This painting of the Connecticut River looking north across present-day Forest Park has been a treasured item of the Longmeadow Historical Society for many years. Enjoying pride of place over the mantel in the parlor, the front hall and other locations, it was painted by Joseph Antonio Hekking, circa 1876.
Hekking portrait as seen in the Storrs House c. 1910
Joseph Hekking was born in the Netherlands in 1830, studied in Paris, and died in New York in 1903. He lived in Cherry Valley, NY in 1859, and taught painting at the Cherry Valley Female Academy. Hekking served in the Civil War with a New York regiment. He lived in Hartford, CT from 1873-1878, where he met Professor Richard Salter Storrs of Longmeadow. Professor Storrs was a teacher, along with his sister Sarah, at the formerly named American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, now The American School for the Deaf. The vista that Hekking painted--a view of the Connecticut River Valley looking north toward Mt. Tom--was still largely private land. In 1884, Orick H. Greenleaf offered 65 acres for a park to be named Forest Park. Businessman Everett H. Barney donated another 178 acres. They convinced others to donate more land, until the park ultimately measured 735 acres. Much of this land was located in the nearby town of Longmeadow, just to the south. I can picture Hekking setting up his easel on the hill near the Picknelly Baseball field just at the entrance to Forest Park and Interstate 91. You can see what looks like bucolic farmland stretching out toward the city of Springfield, and you can just make out a train emerging from the trees. A covered bridge is visible in the distance, and to the far right, Mt. Tom.
A book created in 1930 detailing the original items in the Storrs House Museum collections describes the painting like this:"Large painting in gilt frame, stationary, over the fireplace in the south front room of the Storrs House. The artist painted this picture from the elevation above the Connecticut River now known as Long Hill Street and the particular spot was known as the Storrs Lot. Now occupied by the buildings of the Paulist Fathers. The painting shows a section of the river with the railroad bridge in the distance, also the irregular land between the River and Hill. Mt. Tom is seen in the distance. This was a favorite place for people to drive for the view, particularly at sunset."
-Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
Originally published July 28, 2022