Harkness welcomes hundreds at park's annual Family Day

Foxglove Farm provided horse and wagon rides Sunday during the 19th Annual Harkness Family Day at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. A classic car show was another feature of the annual event.
Foxglove Farm provided horse and wagon rides Sunday during the 19th Annual Harkness Family Day at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. A classic car show was another feature of the annual event. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Waterford - Once a year, on Harkness Family Day, visitors are allowed inside the Carriage House, a companion building to the Eolia Mansion on the more than 200-acre seaside state park property.

On Sunday, they streamed in to see an early version of a small sports complex.

The 1912 Carriage House is complete with two bowling lanes, a squash room and a sitting area ripe for evening cigars and brandy. In another wing there is a car wash and a storage area for the couple's two limousines and in a third wing, four stables and an area for Mary Harkness' electric car.

"The women had their tea times and gardens and the men had the Carriage House," volunteer docent Levi Green said Sunday afternoon. "Think of it as a man cave."

Sponsored by The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Friends of Harkness and the New London, Preston and Waterford youth services bureaus, the 19th Annual Harkness Family Day drew hundreds of visitors.

Groups gathered to share picnic lunches on the expansive lawn area in front of the Eolia Mansion to enjoy the music, horse-drawn carriage rides and the classic car show.

Families spent Sunday afternoon strolling through the cutting garden located on the side of the Carriage House where flowers for the house were grown. Children compared their heights to that of a sunflower, which was more than 10 feet tall.

The mansion underwent nearly two years of extensive renovations to all but the third floor of the 42-room home that were completed in 2000. There are 20 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms and 11 fireplaces.

As one of four sons of Stephen V. Harkness, an investor in John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Co., Edward Harkness inherited a fortune when his father died and from there began a long philanthropic career. Mary Stillman Harkness, whose family also had a connection to the Rockefellers, regarded Eolia as the only of their seven homes she felt most comfortable in.

"You'll notice how inviting the house is. It certainly has nothing in common with the McMansions in Newport. As where their New York house is totally opulent this is more casual," volunteer docent Susan Twing said as she led a tour group through the home. "This was supposedly Mary's favorite home."

Edward Harkness' bedroom overlooked the grounds, his chicken coop, farm area and orchards. Produce from the farm sustained the family and their guests during the summer and throughout the year at their main house, a seven-story townhouse on East 75th Street and 5th Avenue in New York City.

"They were very, very quiet people. They didn't want any notoriety, to the point where they moved their main door from 5th Avenue to 75th Street," Twing said.

Edward Harkness is said to have given charitable gifts totaling more than $129 million as well as items that helped create the Metropolitan Museum of Art's ancient Egypt collection. Harkness Chapel at Connecticut College and the undergraduate dormitories at Yale University and Connecticut College were built through the philanthropy of the couple.

j.hanckel@theday.com

Dave Veschi, left, of Hebron, searches for a shady spot with his 9-year-old son, Thomas, and 14-year-old daughter, Caroline, during the 19th annual Harkness Family Day at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford on Sunday. Veschi said the park is
Dave Veschi, left, of Hebron, searches for a shady spot with his 9-year-old son, Thomas, and 14-year-old daughter, Caroline, during the 19th annual Harkness Family Day at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford on Sunday. Veschi said the park is "our favorite spot in Connecticut." Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo
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