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Harkness Memorial State Park | Raquel & Josh’s Summer Engagement Session

May 27, 2024

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Harkness Memorial State Park offers a blend of historical grandeur and natural beauty, making it an ideal location for engagement sessions. Recently, I had the pleasure of photographing Raquel and Josh here, and the results were nothing short of magical. This blog post will delve into the history and appeal of Harkness Memorial State Park, particularly for engagement sessions, and share highlights from Raquel and Josh’s memorable day.

Harkness Memorial State Park

History of Harkness Memorial State Park

Early History

Harkness Memorial State Park, located in Waterford, Connecticut, spans over 230 acres of pristine coastline. The centerpiece of the park is the Eolia Mansion, a stunning Roman Renaissance Revival structure built in 1906 and purchased by Edward and Mary Harkness in 1907. The Harkness family used it as their summer retreat, enjoying its expansive gardens and breathtaking views of Long Island Sound.

Edward and Mary Harkness were prominent philanthropists, and their influence extended to the mansion’s design and landscaping. The architectural firm Lord & Hewlett initially designed the mansion, while later renovations were overseen by James Gamble Rogers. Landscape architect Beatrix Jones Farrand, one of the founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects, designed the estate’s formal gardens, adding to its historical significance​.

Restoration Efforts

The state of Connecticut acquired the estate in 1950, and significant restoration efforts have been made to preserve its original splendor. A major renovation project began in the late 1990s, aiming to restore the mansion and gardens to their early 20th-century condition. These efforts included structural repairs, updates to the electrical and plumbing systems, and meticulous restoration of the gardens, ensuring that the park remains a timeless backdrop for events and photography​.

Harkness Memorial State Park

The Mansion – Eolia

Architectural Beauty

The Eolia Mansion, named after the Greek god of winds, boasts 42 rooms filled with historical charm and elegance. The mansion’s design features a blend of Roman Renaissance and Classical Revival styles, with intricate details that make it a captivating location for photography. The pergola (tearoom), carriage house, and lush gardens enhance the mansion’s allure, providing numerous picturesque spots for capturing engagement photos​.

Garden Splendor

Flanking the mansion are the East and West Gardens, along with the Boxwood Parterre and Alpine Rock Garden. These meticulously maintained gardens offer a vibrant and romantic setting for photos. The west garden, redesigned by Beatrix Farrand, features a variety of flowers, plants, and trees that create a stunning backdrop throughout the year. The gardens’ careful design and upkeep ensure that they remain a highlight of the park.

Harkness Memorial State Park

The Perfect Setting for Engagement Sessions

Scenic Variety

Harkness Memorial State Park is a photographer’s dream, offering a diverse range of settings from manicured gardens to scenic beachfronts. The park’s expansive lawns, stately trees, and panoramic views of Long Island Sound provide endless opportunities for beautiful and dynamic engagement photos. Couples can enjoy the blend of natural and historical elements, creating a unique and memorable experience.

Romantic Ambiance

The romantic atmosphere of the mansion and gardens is undeniable. The elegant architecture, combined with the tranquil beauty of the surrounding landscape, sets the perfect stage for capturing intimate moments. Features such as the pergola, fountains, and sweeping lawns add to the park’s charm, making it an ideal location for couples seeking a romantic and picturesque engagement session​.

Raquel and Josh’s Engagement Session

Session Overview

Raquel and Josh’s engagement session at Harkness Memorial State Park was a testament to the park’s beauty and versatility. We began the session in the mansion’s gardens, capturing the couple amidst the vibrant flora. The lush greenery and historic architecture provided a stunning contrast, highlighting their love and joy.

Photographic Highlights

We moved to the beachfront, where the gentle waves and expansive horizon added a serene and timeless quality to the photos. The natural beauty of the setting perfectly complements Raquel and Josh’s playful and affectionate interactions. The combination of garden elegance and coastal charm made for a truly enchanting session, with each location offering unique ambiance and photographic opportunities.

Tips for Planning an Engagement Session at Harkness Memorial State Park

Booking and Permits

To plan an engagement session at Harkness Memorial State Park, it is important to book in advance and secure any necessary permits. The park is a popular venue for weddings and events, so early planning is key. Contact the park administration to inquire about availability and specific photography session requirements.

Best Times for Photos

The best times for capturing stunning photos at Harkness Memorial State Park are during the golden hours of early morning or late afternoon. The soft, natural light during these times enhances the beauty of the surroundings and adds a warm, romantic glow to the photos. Spring and summer offer vibrant floral displays, while autumn brings rich, warm tones to the landscape.

Additional Considerations

Consider outfits that complement the park’s natural and historical settings. Soft, flowing fabrics and classic styles work well against the backdrop of the mansion and gardens. Bringing a few props, such as a blanket for beach photos or a bouquet for garden shots, can add a personal touch to the session.


Harkness Memorial State Park is a dream location for engagement sessions, offering a blend of historical elegance and natural beauty. Raquel and Josh’s session perfectly showcased the park’s versatility and charm, providing a stunning setting for their love story. If you’re planning an engagement session or wedding, consider the timeless beauty of Harkness Memorial State Park. Contact Colton Simmons Photography to book your session and capture the magic of your special moments.

By choosing Harkness Memorial State Park, you are embracing a location steeped in history and beauty and creating memories that will last a lifetime. Let’s make your engagement session as enchanting and unforgettable as Raquel and Josh’s. Book now to secure your date and start planning your dream photoshoot.



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