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The History of Huntington State Park in Redding, Connecticut  

The following information was taken from: "Huntington Park Means Much to Redding" By Frank W. Nye

Before the Huntington property was given to the State of Connecticut it was offered to Redding, and we shall enjoy it the most. With the State bearing the cost of maintenance, we shall reap the chief benefits without expense.

Already indebted to the late Archer M., and to Anna Hyatt Huntington, for a gift to the Mark Twain Library comparable to that of Mark Twain himself, it was a lucky day for our town when the Huntingtons, after giving away their 500-acre estate on Low Thor to the Palisades Park Commission, found in Redding a worthy successor to the Hudson River property and settled here to live out their long and rewarding lives.

Like Mark Twain, Redding was the place they chose in which to spend their ultimate years, and like him, they have greatly enriched our community by means of their good taste, quite as well as through their generosity.

Both in our town planning, and as a part of the new Danbury Planning Region, Redding is most fortunate in having already, in Putnam Park, one historic recreational area, and in being able to look forward to an even more beautiful park when our state takes over the greater part of the Huntington acres.

America is awakening to the need to preserve unspoiled our open spaces as one of our chief natural resources. Redding has more than its share of such beautiful spots and with planning and zoning, is now fully on the alert to hold and improve the gifts of Nature.

With our new interest in the conservation of beauty, I found growing curiosity and concern as to the meaning of the Huntington gift, and decided to go straight to Anna Hyatt Huntington herself for more background and information. My interest was especially keen because I had had the privilege of walking over every part of the estate, and I found it far more delightful than I had guessed.

The high ground in the V between Sunset Hill Road and Newtown Turnpike was known in Indian times as Wiantenuck. The local authority on this region and the man to whom Mrs. Huntington referred me for certain details, as the one through whom the property was purchased, is near-octogenerian Howard R. Briscoe, who lives about a mile north of the Huntingtons on Route 58 in Bethel. His still excellent memory goes back to earlier owners.

After the house burned down, the Huntingtons bought the property from the estate of Mr. Sterrett, who had been president of Price, Waterhouse & Co. Sterrett had picked it up at a comparative song when Commandore Walther Luttgen, German partner of August Belmont, died in 1922. Some of the Sterrett posting signs are still in place.

But it was Commodore Luttgen who converted this beautiful land into a sylvan paradise, with lakes and miles of Victorian carriage drives. Luttgen, in turn, had bought the property from Senator Peck, whose wife had been a Wells of Wells Fargo. (What with Pete Adams family of Adams Express and the Wellses, Redding was well represented in fast transportation.)

View more photos of Luttgen's Estate

It was in the fall of 1938 that the estate was placed in the hands of Mr. Briscoe for sale. He, being an enterprising broker, invested in a sizable ad in Country Life in America, illustrated by a view of 50-acre Hopewell Lake, the largest of a chain of five small lakes, three of which went with the property, and two of which Mr. Huntington later acquired, but still later disposed of.

The property, which by the way, overlaps a bit of Bethel and Newtown, was described and the "asking price," as the ad called it, was given as $150,000. (That was before we started using stage money.)

A short while after the ad appeared, Mr. Briscoe saw a huge limousine with liveried chauffeur pull up in front of his home, and out of it stepped a huge and handsome man holding a copy of the magazine. Mrs. Huntington was with him, and they asked to see the property. Discretely, Mr. Briscoe suggested that the Huntington car be parked at his house and that they drive over in his less conspicuous Ford. The fall foliage was at the top of its colorfulness and no better time for inspection could have been chosen.

I first visited Hopewell Lake at about the same season and was impressed by the jewel-like charm of the reaches of clear, deep blue water in its setting of lichen covered crags and the reds, oranges, yellows and greens of Connecticut fall foliage at its peak. After the property had been viewed, and without any discussion as to whether the asking price could be shaded, Mr. Huntington asked Mr. Briscoe to prepare the deed and take it to the law firm of Dadwalder, Wickersham & Taft on Wall Street in New York.

The deal went through without a hitch. By 1940 the present Huntington residence had been built. And from time to time additional acreage was added until the total was just short of 1,000 acres, some 700 of which have now been deeded to the state, subject to the occupancy of Mrs. Huntington during her lifetime.

