Hartford Road
Manchester, CT

Hartford Road Aerial
Hartford Road Aerial

The Olmsted firm drew up plans for a quarter-mile section of streetscape beginning at Elm Street and ending at the main driveway to the Austin Cheney House.

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Cheney Hall
Cheney Hall

This circa 1866 Second Empire social hall front on Hartford Road is still used as a community theater and venue of public events.

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Dry Creek Bridge
Dry Creek Bridge

The stone bridge parapet was relocated as part of the Olmsted plans. The culvert design has since been modified with a pipe rather than the open grassy channel. Water is evident only in storm events when drainage from the Great Lawn washes down to Hartford Road.

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Hartford Road Aerial
Hartford Road Aerial

The Olmsted firm drew up plans for a quarter-mile section of streetscape beginning at Elm Street and ending at the main driveway to the Austin Cheney House.

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Imagery taken from Google Maps and Street View.

In the heart of the Cheney Brothers National Historic District1 lies a modest Olmsted Brothers commission: Hartford Road. The firm was engaged by Howell Cheney and John Davenport Cheney to improve the layout, alignment, and aesthetics of a quarter-mile section of pavement fronting on the family's homestead tract, now known as the Great Lawn.

The Cheney Brothers 175-acre manufacturing complex, dedicated to the processing and manufacture of silk goods, featured many modern improvements and amenities that made it the envy of competitors. Workers enjoyed indoor plumbing and electricity in their company-owned lodgings and could pass their idle time away at Cheney Hall, a social venue for dances, exhibitions, and civic gatherings. A private fire department and water treatment plant protected the company's investment in the mills operation while benefitting the surrounding neighborhood.

In a similar fashion, the Cheney Brothers wanted to elevate the design and function of one of the most prominent roads in the complex. The unpaved and crooked condition of Hartford Road was fixable, as the Olmsted Brothers noted in their letter of July 19th,18992:

"We propose that the driveway shall be macadamized with trap rock, surfaced with fine screenings, to whom may be added a small amount of binding gravel. Subsequent thin dressings of binding gravel will prevent the noise of wheels and the clatter of hoofs that is noticeable on a hard macadam roadway, so that you will have little annoyance on this score. Dust must be laid by frequent but light watering. It is, of course, to be understood that this is not the most economical arrangement, but is a luxury that you and others interested will pay for, as it is not to be expected that the Town can keep its public highways in the perfect manner customary in the best parks."

 

While the roadway surface was a very modern and expensive engineering detail, the landscape architects saw an opportunity to use natural turf slopes rather than curbs along the edge of road:

"The narrow strip between the drive and the walk is to be of turf, to be laid on a steep slope so as the discourage persons from walking upon it. It is to be understood that this strip is introduced as a satisfaction to the eye, and not as a matter of economy. In the point of view of maintenance, it would be more economical to set a curbstone and asphalt right to it. We believe, however, that this would be very inadvisable under the circumstances. The places on each side are large and handsome and there is a markedly rural aspect to the whole vicinity. To build the sidewalk with a curbstone like an ordinary city sidewalk would be disagreeably out of harmony with the surroundings..."

Plans and profile prepared by the firm demonstrate how these design principles could be applied. The centerline plan and profile show subtle adjustments to the roadway to smooth out broken tangents with smooth curves. The lawn slope edges delineate the sides of the road while a pedestrian sidewalk carries foot traffic along the shaded confines of the Great Lawn.

Such was the haste of the Cheney Brothers to begin the work that they neglected to hire an architect to design their revised bridge over the dry creek! In a letter of August 7th, the firm wrote John Davenport Cheney to notify him that they had received tentative sketches prepared by others, but were hesitant to include drafted plans as part of their own set of construction drawings. After further consideration, the Olmsted Brothers wrote again on August 14th to provide a drafted sketch, but only as an aesthetic concept. They did not include any dimensions or design information as they did not feel that they had the requisite experience with bridge engineering to provide a full design.

The 1934 Fairchild aerial imagery3 for the district shows that the Cheney Brothers implemented the Olmsted plan and continued it further down the road to connect with Main Street. Unfortunately, in later decades, the sidewalk along the Great Lawn was removed and a more traditional "city" style sidewalk was rebuilt on the opposite side of Hartford Road. Nonetheless, passersby can still catch glimpses of the Olmstedian vision for the streetscape as they gaze towards the Cheney family mansions on top of the Great Lawn.

Historic Plans & Images

Relocation Plan
Relocation Plan

Realigning the roadway to achieve a smoother, straighter route without sacrificing any of the existing trees required careful study of the conditions.

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Grading Plan
Grading Plan

The Olmsted Brothers also adjusted the vertical curve of the road by raising and lowering grades along the road centerline.

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View from the Bridge
View from the Bridge

This undated postcard illustrates a view over the bridge towards the Great Lawn.

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Relocation Plan
Relocation Plan

Realigning the roadway to achieve a smoother, straighter route without sacrificing any of the existing trees required careful study of the conditions.

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Sketches Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

Postcard available from Pinterest

 

Project Data and Further Reading

Job # 2248 (1898-1899)

This site is OPEN for public visitation. Consider coordinating your visit with events at local landmarks within the district which can be found
here

Scans of Original Plans and Documents


1: Manchester Historical Society: Tour Cheney Brothers National Historic Landmark District Map
2: Olmsted Associates Records: Letterbooks, 1884-1899; 1899, May 31-July 19: Letter of July 19, 1899

3: CT State Library: 1934 Fairchild Aerial Survey Photograph 07737