Reclaiming Space: How A Former Clay Pit Became A Pond, Landfill, and Public Park

January 19, 2016

Take a stroll down Massirio Drive in Berlin, Connecticut, and you might have a hard time envisioning the landfill that once occupied the site. Even less evident would be the original, unnamed pond that once meandered along the edge of Farmington Avenue. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Berlin was regionally known for its brick factories -- the production of which required gangs of men with picks, shovels, and heavy equipment to dig holes all across the country side to extract the necessary clay. When the clay pits stopped yielding workable material in sufficient quantity, the would be flooded with water to create artificial ponds suitable for fishing, boating, and other recreational activities

 

 

An aerial photograph of the area taken in 1934 shows an rural, agrarian community dotted with clay pit ponds and brickyards. A follow-up image from 1952 shows the post World War II development boom spurring the filling of pond areas to create more buildable land. In one section of the pond pictured below, the Town of Berlin created a landfill and material storage yard to better service the growing community.

 

The Town has since removed its landfill and material storage yard from the site, and the entire site has been capped to contain any polluted materials. In 2010, with funding from the State of Connecticut's Small Town Economic Assistance Program, part of the site was rechristened as Veteran's Memorial Park. New improvements included a formal entrance off the parking lot at Legion Square, a gazebo, a walkway from the parking lot and at both edges of the pond, fountains in the pond, and a bridge from one side of the pond to the other. In 2012, a veteran's memorial was added.

 

In 2015, a second phase of improvements began at the park based on a design by TPA Design Group.

The portion of the site adjoining the VFW received its own formal entrance to match the masonry archway in Phase 1. New plantings add shade and beauty to the site, while the addition of paths, benches, and gazebos invite users to explore and linger on the site.

 

A strong visual axis, lined with bricks that evocate Berlin's industrial history. now connects the new formal entrance to Phase 2 with the Veterans' Memorial in Phase 1. However, a large stand of invasive Phragmites growing along the wetland obscured this view and prevented a direct connection between the two phases. A timber deck bridge was engineered to span the area, and selective control of invasive species was employed to prevent the bridge from becoming quickly overgrown again. Future plans call for continued eradication of Phragmities and other invasive plants in other areas of Veteran's Memorial Park.

 

 

A new addition to Phase 1 are a dozen interpretative signs covering the history of America's armed forces from 1776 through the present day. Visitors are invited to stroll around the perimeter path and enjoy the pond, gazebo, and memorial areas as the follow the sequence of signage. The footings for each sign had to avoid interference with the existing capped landfill, yet also allow the sign to be mounted at an adequate height for ADA accessibility via wheelchair.

 

 Construction is wrapping up and is expected to conclude in Spring 2016. Portions of the site that were substantially completed in November 2015 played host to a Veteran's Day commemoration. Proximity to the adjacent VFW post will allow for additional programming and events in subsequent years.

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