Historic Preservation Newsletter, Fall 2008
Heritage Trees in Wilcox Park, Westerly, Rhode Island
by Elena M. Pascarella, ASLA, with assistance from Alan Peck

Wilcox Park is a 15-acre park located in the center of the small coastal town of Westerly, Rhode Island. In 1898, Harriet Wilcox donated a 7-acre estate and funds to establish Wilcox Park as a memorial to her late husband, Stephen Wilcox. Warren Manning  designed the Victorian strolling garden with perimeter walks, open meadow, formal entrances, native trees and shrubs, and dense border plantings. The original acreage had doubled by 1905 when Frank Hamilton extended Manning’s plan and incorporated a pond. Arthur A. Shurcliff added to the Manning and Hamilton work with designs for a formal terrace (1924), ballustrade (1929), and a World War I Memorial (1937). 

The park, in addition to its strolling walks, is currently home to numerous community public events such as concerts, art festivals, and Shakespearean theatre events. The park also serves as an arboretum with a unique and extensive collection of both native and specimen plantings. Some trees date back beyond 300 years to the original farm estates that existed prior to the establishment of the park. 

There are three notable trees in the park that have colorful histories. The first is a large white oak (Quercus alba) that is situated on the downward slope of a knoll located in the north end of the park. The tree has a canopy spread of 114 feet and a DBH (diameter at breast height) of over 52 inches. James W. Maguire, certified arborist, estimated the tree as being over 300 years old in his tree inventory.

A hardy rubber tree (Eucommia ulmoides) was planted in 1989 as a memorial to a local Westerly legend, Ellison “Tarzan” Brown. Brown was a Narragansett Indian, born in Charlestown, Rhode Island, who loved to run. His numerous wins included the 1936 and 1939 Boston Marathons. A member of the 1936 Olympic Team, Brown was also renowned for having run 2 successive marathons within a 24-hour time frame. This Eucommia has a 25-foot canopy and a DBH of 11 inches and is listed on the tree inventory as being mature in age.

Close by the Tarzan Brown memorial tree is a tree dedicated to another local legend of a more regional notoriety. Rocky Marciano was born in Brockton, Massachusetts and went on to become one of the boxing world’s great fighters. An 18-inch DBH beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) serves as his memorial, and states that he was the world heavyweight champion from 1952 until his retirement in 1956.  Although not from Westerly, Marciano’s Italian heritage sparked the initiative for the planting of this memorial tree among the large local Italian-American population.

These three trees each have a different story and a unique history. The Memorial and Library Association of Westerly that manages and maintains the park has recently completed projects that have upgraded walks and improved the condition of trees and shrubs, all in keeping with the original Manning, Hamilton, and Shurcliff plans. The park, therefore, is a wonderful example of a late 19th century landscape. In 2000, Wilcox Park was cited as a Medallion Park by the American Society of Landscape Architects. In 2004, its listing on the National Register of Historic Places was upgraded to that of national significance due to Manning’s work. Wilcox Park should be on every landscape architect’s list of places to visit. For photographs of Wilcox Park, please visit the website.

Elena M. Pascarella, ASLA is the principal at Landscape Elements LLC in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, and can be reached at emp@landscapeelementsllc.com.
Alan Peck is the Park Manager at the Westerly Public Library and Wilcox Park, and can be reached at 410-596-2877, ext 334.

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Andrew Kohr, ASLA, Chair
(678) 689-2377

Earen Hummel, ASLA, Vice Chair
(970) 484-6073

Tina Bishop, ASLA, Chair-Elect
(303) 477-5244

David Driapsa, ASLA, HALS Coordinator
(239) 591-2321