Straight from the Source

The Proposed Park

After hearing and reading some conflicting accounts of what Horace Bushnell had in mind for Hartford’s future park, I searched for the editorial which appeared in the Hartford Courant after Bushnell made his proposal to the City Council, as mentioned by our tour guide today.  I found comfort in discovering that perhaps Bushnell’s idea was founded on some noble causes and not just opportunistic business and political reasons.  His proposal may not be my idea of a relaxing day at the park, but it appears that Bushnell might have had his heart in the right place.

I’ve attached a PDF of the editorial which spells out the proposal to the Common Council, which includes the following:

“We want an open ground…a ground as centrally located as possible where it will add an air of culture and ornament to the city…a place where children will play and the poor invalid will go breathe the freshness of nature…where and high and low, rich and poor will exchange looks and make acquaintance through the eyes; an outdoor parlor opened for cultivation and good manners and a right social feeling. It must be a place of life and motion that will make us completely conscious of being one people.”

By the way, it’s amazing what you can find by searching through the Hartford Courant files.  I had some fun with it (I know, get a life).

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2 responses to “Straight from the Source

  • jschristie

    Somewhere along the way, we will need a course in Hartford’s religious stuff from congregationalist traditions to the evangelical abolitionists we heard about today and how they differed from the radical abolitionists like Garrison. Slavery was a sin and you had to stop and repent immediately, as opposed to the idea that slavery was immoral and needed to be ended because it was wrong. Maybe the two are the same in the end, but the motives for the change seem either fervently religious or radically political. The connections between the various attitudes toward faith and spirituality surely shaped how the many Preachers and Politicians thought about everything, from the use of nature and parks to the Civil War. Maybe we should just trace the churches – those still around and those now gone like James Pennington’s on Talcott – from Charter Oak to the Greek Orthodox church where we met for the Greek festival on friday night. But I’m not talking about a need for a course in comparative religions – much as I myself need one. I mean rather a synopsis of the religious trends that seem so important in why people did things as opposed to other things and how decisions were made in the city of Hartford.

    When Bushnell talks about the “outdoor” parlor and how Hartford needed a natural place, he is certainly echoing the ideas of Emerson. His central emphasis is on the family and the safety of a peaceful green land – an archetypal garden even. As our guide yesterday said he was a friend of Emerson, similar probably in his thinking. The connection is maybe a sort of shared attitude toward spirituality and the belief that nature is the entrance or mirror of a higher state: the transcendentalists’ notions. I have read nothing of Bushnell;s writing, but his book Christian Nurture (1847) was something Emerson admired.

    From Emerson’s “Nature”

    “Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things? Throw a stone into the stream, and the circles that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence. Man is conscious of a universal soul within or behind his individual life, wherein, as in a firmament, the natures of Justice, Truth, Love, Freedom, arise and shine.”

    “When I behold a rich landscape, it is less to my purpose to recite correctly the order and superposition of the strata, than to know why all thought of multitude is lost in a tranquil sense of unity. I cannot greatly honor minuteness in details, so long as there is no hint to explain the relation between things and thoughts … to show the relation of the forms of flowers, shells, animals, architecture, to the mind.”

    For philosophical people like these thinkers, writers, preachers – it makes a lot of sense that they would want to find natural spaces that encouraged understanding and imagination in a way that the grime and speed of a city would make difficult. It wasn’t just a need for fresh air, or nice places to congregate – rather a belief that through nature we glimpsed greater things.

  • jeffpartridge

    Baldwin uses Bushnell as the point of comparison for later reformers, and he suggests that they all fell short of the high bar he set: creating a park that would unify a disparate people rather than further segregate them. Like Marie, and like Baldwin, I find this admirable. (I don’t know whether Bill Faude’s skepticism is warranted, or if I just feel more comfortable with seeing Bushnell as a good guy — but taking what Bushnell expressed about the park as excerpted in Baldwin and as shown in the article Marie found, it seems he clearly wanted to do something for the good of the entire city).

    The connection John draws with Emerson is great. That transcendentalist thread makes perfect sense.

    I agree with John that there is a lot of shading and complexity to the religious landscape that played a significant role in so many trends and decisions — and we probably miss a lot of it. For example, it always strikes me as wrong that Puritans and Congregationalists in that day reserved the best seats for the most distinguished families (this is mentioned somewhere in our readings, can’t remember which). I see this as wrong from a modern egalitarian point of view, but I also say it’s wrong from a biblical point of view. Here is what James says on the subject on his New Testament epistle:

    1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

    So here is a thought (probably an ignorant one that lends support for John’s call for us all to learn more about the religious views that shaped the day!): is it possible that Congregationalists believed (in an aristocratic, patriarchal sort of way) that by putting the “best” people in honored positions they were giving the lower and “meaner” classes proper instruction? In other words, was the church segregated as it was not to show favoritism to the rich and to belittle the poor, but to put on display the virtue of right conduct? What I’m wondering is whether the mingling of the classes that Bushnell describes “where high and low, rich and poor will exchange looks and make acquaintance through the eyes” is similar to the “mingling” in the Congregationalist church of that day. In other words, was it for the instruction of the lower classes, not as an expression of equality? It may not have been the egalitarian ideal that we 21st century Americans have in mind.

    This is total conjecture, so if anyone knows why these churches reserved special seating for the higher classes, please enlighten me.

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