The Friends of Harkness Memorial State Park, Inc.
Waterford, Connecticut

About the Friends

Why Friends?

In the early 1990's, the Harkness mansion and grounds had fallen into general disrepair. The grounds were open, but the mansion was crumbling and the gardens had reverted to weeds. Governor Lowell Weicker threatened to bulldoze the facility ... a threat taken seriously by friends and neighbors of the park. 

An activist group formed in 1992, and the Friends of Harkness Memorial State Park, Inc. was born. Volunteers began working with DEP staff in the gardens, the greenhouse, and on small carpentry projects around the park. They raised money one square foot at a time with the Adopt-A-Bed program and restored the East Garden according to the historic plans of landscape architects Beatrix Farrand and Marian Coffin. Once finished, this garden stood as an example of what a restored estate would mean to citizens of the state and provided leverage to those in the group lobbying the legislature for funds.

In 1997, a $3.8 million restoration of the mansion and gardens was undertaken by the State of Connecticut. Today, a unique public~private partnership continues. The Friends work closely with park staff to support and enhance the visitor's experience and to ensure that this marvelous estate will be enjoyed by future generations.

A Few Quick Facts:
  • Founded in 1992
  • A not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization
  • 759 members
  • The Friends of Harkness is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the Harkness Estate and to the provisions of Mrs. Harkness' will, in which she bequeathed the property to the State of Connecticut for the well-being of its citizens.
  • Successfully lobbied the State of CT for $3.8 million restoration of the mansion & gardens
  • Established annual Harkness Family Day event, now in its 20th year
  • Restored the East Garden
  • Commissioned custom ironwork for East & West Gardens to match original
  • Restored original farm orchard with antique apple varieties
  • Contributed to the restoration of the Boxwood Garden in partnership with DEEP
  • Annually provide funds for tree replacement and garden plantings
  • Commissioned 2 DVDs, one a general history of the estate and the Harknesses, and the other an oral history of the estate laborers who worked for the Harknesses and also family friends of Mary and Edward
  • Assembled a cookbook of Friends of Harkness member recipes which is sold at the Gift Shop
  • Greenhouse Restoration Project - Phase 1 (Potting Shed/ Headhouse) completed November 2009
  • Phase 2 of the project (Central Glass Houses) will be completed in November 2012
  • Have logged 217,000 cumulative volunteer hours in service to the park since the Friends group's inception
  • Historically the Friends have contributed approximately $6.8 million in labor, funds and goods to improve Harkness Memorial State Park 
  • Complete Phases 3 & 4 Greenhouse restoration
  • Restoration of the windmill / water tower
  • Restoration of the carriage house
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