Harkness Memorial State Park is the former estate of Edward Stephen Harkness and his wife Mary Stillman Harkness. Edward and Mary were the beneficiaries of a fortune amassed by Edward’s father Stephen V. Harkness, who was a silent partner of John D. Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Corporation. During their lifetimes, Edward and Mary donated an estimated $200 million ($2 billion in today’s dollars) to innumerable charitable, cultural, educational, and health related organizations. In Connecticut, their generosity is reflected in buildings donated to Connecticut College, Yale University, and Trinity College.
In 1950, a widowed Mary Harkness, at age 76, provided in her will for ongoing rehabilitation of the disabled. Upon her death, the Harkness Estate was bequeathed to the people of the State of Connecticut and became a State Park in 1952. In the 1980’s, management responsibilities for the property were divided between the Department of Environmental Protection, now DEEP, and the Department of Mental Retardation, now DDS. DEEP today governs the grounds, gardens and buildings of Harkness proper. DDS supervises Camp Harkness.
The Harkness’s generous gift of the Harkness estate to Connecticut’s people was certainly a magnificent one. Besides its beautiful early 20th century buildings and spectacular natural landscape, it is Harkness’s built landscapes or formal gardens, designed by Beatrix Farrand and Marian Coffin , that are probably the most significant part of the gift deeded to citizens.
A quarter million visitors each year delight in this incomparable venue, sharing an “inheritance” from two of the twentieth century’s most open-handed philanthropists.