Since few Reddingites have visited the property, and it may not be opened to the public for several years, perhaps you would like a brief word picture, difficult, though it is to do justice to the beauties of the place.

I think the outstanding thing about the park is that it makes the most of every natural beauty and stressed it, without introducing a single artificial note into the landscape. Actually the lakes are and had to be man-made. They are near the high point of the land and the overflow can be diverted into either of two watersheds.

But nothing could look more natural now than these large ponds. Whether Mr. Lutgen went in for hunting or fishing has not been mentioned, but the lakes are spring fed and would be a heaven for trout, as are the woods for deer and other game. In fact the park is now a sanctuary for wild life. Incidentally it took three years for the cold springs to fill the lakes.

The terrain is typical of our rugged Connecticut country at its most picturesque: steep high hills, hogbacks, ledges, huge boulders; numerous brooks coursing down the hills in summer and cascading in thick sheets of ice in winter; thousands of first-growth trees-some evergreens, but more numerous black, gray, and silver birch, beech, oak, tulip, maple, ironwood and of course, thickets of laurel. The something new which was added by Commodore Lutgen, but which after several decades has blended into the landscape like the moss itself, is the system of graded and bridged carriage drives, originally surfaced with gravel, no doubt, but now covered by a lovely gray-green patina of lichens, moss and ground pine. There are three main drives leading to the east side of the lakes on the plateau, which are surrounded by the most beautiful drive of all. Secondary trails branch out in loops from the main ones.

The main approach to the Huntington Park will be from Sunset Hill Road where you have already seen in place the bear family and wolves in bronze, fashioned and presented by Mrs. Huntington, atop the stone gate posts. The road remains to be built. Presently a high wire fence screens the lakes area from the woods to the east, erected to keep the Huntingtons' many Scotch deer hounds out of the wildlife sanctuary. The Stanerigg Kennels bred the finest dogs of this breed, but have now been discontinued and only a few of the best-loved hounds have been retained.

By being and remaining what it is, Redding encourages such wanted neighbors as Mark Twain and the Huntingtons to come here and live. Regional planning, town planning and zoning are helpful in avoiding the mistakes of thoughtless communities and will help Redding in the future to attract and retain citizens of the very highest caliber.

Huntington State Park
Acreage: 900
Miles of Trail: 7.5
Entrance: Sunset Hill Road

Easiest way to get there: Route 58 East or West. Coming from Bethel, you will pass Putnam Park Pond on your left, bear left at the fork following Rt. 58 for approximately 1.5 miles, Sunset Hill is to the left at the apex of a right-hand curve, you will travel up a steep incline for about 3/4 miles, Huntington State Park is on the right. Coming from Easton, your point of reference is the four way stop at the junction of Route 58, Cross Highway, and Church Hill, from there Sunset Hill is the third road on your right about 3/4 miles up. Also, see Tom's Notes below.

What is it like? Wide open. Very good place to introduce the children to the great outdoors. The trails are well maintained, there are four ponds and a lake(state permit required to fish), it is also open to horses and bikes
Tom's Notes: The map in the book provides a useful overview of the park. However, it does not include many key details, including the parking area on Dodgingtown Road, the full trail loop in Bethel, and the color codes for the trail. By far the best map of Huntington State Park is published by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. This full color map includes point-to-point distances along the trail. You can download the map at http://dep.state.ct.us/stateparks/parks/huntington.htm.

The Sunset Hill Road parking lot is better known and more commonly used, but the Dodgingtown Road lot has some advantages. When you finish your hike and you return to that lot, you do not need to slog up the steep hill, which is often windswept. This other lot also has more parking. Alas, you do give up the views of the wolf and bear statues. To reach the Dodgingtown Road parking area, continue north past the Sunset Hill Road parking area.

Changes from Book III to Book IV: There are two updates to the map printed in Book 4: The open area north of the Sunset Hill Road parking area is now the Couch Hill Preserve, owned by the town of Redding. A description of this property may be found on page 22 in Book IV. Wood Road is labeled on the map in Book IV, but not in Book III.


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