Winant Park History

New Concord Park Honors NH Governor John Gilbert Winant

A scenic 85-acre park atop one of Concord’s highest hills opened in June to honor one of New Hampshire’s great governors, John Gilbert Winant, and his wife Constance Russell Winant. The park is a gift to the City of Concord from the late governor’s son, Rivington R. Winant, and his wife, Joan, of New York City. The final transfer of the property was completed in 2009, and was made possible through a complex collaboration among the Winants, the City, Five Rivers Conservation Trust, and St. Paul’s School.

The City owns and manages the new public park, subject to a conservation easement held by Five Rivers Conservation Trust that ensures the property will be protected in perpetuity. Through a separate easement conveyed to the City with an executory interest to Five Rivers, St. Paul’s allowed construction of a parking area, trailhead, and an access trail from land the school owns along Fisk Road to the landlocked Winant property.

“My father attended, taught at, and is buried at St. Paul’s School and served for three terms as Governor of the State. He cared deeply for both,” Rivington Winant said in announcing the gift. “I have long believed that since the views from the top of the hill include both the School and the State Capital, it would be an appropriate site for a memorial.”

Rivington Winant grew up on the Winant property near what is now Concord Hospital. The 85 acres is the remnant of a larger estate on Pleasant Street near the intersection of what is now Langley Parkway. When the estate was divided by Governor Winant’s widow, Constance, in 1948, the main house and considerable acreage were sold to the state as a home for developmentally disabled children. However, as the house failed to meet fire safety standards, the state subsequently sold the property to the Unitarian Universalist Church. Mrs. Winant sold the pasture land across Pleasant Street to the Carmelites for their Convent.

The land encompassed by the new park is dominated by pine-oak forests, and at one time served as the bridle trails for the estate. Over the years, nearby residents have privately maintained and used the property’s extensive trail network for hiking, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking. Notably, the new park marks a step forward in conserving an almost-continuous green belt from Pleasant Street to Little Pond Road and the Walker State Forest.

The official park entrance on St. Paul’s land off Fisk Road includes a small off-road parking area, bicycle racks, a small bridge across Miller’s Brook, and an informational kiosk recounting the history of the park and a biography of Governor Winant.

“We’re pleased to help provide access to Winant Park,” said St. Paul’s School Rector William R. Matthews, “not only to honor a prominent School alumnus, New Hampshire governor, and ambassador to the Court of St. James, but also to be part of this beautiful new public area of Concord, so close to our grounds.”

The Unitarian Universalist Church has also kindly provided user access through its driveway across an existing right-of-way.

As outlined in the conservation easement developed by the parties, the park is intended solely for non-motorized recreational uses such as hiking, skiing, and bicycling. The intent of the gift is to preserve the wild nature and native habitat of the park; no park buildings, sport facilities, or other formalized structures or fields will ever be built there.

In addition to the land gift and easements, Mr. & Mrs. Winant are generously funded the initial construction costs for the parking lot and clearing the trails, the kiosk, and trailside benches. The city bears responsibility for maintaining trails and the parking area, and for other park management. Five Rivers is charged with monitoring and enforcing the terms of the two easements to ensure that the park is managed for the public benefit and in accordance with the agreements made amongst the parties.

“Winant Park will be a tremendous open space resource for Concord, and we have been most pleased to work with the Winants, the City and St. Paul’s on this project” said Mark Zankel, chair of the Five Rivers Conservation Trust. “We applaud Rivington and Joan Winant for their vision and generosity, and the legacy they are leaving for all of us who value New Hampshire’s history and its natural environment.”

Kit Morgan, chairman of the Concord Conservation Commission, added, “We are honored and thrilled that the City has been given this parcel of open space land for future generations to enjoy in memory of the Winants. This is a popular area for hiking, skiing and other recreation, and being so close to downtown and other developed areas will be a convenient place for people to get outside and enjoy the woods.”

For more information on the park and trails, visit the website of the Five Rivers Conservation Trust.

Brief Biography of John Gilbert Winant

John Gilbert Winant was born in New York in 1889 and attended St. Paul’s School, graduating in 1908. He attended Princeton and returned to St. Paul’s, where he taught history. He left to serve in World War I, then returned to St. Paul’s to teach. While there, he became interested in politics, served in the State Legislature and in 1925 became the country’s youngest governor. A moderate Republican, Winant eventually served three terms as governor, 1925-1927 and 1931-35.After Winant completed his governorship, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, recognizing that he was a liberal Republican, appointed Winant as the first Chairman of the Social Security Board. (NH Hampshire residents often have the digits 001 at the beginning of their Social Security number, thanks to Winant’s fondness for his adopted state.) During the 1936 election the retention or abolition of Social Security became a hot political issue. Winant believed its continued existence was vitally important for the country, so he resigned as Chairman and spoke publicly in support of Social Security and FDR.

In 1937 Roosevelt asked Winant to go to Geneva as the senior US member of the International Labor Organization. While located in the same city as the League of Nations, the ILO had none of the League’s overt political connotations but had the same diplomatic standing. Winant became its Director-General and was able to keep close watch on events in both organizations and report back to Washington.

As World War II loomed, Roosevelt appointed Winant as the American ambassador to the Court of St. James in London, replacing Joseph Kennedy. Winant and Prime Minister Winston Churchill became close friends, and Winant spent much time at Churchill’s country estate Chequers.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Winant was in the room when Churchill turned on the radio and heard that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Both men were incredulous and Churchill said, “We shall declare war on Japan.” Rivington Winant recalls that his father said “Good God, you can’t declare war on a radio announcement.” Churchill replied “What should I do? Winant answered “I will call up the President by telephone and find out what the facts are.” Churchill added “And I will talk to him too.”

Throughout the war, Winant frequently traveled throughout England and is still remembered for his likeable and reassuring nature. During the war, he was presented with the ceremonial keys to a number of English cities and at the end of the war, King George VI presented him with the Order of Merit, Great Britain’s highest civilian honor. At the ceremony, the Queen said to Winant “you deserve it more than anyone.”

President Truman recalled Winant in 1946. He retired to Concord to write his memoirs and, overcome by deep depression, he took his own life on the day the first volume of his book was published in November 1947. He is buried in St. Paul’s School cemetery off Hopkinton Road.