Tarrywile Park is a 722-acre passive recreation park, which is owned and partially funded by the City of Danbury and overseen by the Tarrywile Park Authority Board. The TPA’s mission is to provide a sustained balance of passive recreation, environmental education and historic preservation. The staff consists of two full time employees as well as two part time employees. Our current budget is approximately $369,000.00 which is partially funded through grants from the City of Danbury, the remaining funds are obtained through Tarrywile Mansion Rentals, income from the four rental properties on the grounds, Meserve Grants as well as the fundraising efforts of the Mansion office staff; the Executive Director and Event Coordinator.
Located approximately 1 mile from downtown Danbury, the City purchased the parcel from the Charles D. Parks Estate in 1985. It wasn’t a purchase that the city made willingly, the family had offered the land to the City and was turned down several times in fact. When the family looked to sell the acreage for a condo development, that’s when the neighbors took action and through a grass roots effort forced the purchase question to a referendum. The results were the purchase of 535 acres of meadows, forests, mountains, lakes and ponds as well as 19 buildings and all at a cost of 4.7 million dollars.
The Park consists of two basic areas; Tarrywile Park and Tarrywile Mansion.
The Mansion was opened in 1991 as a community center for the City, providing a space for events of all kinds; weddings, birthday parties and other life celebrations, business and political functions and a variety of other public and private events.
Tarrywile Park provides the passive recreation component of the TPA’s mission. There are close to twenty one miles of trails which are used for hiking, cross country running and skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking and horseback riding. The park is home to the Danbury High School and Immaculate High School cross country track teams and has been the site of many Boy and Girl Scout events such as the Klondike and Camporee. Western Connecticut Orienteering holds orienteering meets and instructional classes at the Park and have installed a permanent orienteering course. The Authority hosts a variety of events throughout the year including; National Trails Day, Arbor Day (which we rely on our volunteers participation to help defray the cost of trail/tree maintenance) and our two biggest fundraisers the Harvest Hayride and Harvest Dinner.
A recent survey of organized events and park users found approximately 75,000 guests make use of the Park and Mansion in any given year. This number continually increases as more and more of the public become aware of Danbury’s “Hidden Jewel” located right in their back yard.
The history of the Park and Mansion are very interesting and you can easily see how the characters blend into the history of Danbury. The Mansion was built in 1897 by Dr. William C. Wile. The name Tarrywile comes from the play on words; to tarry a while – Wile.
Dr. Wile was Danbury’s first chief medical examiner, a medic in the Civil War and a chief benefactor of Danbury Hospital. When his wife fell down the stairs and was then confined to a wheelchair, the Wile’s sold the Mansion in 1910 to Charles Darling Parks, President of the American Hatters and Furriers. As a side note, the Wiles built a house at the corner of Deer Hill and West Street, the site of today’s City Hall.
Charles Parks lived a hard life, his parents had died and his sisters were raising him, they sent him off to Illinois to live as an indentured servant. He left Illinois, even though his “master” had offered to adopt him, and came back to Danbury to establish the American Hatters and Furriers Company which was the nation’s leading supplier of furs and hatting. C.D. himself was one one of Danbury’s great entrepreneurial successes.
He developed a carroting process in the curing of the beaver pelts that didn’t call for mercury to be used. Mercury was getting into the hatter’s central nervous system and causing what would forever be known as the “Hatter Shakes” and also coining the phrase “mad as a hatter” or MAD Hatter”. The “mad” in this case was not an anger management problem, it was a central nervous system caused by mercury poisoning.
C.D. amassed well over 1,000 acres. If you know the area, you can still see the stone walls and pillars that encompassed his holdings including; all along Southern Blvd to Immaculate High School, Pope John Paul Health Care Center and down as far as West Wooster Street, the fields along Mountainville Rd and Brushy Hill Rd and running almost to the Bethel Reservoir. He owned one the largest privately owned dairy farms in the state of Connecticut. The dairy operation continued in operation until the very early 1970’s.
Mr. Park’s also purchased the Castle known as Hearthstone as a wedding present for his daughter Irene. The Castle was built in 1897, the same time that the Mansion was being built, be E. Starr Sanford. He was a portrait photographer in New York City, his claim to fame was that he developed one of the earliest movie cameras. Sanford sold the castle to Victor Buck who was not so fortunate having declared bankruptcy. Park’s family members lived in the Castle up until it was sold to the City. The building now stands in a serious state of disrepair with a future that is in question.
Since the sale to the City in 1985, the City through the Department of Environmental Protection funding has purchased an additional 119 acres to add to the Park’s holdings. Many of the buildings have been renovated to provide rental income for the Park which helps maintain the park grounds and buildings.
Speaking of the future, the TPA has updated the Master Plan of Development for the Park and we present our plans for the future development to the citizens of Danbury and the Common Council annually in December/January. The plan calls for continued improvements to the Park, keeping the mission of passive recreation, environmental education and historic preservation as the continuing theme throughout the plan. The TPA would like to stabilize the Castle to make future renovations possible, they have plans for improving the trail system, adding much needed additional parking, building a picnic pavilion in the farm area which would generate revenue for the Park while supplying a much needed service to the citizens who can’t get space at the very popular Hatters Pavilion, renovating the farm’s Red Barn Environmental Center to provide additional programs in the environmental education area, to turn the replaced Silo into a gallery that would showcase the farm’s history and act as a trail head for the Ive’s Trail and enhance the wetlands educational area where bird watching and habitat viewing are enjoyed.
As you can see, this is an exciting and also troublesome time for Tarrywile Park and the Tarrywile Park Authority, with our funding from the City being cut steadily each year it is more important than ever that local businesses and park users step up to support the park either monetarily or through volunteer programs. I urge you to come out and enjoy the park, your park, whether for a hike, picnic lunch or just to sit quietly and enjoy the beauty of nature and relieve some of the stress of our daily lives, all just minutes from Downtown Danbury.
I would like to thank you all again and hope that you will visit and observe for yourselves what a gem Tarrywile Park and Mansion truly is.