The park’s 2.5 acre rose garden opened to the public in 1903, making this the first municipal garden devoted exclusively to rose cultivation. Park visitors had more to occupy them than simply stopping to smell the roses, however. The former Pond residence at that time contained a small branch of the Hartford Public Library. the park also featured a pond that was home to ice skating, hockey and curling each winter. Several years later, a bowling green was added and tennis courts and baseball fields followed shortly thereafter. During the Great Depression, construction of new structures in the park served as an important source of employment with the addition of a clubhouse for the bowling green and a brownstone structure housing public restrooms.
By the 1970s, the future of the park appeared less rosy. The city determined that it could no longer afford to fund the upkeep on the rose garden. Local residents were aghast to hear that the city planned to plow the rose garden under the ground to avoid the cost of upkeep. Horrified Hartfordians, refusing to take I Never Promised You a Rose Garden for an answer, banded together to form the Friends of Elizabeth Park.
The organization began their efforts to save the rose garden by first raising enough money to replace the rose bushes that had died of neglect. After restoring the garden to its former appearance, the Friends decided to raise funds and volunteer their time to provide ongoing care of those rosebushes and the park’s other plantings. The volunteer effort is still active under the authority of the Elizabeth Park Conservancy, a local nonprofit that holds fundraising events as well as contributing their time to restore and maintain the park’s historic buildings and grounds.
Today, the park consists of just over 100 acres, the majority of which are in West Hartford owing to shifting boundary lines. In addition to gardens, both rose and perennial, the park contains two hiking trails (one on the east side, one on the west), nine tennis courts, three baseball fields, two softball fields, two lawn bowling/croquet fields, two basketball courts, a playscape, a picnic area, a scenic overlook, a pond, and four historic greenhouses. These centenarian structures are still used to cultivate plantings that will be used throughout the Hartford park system, but in deference to their age, they are only open to the public during the annual spring flower show in March.
One notable absence from the park's grounds, however, is that of the original Pond house. This structure, having fallen into disrepair, was demolished in 1956, but was replaced just three years later with a building called the Elizabeth Pond Memorial. This attractive red brick structure now houses an auditorium, a banquet hall, a snack bar and an upscale restaurant called the Pond House Café.
Elizabeth Park is a lively place throughout the year. It hosts concerts, movie nights, poetry reading, yoga classes and other civic events in addition to winter sports. The park is also among Hartford’s favorite wedding venues, even in wintertime when ceremonies take place indoors in the Garden Room at the Pond House Café. The Spring Greenhouse Show each March helps Hartford residents get a jump start on spring fever, and Rose Weekend in June celebrates health and wellness and the arts as well as flowers and plants of all kinds - although the rose, of course, still reigns supreme. In fact, an image of Elizabeth Park’s iconic rose arbor was chosen as lead photo for a Time Magazine 2018 article on best parks in each state – and, of course, Elizabeth Park was voted #1 for the state of Connecticut.