Coming Soon To Westport: The Wadsworth Arboretum?

Hartford has the Wadsworth Atheneum.

If Lou Mall has his way, Westport may soon have its own Wadsworth Arboretum.

The RTM member has asked our board of selectmen to rename 11.84 acres on Stony Brook Road “the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.”

The proposed Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum is called "Stony Brook property" on this Google Maps Earth view.

The proposed Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum is called “Stony Brook property” on this Google Maps Earth view.

According to Mall, in 1959 Wadsworth sold land on the  corner of Stony Brook and Woodside to the town — for $1. It was purchased for a school, which was never built.

This property, Mall says, “is a priceless gift to generations to come.”

In December 2013, nearby resident Dick Fincher wrote his RTM representatives about the property. He described damage done during a 2009 storm, and expressed concern about the town’s liability to anyone walking on the land. No action was taken, Mall says, due to a lack of funds.

In early spring 2014, 1st  Selectman Jim Marpe asked tree warden Bruce Lindsay to inspect the property. He applied for and received an urban forestry grant. The Planning and Zoning Commission then designated the area as open space. Fincher and neighbor John Howe cleaned up the property, saving a beautiful Norway maple tree.

Land near the proposed Wadsworth Arboretum.

Land near the proposed Wadsworth Arboretum.

Now, Mall says, the land needs a name.

Wadsworth was born in 1887  in New York, and died at her Kings Highway North home in 1962. (Her great-granddaughter, Sarah Cronquist, lives there today.) Wadsworth was a philanthropist, artist and sculptor, and widow of industrialist Dudley Wadsworth.

As founder and president of the Lillian Wadsworth Foundation, she contributed to the Mid-Fairfield County Museum — now called Earthplace — and donated 62 acres to it.

She was also active in the Westport Garden Club, Westport Library, Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities, the Connecticut Antiquarian and Landmark Society and New York Horticultural Society.

The land Mall hopes to name for Wadsworth is heavily wooded. Designated as “passive recreation” space, its location adjacent to Earthplace makes it attractive to nature lovers.

“We have an opportunity to make this parcel the blueprint for neighborhood and volunteer involvement of funding, building and maintaining open space in Westport,” Mall says. “We need to respond as Lillian did, with clear thought and vigorous action.”

(Hat tip: Doug Fincher)

11 responses to “Coming Soon To Westport: The Wadsworth Arboretum?

  1. Ray Abramson

    We live on Stony Brook and both drive and walk past the property multiple times a day.
    I laud the idea of naming the property, but renaming it as an Arboretum is ludicrous in its present state. The town has been a lousy caretaker. There are dead trees strewn about just over the tumbledown stone wall on Stony Brook, the roadside is overgrown and chock full of poison ivy, dead branches, and weeds. The “growth” in the property itself would be considered poor and of little value from an arboretum viewpoint, never having been trimmed or maintained and poor invasive species have been allowed to flourish.
    This property has essentially been abandoned by the town and it is an eyesore in our neighborhood. The Nature Center has a lease on the property and uses it solely as a buffer to their domain.
    The thought that “funds aren’t available” is also ridiculous. A few days of a town crew with chain saws and chippers would make the site so much more inviting and valuable. Cut the trees, chip them and move on – there has been a little activity up Woodside but it is still unsightly along Stony Brook.
    .
    So Lou, just because the town owns a property doesn’t mean we should give grandiose names to wastelands. You are FAR from the idea of an Arboretum on that site.
    And Jim, how about a little attention to our neck of the woods from the town?

  2. Julie Shapiro

    Great idea – make it family friendly with walking trails. Use the community’s great resources to create sculptures, interactive educational exhibits, and play structures – a huge nature park

  3. excellent idea. Wadsworth Park?

  4. Very nice work, Lou. Thank you for helping to turn this into the success story that it is now becoming. Also a special thank you to First Selectman Marpe for seeing past the neglect and recognizing the opportunity that this beautiful land offers for all Westporters. I’m aware that our Tree Warden has been supervising preliminary clean up work on the site by professional arborists and our P&Z is finalizing the appropriate open space zoning regs. It’s possible that the work done on this site may well become, in some ways, a model for how we approach the restoration of our other open spaces in the future.

  5. Megan Slingo

    Push for walking trails! I moved to Monroe and LOVE our two areas with wooded walking trails…we have Webb Mountain and Wolfe Park (open to non residents…worth the drive) Get the Boy/ Girl scouts involved. Many of the troops up here do service projects to mark trails, spring clearing etc.

  6. great idea coming from a great man! thanks Lou Mall!

  7. Jo Ann Davidson

    While we’re at it, let’s rename Baron’s South for someone or something, rather than von Langendorf, who never did a thing for Westport.
    Jo Ann Davidson

    • JoAnn, I’m pretty sure you didn’t really mean that to come out exactly the way it sounds. The von Langendorfs , as you must know, were ardent preservationists and conservationists who publically railed against inappropriate commercial development in their adopted town. It took them decades to assemble the all the various parcels of open space that presently make up Barons South – 22.75 acres of which grace the center of our downtown campus. But for the commitment of this couple, it is likely that the land in question would instead be heavily developed. Also, on a topical note, the Baron was a vocal defender of the Saugatuck Swing Truss Bridge during DOT’s 1968 unsuccessful attempt to replace Bridge Street (and the aforementioned bridge) with a four lane mini highway complete with cloverleaf off ramps running all the way to Saugatuck Ave. Like many long time Westporters, I’m grateful for the public spiritedness of the Langendorfs and, knowing how difficult it is to save any non-renewable resource (historic or otherwise) around here, greatly respect what they managed to achieve.

      • Wendy Crowther

        Well said, Morley. Having done considerable historical research on the lives of the Baron and Baroness, Lillian Wadsworth and also on the history of the Saugatuck Swing Bridge, I think the recent attention being paid to the history and renewal of these important properties and assets is terrific. Westport could have devolved into a very different place without the land that these former residents held dear. Let’s be grateful for their foresight and generosity.

  8. Jeffrey Adelglass

    Great article Dan! I’m a member of Boy Scout Troop 100 in Westport, and for my Eagle Scout project this Saturday and Sunday, I will be working on the Lillian Wadsworth trail. The project will consist of clearing 600 feet of walking trail at the Arboretum, and will be held from 10am to 4pm on both days this weekend. If anyone would like to help out, I would really appreciate it! Feel free to send me an email at jeffrey.adelglass@gmail.com if you have any questions.

    Thank you,

    Jeffrey Adelglass

  9. As chair of the Grounds Committee at Earthplace, I would like to respond to Ray Abramson’s comments. In the past year and a half, we have been very focused on improving all of the grounds that Earthplace oversees, both our own 62 acres and the town’s parcel. Recognizing the need to improve our stewardship, we had a Land Management and Conservation Assessment completed and are working on implementing its recommendations. Fortunately for us, this work has coincided with a renewed interest in the town-owned parcel by our elected officials and the capable tree warden Bruce Lindsay. I would invite neighbors and the public to look beyond the edges (which admittedly still need some attention) to the work that has been done to clean up the interior of the Stony Brook property. We have already identified some valuable native specimens, such as a stand of young Pepperidge trees, and as the work continues I’m sure we will find other buried treasures waiting to be liberated. The development of the arboretum is a long-term, multi-phase project, and requires an investment of time as well as effort. I urge neighbors and other residents to have patience.