Nestled between the tranquil Still River that runs into the Housatonic River and Lovers Leap State Park sits a 48-acre paradise that many townspeople call “a little slice of heaven.”
While driving up the long, narrow entrance road leading into the heart of Harrybrooke Park, at 100 Still River Road, one can see it’s a majestic and peaceful place.
Along the first quarter-mile path, mature trees – like sycamores, red maples and white pines – grace the property. To the right, a winding river and the first of three breathtaking waterfalls.
Farther up are two large pavilions, a pond with two fountains and inviting picnic areas.
Park benches line a large open space near the three-quarter mile trail – ideal for leisurely walks, biking and jogging.
Harrybrooke is home to two Red Tail Hawk families, and 100-year-old turtles relax near the water. Foxes, rabbits, deer and herons are in abundance.
Open year-round, Harrybrooke Park attracts over 2,000 visitors on a warm, sunny day.
However, the “precious gem within this gem,” is an expansive, early 1940s Cabana-style mansion that overlooks the rushing waterfall rapids.
Frank Acheson Harden, a wealthy industrialist – built with his father – “the world’s largest Irish linen and handkerchief factory in New Jersey.”
He chose the property because of the waterfalls that reminded him of the 1,400-acre family estate in Northern Ireland called, “Harrybrook.”
The mansion, built by H&H Taylor and Sons (1941 to 1943), was designed as a country weekend home for his wife, Elizabeth Geraghty Harden.
The couple exchanged vows on top of the hill, near the pavilion, on June 15, 1943.
Having no children of their own, Frank Harden set up a private non-profit and “gave the greatest gift the town has ever received,” said state rep Bill Buckbee, R-New Milford, the park’s executive director.
“When Frank passed in 1965, one year after Elizabeth, he left the estate ‘to the people of the Town of New Milford.’ This was such an unbelievably philanthropic thought and ties into the sense of giving and generosity,” he added.
Buckbee, who lives on the property in a small apartment, gives guided tours and a history lesson. “So much of the history has been forgotten or never learned. To me, it’s fascinating to piece it all together. I think we owe it to Frank and Elizabeth Harden to know their story.”
The maid and butler’s son, a great nephew and a great niece shared stories with Buckbee, who’s writing a book. “Frank was smart as a whip and didn’t flash his cash. He was very politically savvy and business savvy, too. He had dry Irish whit and was very devoted to family. He once said, ‘you don’t need a college degree. If you have drive and common sense, you’ll go far.’ He did.”
Frank Harden was a confirmed bachelor, so many people thought. “Elizabeth tamed him. She was a beauty and modeled for Bergdorf-Goodman. Her upbringing was modest, and she loved children. They were inseparable,” added Buckbee.
Time stands still inside the romantic couple’s elegant estate and it feels like they were just there.
All of the furnishings and valuable collections are original to the home.
The library holds a treasure-trove of books, including a first edition of Gone with the Wind. A stunning oil painting of Elizabeth Harden appears at the mantel’s center, and family portraits hang on every wall.
Imagine the couple intimately entertaining famous local friends like Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, who lived in Roxbury, and New York City society.
The grand parlor showcases amazing works of art, like a James Gale Tyler (1855 – 1931) painting of a clipper ship as the centerpiece. There are over 130 paintings in the collection.
A Waterford crystal chandelier, one of three in the home, glistens in the stylish dining room. Sparkling ruby and cranberry glass from Ireland and Paris were used daily at mealtimes.
The inviting sunroom, overlooking the waterfall, was the couple’s favorite room. Mr. Harden always enjoyed smoking a good cigar or pipe in his favorite chair.
All of the rooms are filled with personal belongings like Mr. Harden’s collection of shaving mugs, radios, and LL Bean “Duck Hunter” pants.
Mrs. Harden enjoyed collecting figurines and had a fondness for portrait paintings of children and ordinary people.
Frank Harden set up a trust that a small board of managers oversee, worth $14 million today. It takes $600,000 a year to run Harrybrooke. Grants and donations pay for major repairs.
Approximately 300 volunteers dedicate over 10,000 community service hours a year, and there are four employees.
Weddings and large public events are growth areas. “The money goes back into the park. We also organize several other events with other local non-profits,” shared Buckbee.
As for what’s new, “Mr. and Mrs. Harden loved birds of all kinds. We haven’t had peacocks here in 30 years. We just brought them back,” he said.
A new kayak launch on Still River will also open this summer.
SAVE THE DATE
June 16: 1st Annual “Who’s Your Daddy?” Grilling Competition, 11 a.m. start time
July 20: 3rd Annual “Hog Wild Hustle” – a 21-obstacle course throughout the park, 10 a.m. start time
July 28: 3rd Annual “The Big Jeep Thing” – a car show and mud pit rock garden, 10 a.m. start time
For upcoming art shows and wine, beer and scotch tastings visit: www.HarrybrookePark.org
HOURS OF OPERATION
The park is open 365 days a year, “from sun up to sun down.” The Harden Home is open “by appointment or by chance.”
This feature by Alicia Sakal originally appeared in the May 26, 2019 Summer Lifestyles seasonal magazine for Republican-American. This daily regional newspaper covers 36 towns and cities in Litchfield County and Greater Waterbury, Connecticut.
Photos: Alicia Sakal / Map: Contributed