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Central Park

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Settlement of Rockville began in earnest in 1821 when Francis McLean purchased a large tract of land and constructed a factory that took advantage of the substantial drop of the Hockanum River. The harnessed water power turned Rockville into a prosperous town and a principal manufacturing village that produced textiles until 1952. When McLean started his woolen mill in 1821, the town center was located in present day Vernon Center, an agricultural community where a meetinghouse was constructed in 1762.

In 1837, the First Congregational Church of Rockville was formed, 35 of its 40 members coming from the Vernon Center Church. The new meetinghouse was constructed on the corner of Union and Elm Streets where the Union Congregational Church now stands. Membership grew rapidly, reflecting the growth of the woolen industry in Rockville, and the Second Church of Rockville was established in 1849 (the location of the present Memorial Building or town hall, erected in 1889). It was constructed on East Main Street, about 300 feet from the First Congregational Church, where they both served the community until the Second Church was destroyed by fire in 1888.

The open space in front of the churches created by the intersection of the streets was initially turned into two "parks" divided by a road under the leadership of Reverend Horace Winslow (1845-1852). An oval park designed around a fountain and planted with trees was planned in front of each church.

In 1877, a Park Improvement Committee was established that combined the two parks into the long oval park that exists today. The plans, executed by civil engineer F. W. Clark, included three courses of stones around the exterior. In an isometric drawing of the park dated 1877, it is shaded by 31 trees. A photograph taken around the turn of the 19th century shows the park very much as it is today with few exceptions including (1) more mature trees; (2) a concrete pad beneath the Cogswell fountain at the eastern end; and (3) a streetcar line providing transportation to and from the town center.

The park is tightly enclosed by a wall of buildings that emphasize the shaded, open space in the town center. To the north and west are substantial religious, civic and commercial structures which reflect the wealth of the industrial-based community during the second half of the 19th century. Constructed of red brick and stone in the eclectic styles of the Victorian era, they provide a handsome backdrop for the park. Particularly evident is Union Congregational Church (1889), built in contrasting grey stone on the site of the Second Congregational Church at the western end of the park. Bordering the park on the south are single-story commercial buildings built during the first half of the twentieth century. These buildings provide an unbroken wall that frames the park but they are austere in their simplicity when compared to the extravagant 19th century buildings across the street constructed during the Victorian era.

The park itself is well maintained but the buildings around it are suffering from the decline of the industrial-based economy. Particularly evident is the Methodist Episcopal Church now used as the Vernon Senior Center that is partially boarded over.

Central Park, established in the early days of Rockville from two separate parks serving the Congregational Churches, is and always has been the visual focus of the community and the center of civic and religious life. Today it provides a welcomed open space in which to linger in a congested urban center.



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