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History of Irwin Park, by Gill Foster

John N. Irwin II who married Jane Watson (daughter of the founder of IBM) inherited the present house at 848 Weed Street in 1957. He was an Ambassador to France 1973/74. His children John Irwin III and Nancy Irwin were brought up at 848 Weed Street. John told us of all his happy memories growing up on the property. His mother Nancy Watson Irwin founded the perennial garden at the New York Botanical Garden. Hence his love of flowers and his wish for the club to keep Irwin park as beautiful open space for all to enjoy.

John and his sister Nancy inherited the estate at the death of John Irwin II.

In 2005, the Town of New Canaan bought the house, barn and the 36 acres of land after a town referendum.

Subsequently, in April 2005, John and his sister Nancy made a gift to the New Canaan Garden Club of $400.000. The Garden Club signed an agreement with the Town of New Canaan and John Irwin accepting the gift and agreed to set up an Endowment Fund to fund future beautification projects.

Once the fund was in place the Irwin committee was formed. Initially there were 6 members – Katie Stewart, Alison Caesar, Weezie Reed and Cathie Pike with Shelley Emery and myself. But soon it was expanded to many interested members of the club and now we fluctuate with between 15 and 25 members. We welcome anyone in the club who is interested in working on the Irwin projects.

As many members will remember we started with a park that was bereft of any thing for the public in the way of benches, tables etc. As there was no town plan for how the park would be developed we started with the basics and bought the garbage cans, the Wave Hill Chairs that see so much use under the apple trees, the different benches that are placed around the property ,the bike racks and the picnic tables. Gradually the town started to use the property.

The next big push came to use Flexi Pave for the trail that winds around the perimeter of the park. The town had specified Black Top, but thanks to a major effort led by Judy Neville and many private doners, plus a matching donation from John Irwin, we finally raised the necessary $160,000 and the town approved the use of Flexi-Pave as the surface. This wonderful soft texture which drains so well has become a joy for all who walk there every day.

Next we came up with the idea of a Gazebo, to be built about half way down the trail, as a respite giving shade after the very sunny parts of the trail. We are in the midst of finishing the area around the gazebo to keep the poison ivy and weeds at bay.

The Gazebo was followed the next year by the planting of 16 new trees –large maples which will eventually give shade at the ball fields, flowering trees, dogwoods in the dogwood grove – a big White Oak near the gazebo, and other trees in the triangles.

Lastly, in the fall of 2009 we were encouraged by the town to start work on the children’s garden which had been laid out on the original plans by Richter and Cegan. We researched other childrens’ gardens – specially the Enchanted Gardens of Winterthur. Then we asked Dick Bergmann to design us a maze for young children, and his drawings and plans exceeded our expectation. This maze has been awarded the Merit Award for 2010 from the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Connecticut Chapter. We are also awaiting perhaps another award as this maze is “Handicapped Accessible” and can be used by children in wheelchairs etc.

To complement the maze and the ring of mushrooms under the Maple Tree we have since added a Trochodendron Tree adjacent to the barn, 5 viburnums to give a sight barrier between the maze and the future parking lot. Two wonderful granite stones – one the Stone of Accord and the other a long granite bench (nicknamed already the Stonehenge bench). Two comfortable wooden benches and a children’s bench are near by for parents to relax in the shade while watching their children. Plus lastly a low childrens’ table with four small chairs, which also came as an idea from the Enchanted Garden, with nearby Hens and Chickens in the big stone planter at the entrance to the garden from the playing fields.

Next fall we are starting to think of doing something for the adults in the name of placing a special telescope on a stand which can be used to identify the many birds that use the park in the area beyond the gazebo. We would tie this in with a new bench, the children’s Bird’s Nest that again we can copy from Winterthur. We are encouraging the town to think of extending the flexi-pave trail so that it makes a loop around the park.The town is about to install a parking lot below the childrens’ garden to be used for the families of the baseball players.

We are always looking for help and some of you have already offered us more benches which we would be very happy to use in different areas. We encourage any new members to join the committee. It is always a lot of fun, and maybe we will even do another evening party in the children’s garden.

May 11, 2011

To view current photos of Irwin and the new Children’s Maze,
please click on Photo Gallery under the Activities tab
and click on Irwin Park and Maze album.