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Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, Connecticut

I like to get outdoors and walk, especially if my surroundings are beautiful. I enjoy sharing my favorite spots with others.

The front of the Eolia mansion.

The front of the Eolia mansion.

A Unique Connecticut State Park

Harkness Memorial State Park is a most unusually beautiful state park and is located in Waterford, Connecticut, in the northeastern corner of the United States.

This was the home of Edward Harkness but was left to the state of Connecticut in 1950. Harkness was a philanthropist whose father had amassed a fortune investing in Standard Oil. He was a major donor to educational institutions like Columbia, Yale, and Harvard University, and ultimately, his home was given back to the state a decade after his death; he passed away in 1940.

The grounds not only contain beautiful lawns and picnic areas, but they lead to a white sand beach. And then, there is Eolia, the name of the incredibly beautiful mansion.

The formal gardens surrounding the mansion are fascinating. Around every turn, you will find another beautiful surprise. It is truly a magical place, exhibiting many different species of plants and flowers.

We will tour the grounds in photos, so you may enjoy the beauty of this area, even if you do not get a chance to visit.

A view of the picnic area during the off season.

A view of the picnic area during the off season.

The Path Along the Picnicing Area

This is the path from the parking lot through the picnic area. There are about 50 picnic tables available and a few of them have elevated charcoal grills near them.

The parking lot is ample and the path leading to the picnic tables is flat and handicap accessible. There are quite a few paved paths and they all eventually lead toward the beach. The beach paths themselves are sandy but are, unfortunately, not handicapped accessible.

What is so nice about this picnic area is that during the hot days of summer there are beautiful large shade trees that cool the area off.

Looking west from the middle of the white sandy beach.

Looking west from the middle of the white sandy beach.

The Beach at Harkness Park

This beach tends to be less crowded, even on peak days, than other Connecticut beaches. During the week, it is sparsely populated. Unfortunately, there is no swimming allowed, which is likely why it's less crowded. There are also no pets allowed on the beach.

The sand on the beach is powdery white and if you are like me, and just enjoy sitting on a beach, listening to the waves, and reading a book, this may be the place for you. I see a lot of people with toddlers on the beach. The little ones can just wade and play with their shovels and pails near the water's edge.

The beach is only about three-quarters of a mile long, but the soft sand makes it nice for walking along the seashore.

You are allowed to fish on the beach and most of the fishermen position themselves towards the far ends of the beach—away from the sunbathing people.

The nice part is, if it gets too hot, you can retreat to the shade of one of the big trees on the lawn of the mansion since it's not a very far walk. Below are a few more photos of the beach.

Looking out toward Long Island Sound.

Looking out toward Long Island Sound.

There are some sand dunes between the beach and the grassy picnic area.

There are some sand dunes between the beach and the grassy picnic area.

The grassy area where people play frisbee and can fly kites.

The grassy area where people play frisbee and can fly kites.

Experience Walking the Property

We took a nice long (approximately two miles) walk around the beach, grassy area, and through the mansion gardens.

Admission to the park includes free access to walk through the formal gardens and the outside of the mansion. During the off-season admission is free. Check out the Connecticut State Parks links (below) for more information.

The gardens are maintained by the local garden club and are ever changing according to what is in bloom. Now, let's go into the gardens . . . enjoy the photo gallery

Architecture of the Mansion

Now, here are some shots of the exterior of the mansion. It's named Eolia, was built in the Renaissance Revival architectural style, and was constructed from 1906–1907. There are a total of 42 rooms in the mansion.

Looking across the gardens to a vine-covered arbor adjacent to the mansion.  May 2012

Looking across the gardens to a vine-covered arbor adjacent to the mansion. May 2012

The wisteria on the arbor In bloom in May.

The wisteria on the arbor In bloom in May.

Under the arbor there is sitting.

Under the arbor there is sitting.

Above the seating is this beautiful ceiling.

Above the seating is this beautiful ceiling.

Seated under the arbor we can look across the gardens to the water.

Seated under the arbor we can look across the gardens to the water.

Looking across the main garden in full bloom in July.

Looking across the main garden in full bloom in July.

The mansion is available to rent for events!

A close-up of the fountain in the flower garden. July 2012

A close-up of the fountain in the flower garden. July 2012

Continuing Down the Driveway . . .

With the mansion behind us, we continued walking down the long driveway.

We came upon a windmill-shaped structure. One of the maintenance men came by, and he told us the tall structure was once a water tower; it used to have windmill blades attached for pumping water to the house.

The other was a large outbuilding that was a stable. However, although in disrepair, it was a lot more decorative than a stable usually is, and it actually had its own gardens. It was used partially as a stable, but it was also a guest house for the servants of the guests staying at the mansion. Guests frequently brought their own maids and butlers.

Now for some photos of the stable and the guest servant quarters . . .

More Information About Harkness

DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) links for more information about Harkness and other Connecticut State Parks.

  • Harkness Memorial State Park
    All the information about the park is from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Follow the link for more information, which includes hours and admission fees.
  • Renting Eolia for an event
    More detail about renting the mansion for a wedding or other event!
  • More information on season and Charter Oak passes
    If you regularly visit Connecticut State Parks, you may want to obtain a season pass. If you are over 65 years of age, you can obtain a Charter Oak Pass. It is free and it gives you admission to most of Connecticut's State Parks

© 2012 Ellen Gregory