A Visit to Highland Park
By Susan Barlow, Manchester Historical Society

For generations, Highland Park has drawn visitors � old and young, hikers and bicyclists, dog-walkers, and photographers. They come to climb to the summit of Case Mountain, which provides a view of Manchester, Hartford, and, on a clear day, the Heublein Tower in Simsbury.

Case Mountain is named after the Case family, who lived and worked in the village during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The stunning mansions on Spring Street, near exit 4 off I-384, belonged to the family.

The Mansions

A. Wells Case (1840-1908), mechanical genius and inventor, lived on the west side of Spring Street in the pink stucco house, originally built during the Victorian era, and remodeled and enlarged for Mr. & Mrs. Lawrence Wells Case. The Manchester Evening Herald described the 1920 remodeling:

�The A. Wells Case homestead has been in the hands of builders and decorators for many months and under the direction of Arthur E. Hill, a Providence architect, they have made it into a house beautiful, both without and within. A much admired feature was the large library, finished in chestnut from the Highland Park forests. The skillful selection and treatment of this native wood produced an effect equal to that of the most costly foreign woods. The decorations, draperies and lighting effects are artistic and the entire reconstructed home is one of the most complete and attractive residences in Manchester.�

Wells�s twin brother, A. Willard Case (1840-1925), lived across the street in the large and graceful mansion with lawns that sweep down to Case Pond. Other families have purchased this mansion since the Cases left, and at times the house had a leaky roof and peeling paint. Fortunately, the Boutot family reconstructed the mansion and outbuildings, and worked on the grounds, planting trees and shrubs illustrated in early landscape drawings that they found in the attic. The mansion, enhanced with �Freestone� yellow paint, won the 2005 preservation award from the Cheney Brothers Landmark Historic District Commission.

An interesting aspect of the mansions is their location, right near the mills, and their owners could walk to work. From the Glen Road side of the A. Wells Case house, you can still see the sidewalk to the mills.

Ed. Note: To see a pair of short YouTube videoes on some of the Case properties, please click: YouTube Videos.
> Video 5. is about the Summer House overlooking Upper Case Pond, in the picture on the right above.
> Video 6. is about two mansions owned by the Case brothers on Spring Street.

The Mills

The Case family had paper-making enterprises in Manchester, East Hartford, and Unionville.

In 1861, the twin brothers founded Case Brothers, and rented space in Highland Park for a small business � washing cotton waste, using the fast-moving water of Birch Mountain Brook. According to the 1998 Historic & Architectural Resource Survey of Manchester, CT, Volume 1, "In 1862 the Case brothers (A. Wells, C. Frank, and A. Willard) purchased the mill and privilege of Salter and Strong along Birch Mountain Brook at the Highlands...They began with capital of only $135, and over the next 12 years lost four successive mills to fire or flood. New facilities were created in 1874 and 1884...producing pressboard, album boards, binder boards, and manila paper. Additional facilities were erected in the early twentieth century. Case Brothers also acquired two mills in the western part of town formerly owned by the Bunce firm. In 1920 100 Case employees turned out 12 tons of pressed paper products per day." The firm constructed other buildings, such as a shop for building paper-making machinery and a blacksmith shop to shoe the work horses who pulled the delivery carts.

In 1875 and 1915, disastrous fires struck, but the Cases rebuilt, and we can see the quaint brick buildings from the corner of Spring Street and Glen Road. Case brothers also owned a paper mill at Oak Grove and one on Mill Street in the North End of Manchester.

In 1923, the paper mills employed 100 workers, some of whom lived in company-built houses in Highland Park. Villagers enjoyed free water from the Case Reservoir, piped to homes, and snow-shoveling by the company horse-and-plow.

Case Mills operated until 1967, when the business was sold to Boise Cascade, which closed the mill in 1971.

Therapeutic Water

The Tonica Springs Company, incorporated in 1889 by A. Wells Case, A. Willard Case, and Robert Stanley, planned to develop the Highland Park area as a spa, with hotels and cottages to accommodate guests. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, �taking the waters� was often recommended by doctors, and patients traveled to health resorts such as those in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to drink copious amounts of the water.

At Highland Park, the hotels didn�t materialize, although the Tonica Springs enterprise and its successors did bottle clear spring water and mineral water, sold throughout the country and aboard ships.

The Highland News, copies of which are available at the Historical Society�s museum, reported the wonders of this bottled water, which helped treat �Dyspepsia, Diabetes, Bright�s Disease, Malaria, Rheumatism, Female Weaknesses, and all blood disorders.�

Copper and Carriage Paths

In the 17th through 19th centuries, copper was mined near Wyllys Falls, several hundred feet downstream from the stone bridge on Spring Street. The copper ore was sparse; mining was sporadic and stopped entirely around 1905

Ed. Note: To read an article on the copper mine in this website, please click: Wyllys Copper Mine.

In 1903, A. Wells Case began the construction of a sort of wilderness park, including a carriage path, stone walls, bridges, and a public spring area. His son Lawrence Wells Case completed the project in 1909. Despite the forces of nature, much of the stone construction remains, although some of the walls have fallen over. The engraved rock (pictured left) is amphibolite -- watch our short amphibolite video.

I have interviewed old-timers whose forebears worked at Case mills and were sometimes detailed out to work on the stone walls.

In the 1923 History of Manchester, authors Spiess and Bidwell note on page 142, �the project is now open to the public...By preserving the natural beauty of this tract and making it accessible to the townspeople, the Cases have performed a notable public service.�

In the 1940s, the Case family enthusiastically supported efforts by L.M Porter and other Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) volunteers to develop a Blue Trail in the Highland Park area, encompassing Case Mountain lookout, and proceeding to the Glastonbury fire tower, a few miles from Gay City State Park. Porter described the area as �all wilderness,� in a 1946 report about laying out the trail and getting permission from landowners to cross their property.

Modern Times

In the 1960s and 1970s, a public campaign succeeded in buying land in Highland Park to preserve as open space. A combination of federal, state, and local sources, including a glass-collection drive, funded the purchase of 229.56 acres on April 19, 1974 for $631,632. The Case family also donated land to provide access to the public areas.

Over the years, the town purchased additional property, and benefited from the gift to the Manchester Land Conservation Trust by Dorothy Case Beach on October 31, 2000, of a one-acre grassy parklet at the trailhead on Spring Street. In 2005, the Land Trust purchased the 7.59-acre Upper Case Pond for $50,000, and in 2006, the town of Manchester bought two acres overlooking Case Reservoir, with a historic log cabin. In the spring of 2014, the Town bought 8.79 acres (two parcels) from the Case family and 27.1 acres (four parcels, including the lower Case Pond, Spring St. waterfall, and Carriage Path to the old cabin), from Andrew Ansaldi, Jr. Including Water Company land, the Town now owns about 600 acres [webmaster note: acreage as of 2018] of open space in the Case Mountain Recreation Area.

When we visit the area, we are following the footsteps of many generations of people who have loved Highland Park and its scenic woods. Hikers can follow the carriage path up to the summit, starting at the Birch Mountain Road parking lot, near the intersection with Camp Meeting Road. The parking lot has a kiosk with a big map showing the trails.

Ed. Notes about other Highland Park pages on this website:
To read about the inclusion of Case Brothers District in Highland Park on the National Register, see: Case Brothers Historic District.
To read about L.M. Porter and the development of the Blue Trails at Case Mountain and beyond, see: Trail Pioneer Lewis M. Porter.