Gene Pitney Memorial Park
Gene Pitney Memorial Park, 19 Grove St., is a pocket park on a reclaimed industrial site adjacent to Paper Mill Pond in the Rockville section of Vernon. It is named in honor of Vernon native and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Gene Pitney, who used to write music along the banks of Paper Mill Pond and at Vernon’s Henry Park.
When Vernon Mayor Dan Champagne was elected in 2013 he made it a goal to transform the dilapidated site along the Hockanum River into a green gateway to historic Rockville.
Mayor Champagne obtained assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to begin cleanup of the site. Once the town took possession of the three-acre parcel, it was transformed into a park by Vernon Public Works, Parks and Recreation and Water Pollution Control crews. The engineering department provided key assistance. It was dedicated in October 2020.
What was once an industrial brownfield is now a place for people to go to relax, have a quiet lunch, go for a walk or fish. (The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection advises that fish caught in the Hockanum River are not safe for consumption, but says catch and release activities are safe.)
During his career, Pitney had 16 Top 40 singles on the American pop charts, and wrote hits for other artists, including “Hello Mary Lou” for Rick Nelson and “He’s a Rebel” for the Crystals. Pitney remained an international star long after his songs faded from the charts. He was a particular favorite in Britain, where he had 26 Top 40 hits. Pitney was touring in Wales when he died on Aug. 5, 2006 at age 66.