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Rockwell Park

Rockwell History

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Rockwell History
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By: Gail Leach

Member of the Greater Bristol Historical Society Inc.

After a yellow fever epidemic in Jacksonville, Florida in 1888, Albert F. Rockwell and his brother moved to Bristol. They were in search of a place to develop their invention of a door bell operated by clock works. Their decision to move to Bristol was based on Bristol's Nation-wide reputation as a clock-town. The Rockwell brothers began manufacturing their product from a room rented in the Thompson Clock Factory. This one room factory run by the two brothers was called the New Departure Bell Company. They soon expanded their product line to bells for other purposes. In 1890 they leased a brick building east of North Main Street and continued to expand their product line. Their products included bicycle bells and bicycle lamps. The patenting of the New Departure coaster brake in 1898 created such a demand for coaster brakes that the company had to limit its products to two items only; coaster brakes and bicycle lamps. The production of coaster brakes soon reached 5,400 per day.

In 1901, the name of the company was changed to the New Departure Manufacturing Company. The rapid groth of the automobile industry created a great demand for ball bearings. Again Mr. Rockwell's inventive genius brought business to his company. The Rockwell ball bearing became the preferred ball bearing of the better grade cars. In 1919 New Departure became a part of General Motors Corporation. In 1929 production of ball bearings reached 166,500 per day. Albert Rockwell left as company president in 1913, after difficulties with his brother-in-law, DeWitt Page.

Albert and his wife, Nettie, resided at Brightwood Hall. Brightwood was built for Mrs. Helen Welch Atkins-Mckay although she died before construction was completed. Brightwood was situated above West Street at an elevation of 500 feet above sea level to secure freedom from the dust of the roads. The grounds were enclosed on the east and north by massive granite walls laid in cement. The approuch to the house was through two hansom gateways, one at the south end and the other at the north east corner. A wood cottage existed on the grounds which was built in 1888 and originally served a a summer resort. Mrs. Atkins-McKay lived there while Brightwood was being constructed, The granite for Brightwood was taken for the most part from the ground on which the structure was built. To the west of the cottage was a tea house and at the foot of the elevation on West Street was the Superintendents Lodge, which still stands.

In 1914, Albert Rockwell made a formal offer to the city of Bristol to convey 80 archers of heavily wooded land on the condition that the city spend $15,000 to develop it as a park. Also the city had to agree to spend $3,000 anually for eight years for it's maintenance. The city accepted and received the deed for the property. Six years later Rockwell added an additional tract of 15 acres which became the Rockwell Park Playground.

"Mrs. Rockwell's Playground" opened its gates for the first time in 1917, and included some of the most modern equipment for its time. Although the Rockwell family donated many other sites to Bristol, the playground was Mrs. Rockwell's first love and she continued to contribute to it's upkeep during her lifetime.

Mrs. Rockwell died in 1938 but provided generously for the park and playground in her will. $122,000 was left to the city for the upkeep of the playground and she also left an additional $790,000 to be placed in trust for the park system. The trust is now estimated to have grown to nine million dollars

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