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Suburban Park’s legacy, Unionville history intersect

This article first appeared in the January edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication

By Vincenzo Frosolone — Special to Today Magazine

Olivia Germano spent over 400 hours helping her son Timothy research his flourishing community project about Suburban Park, besides volunteers and members of the Unionville Museum and Farmington Historical Society.

Their combing through historical books, photographs and magazines anticipated mowing overgrown walkways and erecting 13 informative plaques throughout the 20.5-acre landmark. They held a celebratory event with a carousel, ice cream and, fittingly, a trolley ride. A former amusement park in Unionville, Suburban Park was open from 1895-1905.

For his Eagle Scout project, Timothy sought “something that was of historical significance … something that needed to be brought back to life, something that he could leave for years to come,” says Olivia, a longtime Farmington resident.

Incidentally, Timothy’s findings revived interest in the carousel. The Carousel Museum in Bristol had not had it on record. It became an exhibit thanks to the great-granddaughters of the park’s owner and operator, Charles A. Hackney.

Hackney acquired Suburban Park after the owners of the Hartford Suburban Railway and subsequently their hires, construction workers and loggers John Parsons and son, underestimated their abilities to properly manage an amusement park, according to Olivia.

Suburban Park in Unionville featured a carousel at this site — photo by Vincenzo Frosolone

The original owners enticed weekend riders, plotting to spur suburban development, but soon enlisted the Parsons team to construct a dance hall grander than the one at rival Luna Park in Hartford. Hackney had already found nearby Chutes Park to be a more lucrative site for his carousel.

Even though the Parsons had specified that if their loan was not paid off within a specific time frame they would inherit the park, they ended up beckoning for Hackney’s return.

Hackney profited from the ice cream parlor, picnics, tennis court and the photographer he hired.

When Suburban Park first opened, there was an entry fee for a brief period before the fee was eliminated in favor of having guests pay for the various attractions.

However, money was not Hackney’s primary focus. He was charitable and gracious to his guests, Olivia says. When Hackney took over the park, he incorporated a pagoda, positioned halfway up one of the steep hills, so that people could rest their feet and have tea and scones. When the swimming pond froze over in the winter, he sold the ice to local hospitals so patients with high fevers could take ice baths.

He entertained up to a thousand local orphaned children for each of their Sunday outings. Hartford’s Camp Courant scouted Suburban Park as one of the first locations where they would take underprivileged children on excursions.

In addition to the groups of chaperoned children, the demographic on Sundays was generally women and their own children strolling through the park or attending one of the park-sponsored dances, which were held on Thursdays and Fridays and twice on Saturdays. Couples usually occupied the evening dances.

"Money was not Hackney’s primary focus — he was charitable and gracious to his guests" — Olivia Germano

Entire families would attend events and picnics sponsored by local businesses.

A crowd of 3,000 guests attended the park’s grand opening on May 30, 1895. About 300 attended the culmination of Timothy’s Eagle Scout project in 2019 that celebrated the historical reopening of Suburban Park.

In the past 125-plus years, the park has undergone many phases and changes to approach its current state as a preserved open space in Farmington.

Indeed, the park’s spirit has lingered over Unionville, finally captured and rekindled by Timothy and Olivia.

Timothy’s comprehensive website profiles his project and information about the park —

You can also visit his Facebook page on Suburban Park —

The community appreciates Timothy’s honorable contribution to Unionville’s history. +

Today Magazine also featured Suburban Park in our November 2021 edition:

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