Monday, April 20, 2020

Elizabeth Biglow Ballard: 
The Lady of the Park
     Some people are influential through the works they performed in life. Some, like Elizabeth Ballard, were influential in death as well. She bequeathed Ballard Park, the five acres of her old homestead that have brought enjoyment to countless Ridgefielders of all ages and that have helped keep the village business district within its ancient boundaries.
     Ballard Park has been the scene of countless concerts, and it was probably 19th Century musicians who helped bring Mrs. Ballard’s family to Ridgefield.
     Elizabeth Biglow Ballard was born in 1876 in New York City. Her father, Lucius Horatio Biglow, was a major publisher of music, particularly hymns, whose company was called Biglow and Main. The Main was Sylvester Main, a Ridgefield native who was a music teacher and hymn composer. His son, Hubert Main, also born in Ridgefield, was also a composer who wrote the music for many of the songs Biglow published. And both Mains were close friends of Fanny Crosby, the blind hymnist who spent much of her childhood in Ridgefield and eventually wrote more than 8,000 hymns, many published by Biglow and Main.
     With all those Ridgefield ties probably singing the praises of the town, as well as of the Lord, Mr. Biglow may have been inspired to check out Ridgefield, liked what he saw, and in 1887 bought a home recently vacated by Dr. Daniel Lucius Adams, a retired physician who many credit with being a founder of modern-day baseball. The house had earlier belonged to Col. Philip Burr Bradley, a Revolutionary War leader.
Biglow called his new Main Street estate Graeloe, a word made up of the name of his wife, Anna Graham, and his own name, with the E’s added to give it a Gaelic flavor. 
     
     Elizabeth would have been about 11 when she arrived in Ridgefield; she spent much of  the rest of her life at Graeloe. In 1906, she married Edward Lathrop Ballard (1870-1937), founder and former chairman of the executive committee of the Merchants Fire Assurance Corporation of New York. They had two daughters and a son, and lived at both Graeloe and a home on Park Avenue in Manhattan.
     Over the years Ballard was active in the community. In 1936 during the height of the Depression, she and 10 other women got together to do something about problems of juvenile delinquency. They decided to create the Ridgefield Boys’ Club to keep boys busy and out of trouble (girls, presumably, were not troublemakers in need of activities beyond the home!). Mrs. Ballard served as chairman of the club’s board for many years and in 1960, she received the National Boys Club’s Keystone Award.
     She joined the Ridgefield Garden Club shortly after its founding in 1914 and  twice was its president. “Mrs. Ballard was keenly interested in horticulture and maintained the flower garden on Gilbert Street which had been started by her parents,” The Ridgefield Press said. “Her entries in flower shows won many prizes over the years.”
When she died in 1964 at the age of 87, she ordered that her house be torn down so that the property could be used as a park. She felt that Ridgefield already owned an old mansion on Main Street — the Lounsbury House — and that a second mansion would be a burden.
     However, a couple of outbuildings were retained, including her greenhouse, now used by both Ridgefield and Caudatowa Garden Clubs. She also left community grants totalling $250,000 (about $2.1 million today), among them $25,000 ($210,000) for a fund to maintain the trees and shrubs in the new park.
     In her will, Mrs. Ballard explained her bequest of the park: “Having resided the greater part of my life in the heart of Ridgefield, I have become increasingly aware of the expansion of business and commercial activities to the exclusion of open land available for the pleasure, rest  and recreation of the citizens of the town,” she said. “The easterly portion of my home property, with its landscaping and varied trees and shrubs, originally planted by my father, the late L. Horatio Biglow, over 75 years ago, has appeared to me to be ideally suited for a park to satisfy the increasing need for an area close to the business center of the town where persons, both young and old, may be free to gather in pleasant surroundings for rest and recreation.”

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