The Shade Swamp Sanctuary began in 1926 with the gift of 144 acres of Farmington swamp and timberland by Walter W. Holmes. The White Foundation of Litchfield and the State Board of Fisheries and Game added five hundred acres. From then until 1934, the sanctuary was only a game refuge. Arthur L. Clark, superintendent of the Connecticut State Board, became keenly interested in it developed the place as an experimental breeding station and a year-around zoo of game birds and animals native to Connecticut. Federal agencies aided in building pens to be used for some of the native animals.

The creators of the Sanctuary did not want a game farm. The purpose had several aspects: education and breeding of wildlife and birds using scientific methods. Experiments were aided with the help of Professor T. Hume Bissonnette of Trinity College. An example was by Professor Bissonnette who used additional lighting to change the mating system of wildlife, like starlings. The sanctuary had international recognition. [3] The “Little Zoo” demonstrated a notable popularity. Summer visitor totals ranged from 1,500 to 3,000 on Sundays during the summers. Pheasant production numbers at the Sanctuary increased 150%. Albert Csech and his assistants increased the breeding of a higher valued and commercial raccoon. Fourteen raccoons were raised in 1934 and in 1935 the numbers were up to 35. By 1936 he predicted double that number.[4]

During the summer of 1934, Mary Pasco became the first women nature guide in New England at Shade Swamp Sanctuary. She worked for the Connecticut State Forestry and Park Department who collaborated with the State Board of Fisheries and Game. Her job was to guide the tourists, pointing out the trees, shrubs and flowers that were native to Connecticut. She also provided information on the native animals and birds. Peter Marteka wrote in 2008 that “There was a time when Mary Pasco, a rifle slung over her shoulder for protection, roamed the forests and wetlands of the Shade Swamp Sanctuary in Farmington.”[5] After the summer, Mary Pasco went back to school in September at Connecticut State College (now the University of Connecticut). She wanted to continue her studies in forestry and game Management. Long range she looked for a career in the outdoors. [6]

In September 1934, Albert Csech was named the superintendent replacement for the Shade Swamp Sanctuary. Robert Smith, the previous superintendent, had retired in August. It was during this period that significant changes were happening at Shade Swamp. The Nature League of Connecticut and Camp Roberts CCC workers worked on the changes. The CCC built the shelter at the Sanctuary. It was also during this period of improvements that the plans were made for exhibition cages of the native animals. The Sanctuary leaders had goals to make this an “outstanding zoological park.” Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was being considered for fall and winter of 1934 improvements. [7]

In June 1939, the Shade Swamp Sanctuary met financial problems due to a decline of revenue which caused the closing of the wildlife exhibit. The cost of the Sanctuary was between $5,000 and $7,500 a year. Connecticut’s raccoon program would be transferred to another location. The State Board of Fisheries and Game Board would have to search for a new place for the native birds and animals. The Wildlife Sanctuary was to remain at Shade Swamp but there would be no wildlife exhibits. The cost was $1,000 a year for the Sanctuary’s operations. For $1000 a year the Wildlife Sanctuary was to remain, with the native birds and animals from the area. A caretaker would no longer be necessary. [8]

During the 1960s there were some group events still going on in Shade Swamp Sanctuary. A Field Guide, published in 1963, was produced to help publicized the trails.  In September of 1964, a tour with teachers and youth leaders met at the sanctuary. The State Board of Fisheries and Game were taking part of this briefing and tour. [9] In the 1970s, the Farmington Valley Woman’s club planned on restoration of trails as a part of its support for the conservation, recreation and youth projects. In the 1970s, the Farmington Valley Women’s Club planned the restoration of trails as a part of its support for the conservation, recreation and youth projects. The National Register of Historic Places added the Sanctuary’s shelter to its list on September 4, 1986.

Until the mid 1960s, the Sanctuary still had hikers and walkers. The caretaker removal by the state, meant no one to supervise the area. In September 1983, the Department of Transportation (DOT) closed off the parking area, used as a rest area; this was done after complaints from those living in the area. Town and state officials had met on the issue. There existed questions on ownership of the area. DOT had control of rest area, but the Department of Environmental Protection owned the sanctuary. Governor William O’Neil made it official about the closure. [10]

The Hartford Courant’s, Peter Marteka, wrote about Mary Pasco’s tours of Shade Swamp and how the trail was in the 21st Century. “The trail then plunges into the forest and the sounds of the busy highway start to disappear as visitors pass the ruins of an old roadside wildlife area that existed here until the early 1960s – a sort of zoo for rare and endangered birds and animals.” [11]


[3] White Memorial Foundation, (Hartford, Prospect Press, 1938). This was a 25th anniversary of the Foundation.

[4] Wesley Griswold, “Nature’s Laws Are Improved Upon Calmly and Practically At Farmington, Hartford Courant, December 16, 1936, E1.

[5] Peter Marteka, “Sanctuary Offers Two Types of Heaven,” Hartford Courant, August 15, 2008, B3.

[6] Lydia Hewes, “Connecticut Employs First Woman Nature Guide to Show Wildlife Wonders of Shade Swamp Game Sanctuary,” Hartford Daily Times, July 28 1934.

[7] “Game Sanctuary will be Improved During Winter,” Farmington Valley Herald, September 20, 1934, 6. The CCC Camp Roberts was located in Black Rock State Park May 30, 1933 and closed on September 28, 1937.

[8] “Farmington Sanctuary Wildlife Exhibit Will Be Closed As Economy Measure,” Hartford Courant, June 22, 1939, 1.

[9] “Teachers, Youth Leaders to Get Briefing at Farmington Sanctuary,” Hartford Courant, September 16, 1964, 19B.

[10] “Lovers’ Lane Comes to End of the Road,” Hartford Courant, September 1, 1983, E7.

[11] Peter Marteka, “Sanctuary Offers Two Types of Heaven,” Hartford Courant, August 15, 2008, B3.