Mr. Bristol Deserves Better
William H. Bristol Park, Middlebury
Many Connecticutians have driven by this place and perhaps wondered for two seconds what it is. They see a car or two parked and maybe catch a glimpse of a picnic table. My guess is that this is one of those old time “rest stops” from back in the day that dot the state’s two-lane highways, harkening back to a time when two lanes were the most lanes.
And if you have wondered what it’s like to hike the trails at William H. Bristol park… wonder no more! I’m here for you.
No, seriously, wonder no more. Just keep driving to your destination. It’s better there, I promise. What? You still want to know what the trails here like? Sigh. Okay.
There are a few trails here, and they are cleared fairly well. The blazing is a bit suspect, but the property is small and you’re not going to get too lost. From the parking lot, a web of orange trails takes hikers north towards the web of blue trails. Again, don’t worry about the blazes, as you won’t see too many. Just walk on one and see where it takes you.
There’s one interesting feature in this whole park, which I’ll get to in a minute or two. In the meantime, what you should really be wondering about is who is William H. Bristol and why does he get a park in Middlebury named after him? Because Mr. Bristol was rather awesome.
William Henry Bristol, who died in 1930, was an inventor, manufacturer, educator, and environmentalist – and he lived right here in Middlebury.
After getting an engineering degree in 1884, he patented products including a steel lacing for industrial belts and a pressure chart recorder. The need to manufacture these products led to the founding of the Bristol Company in 1889 with his brother, Franklin, and his father, Benjamin. He became a professor while his company was manufacturing the largest and most complete line of industrial instruments in the world, including instruments to measure and record temperature, electricity, pressure, motion, time, flow, and humidity. His company’s products allowed other companies to improve their processes for making their products.
But Bristol wasn’t done.
In 1904, Professor Bristol invented the first practical pyrometer for measuring high temperatures. This created another new industry and led to the formation of the William H. Bristol Pyrometer Company in New York City. Then he entered a new and ground-breaking world of invention.
In 1915, he invented the “Bristolphone” to simultaneously record voices and other sounds with motion in moving pictures. Not content with two successful companies, he founded the William H. Bristol Talking Picture Corporation to develop “synchronized talking motion pictures,” and produced one of the first full-length motion pictures with sound. The Bristolphone was used in nearly one hundred movie houses in the U.S. He also developed and manufactured loud speakers, power amplifiers, radios and phonograph recorders. His “Audiophone,” which was used at Yankee Stadium and Grand Central Station in New York, revolutionized public address systems.
Wait a minute. This dude sounds like one of the more important people in the history of Connecticut and not only has no one heard of him, all he gets is a little roadside park in Middlebury? Oh yeah, his park…
I continued to wander around on the blue trail and passed near what I believe was a homeless camp. I found myself next to Long Swamp Brook collecting ticks in a gas line cut. Several rogue trails branch off from the main trails, but they don’t really lead to anywhere new. After a while, I was nearing the parking lot again and found myself in a jumble of boulders.
Okay, this is cool. This is the stuff that seven-year-olds live for. Climbing up giant boulders while their mothers tell them not to. Peering over the ledge as their mothers threaten to take away their Fortnight privileges.
As for me, I’m old but I still enjoyed scrambling around the rocks. There’s a really cool split rock here as well that was a nice surprise. It looks like a giant clam. The boulders are very near the parking lot, so there’s no need to wander around the mucky woods contracting Lyme disease to enjoy them.
Between the lot and the road, the brook burbles through a shaded grove near the picnic tables. It’s actually very nice and I wouldn’t tell you not to enjoy a sandwich there.
And there you have it: William H. Bristol Park along route 64 in Middlebury. Stick that in your Bristolphone and smoke it.