetherell. Map of "Woodlawn" is part of an 1878 map of Stafford by O.H. Bailey & Co., courtesy of the Stafford Historical Society.
This Willimantic River Greenway Parks and Trails Guide was produced by the Willimantic River Alliance and WINCOG. Information in this guide reflects conditions and features as of Spring, 2008. Since conditions change over time, the Alliance is not responsible for changes at this site. This guide was funded with support from the The Last Green Valley (formerly known as the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor, Inc.).