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Chelsea Parade

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The first settlement in Norwich was in present day Norwichtown about a mile and a half north of Chelsea Parade. Chelsea Parade was initially within a 900 acre reserve called "The East Sheepwalk" which was used as common pasture. It was considered common property until 1726 when it was divided into twenty acre lots and deeded to forty-two proprietors. In 1740, two roads were laid out linking Norwichtown with the public wharfs at the port to the south called New Chelsea or Chelsea Landing. A landing plateau at the intersection of these two streets, today Broadway and Washington Streets, became known as the "Great Plain." As early as 1793, it was used as a parade ground by Colonel Joseph Williams.

Although houses were being built along Washington Street, the central area between the intersection remained unimproved. Three men, W. Thomas Fanning, Joseph Perkins and Joshua Lanthrop, obtained ownership from the absentee land owners and conveyed it to the town to be used as a public park. It was dedicated as a "Public Parade" in April 1797. It eventually became known as Williams Park for General William Williams who held military reviews there and lived near it for fifty years. In the 20th century, it was renamed Chelsea Parade.

In 1801 its borders were planted with Lombardy poplars. They were not long-lived, however, and were replaced by heartier elm and maple trees in the 1820s and subsequent plantings. By the mid-19th century, the park took on its present day appearance of a grassy open space surrounded by trees. In 1873, it began serving a commemorative function when the Civil War monument was placed near the Broadway and Washington Street intersection, establishing the precedent for the placing of memorials at the northern end.

In the second half of the 19th century, Chelsea Parade became the focal point of a residential neighborhood where the successful professional and business men erected their large homes. Norwich Free Academy, endowed by many of these wealthy families, established its campus on the eastern side of the park in the 1850s, gradually becoming an important presence along that side of the street as the number of academic buildings increased. As the area continued to grow, a church was needed; the Park Congregational Church was erected in 1880 on the southeast corner. Presently, the streetscape is comprised of both large institutional buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and large single family houses. The exception is the large modern apartment building on the west side of the park.

Chelsea Parade, located within a National Register Historic District, was established as a "Public Parade" in 1793 and evolved into a park much as it appears today by the mid-19th century. It became the focal point of a wealthy Victorian residential neighborhood and the site of the Norwich Free Academy, and as such is representative of the growth and urbanization of Norwich during that period of time. The park remains an open space and focal point for the neighborhood that contains many architecturally significant buildings. At the same time, it serves an important commemorative function for the city of Norwich.



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