Article Series: 2/12
“The City Beautiful Movement Comes to Bristol”
Little did the first settlers of our community recognize that the grist mill area they were using as the lifeblood of a developing community, would become the gateway of the Memorial Boulevard as proposed by Albert F. Rockwell.
In 1919, Albert F. Rockwell offered the City of Bristol twelve acres of land on South Street for the construction of a new high school, athletic fields and tennis courts. He designated that he would also donate fifty percent of the construction costs of the high school. This area, formerly owned by Edward B. Dunbar, was the site of the former Dunbar Meadow, Bristol’s first golf course. With the advent and popularity of golf in the community, Dunbar had constructed, a three-hole 150-yard course on the land. While this was sufficient to begin with, the small golf course would soon be replaced with two nine-hole courses, making this land available to Rockwell for purchase. In 1901, land was leased on South Mountain from dairy farmer James L. Wilcox, and a small nine-hole course was laid out and a small club house built on the Clover Hill Farm. As interest in golf grew, it was evident that a longer course with better accessibility was desirable. In 1903, the Bristol Golf Grounds near the “Y” at the intersection of Pine and Middle Streets was built. A full length nine-hole course, as well as a larger club house was constructed. This would not only provide golfing opportunities, but also club house social activities for both women and men.
Similar to his land donation in 1914 for a public park, later named Rockwell Park in his honor, Rockwell stipulated that the city needed to make a public commitment to match his contribution. He had given additional funding for the park, with the city being financially obligated for eight years for its development and maintenance.
This time, he required that the city purchase the land bordering the new school on the northern side, starting at Main Street’s business center and extending to Mellen Street. The city would also be responsible for building a Mellen Street Bridge across the Pequabuck and also for extending Mellen Street to South Street. The City of Bristol would also be responsible for half of the high school construction expenditures.
Rockwell had been strongly influenced by both the Beaux-Arts European beautification style and “The City Beautiful Movement” initiated at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Both stressed ornamental landscape design, aesthetic physical design and wide grand avenues.
He envisioned a stately one-hundred-foot-wide boulevard, south of the Pequabuck River, extending from Main to Mellen Street. The construction would require that the Pequabuck riverbed be moved further north. Two lanes of traffic moving west-bound and east-bound, would be separated by a grass medium ornamented with flowers, shrubs and trees. A park-like setting would adorn each side of the boulevard.
John Nolen, a renowned American landscape architect and city planner from Cambridge, Massachusetts previously had been contracted by the Bristol City Planning Commission to study the community and make recommendations for its structural improvement. Nolen did not agree with Rockwell’s concept stating that the boulevard would cut up the parkland into sections that were too small. He also objected to the new high school being so removed from his proposed Bristol Common area, the focal point of the city. Nolen planned to locate this area at the southern end of Main Street. There were also objections expressed, by city residents and political figures, regarding the required finances.
People recognized that Rockwell possessed both the influence and finances to bring his concept to fruition. He was willing to “put his money where his mouth was”! A public referendum in 1919 accepted Rockwell’s proposal with the caveat that the boulevard be extended to the intersection of Riverside Avenue. Rockwell, once again, agreed to pay all costs exceeding $50,000 for this extension. Rockwell supervised the construction of both the boulevard and high school, to assure tight cost controls.
Conflict arose again in 1921, when the purchase of additional land adjacent to the boulevard was proposed. This land was to be utilized as a park area. The financing behind this purchase became a hotly contested issue during the mayoral election that year. Rockwell, once again, said he would defray all cost overages connected with buying this land. Through public referendum the motion was approved.
The construction from Main to Mellen Street had been completed by March 1920 with the extension to Riverside Avenue finished by May of the same year. After lights were installed and other finishing touches completed, the majestic boulevard, 4,400 feet long and 100 feet wide was opened for traffic. It was dedicated as the Memorial Boulevard on Armistice Day, November 11, 1921 in honor of the veterans of World War I.
Pin oak trees, financed by Albert F. Rockwell, were planted in 1922 on both sides of the boulevard to honor each Bristol resident, who had died in the service of his country. On Armistice Day, 1968 a commemorate oak tree was planted and a monument and plaque installed to honor Albert F. Rockwell for his previous contributions of oak trees that recognized the city residents, who made the supreme sacrifice during World War I.
In 1932, through the Public Works Administration, laurel bushes were planted along Memorial Boulevard for its beautification.
After much investment of his time and money, Rockwell’s vision for a stately boulevard in Bristol had become a reality.