Hempstead Historic Neighborhood
New London was a wealthy city in the mid-1800s, largely due to its success in whaling and other maritime ventures. Leading families displayed their wealth in opulent houses and furnishings, but many sought to bestow a more public legacy. They improved the city by donating statues, art, public building and charitable endowments.
Parks were an obvious outlet for beneficial impulses. The urban park movement was gaining strength, inspired by prophets such as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who taught that parks could reduce the harmful effects of rapid urbanization. These ideas captured the imagination of a progressive New London mayor, Charles Augustus Williams.
Williams's idea of creating a park in this location was a bold one, for the area was then occupied by the city's Second Burial Ground, established 1793. Williams consulted Olmsted, who drew up plans for a park despite the inherent difficulties. Bodies in the cemetery were exhumed and moved to Cedar Grove Cemetery in 1886.
As its founders anticipated, the park had immediate beneficial results, as residents built impressive new houses or improved existing ones. In conjunction with the fashionable Second Congregational Church, William Memorial Park made the district an attractive place for wealthy New Londoners to live. Today, the area displays many fine examples of the favored architectural styles of the mid-19th through early 20th centuries: Italianate, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, as well as Tudor Revival and Gothic Revival. As Olmsted and his clients hoped, the park still forms the centerpiece of an attractive streetscape.
The obelisk, erected 1889, honors the 21st Connecticut Regiment of Civil War volunteers. Recruited almost entirely in eastern Connecticut, the 21st served from August 1862 through the end of the war. One of its companies was composed largely of New London residents. New London, fervent in the Union cause, was credited with 1200 Union Army recruits, in addition to a large number of sailors.
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Charles Augustus Williams
Charles Augustus Williams, a progressive mayor, was the son of T.W. Williams, largely credited with founding New London's whaling prosperity. Williams and the allied Haven and Chappell families were prominent in the nearby Second Congregational Church and lived in the vicinity.