Friday, July 3, 2015

A Quick Walk in Milford

Milford is technically a city, but its walkable center feels more like a small town.

Like Clinton, Milford is a place many people come to shop. The Connecticut Post Mall, and the concentration of strip malls and big box stores along Route 1, mean roads in that area are often horribly congested. But a few minutes away there is another Milford, where historic bridges are decorated with flowers, little waterfalls spill into rivers and ponds, and ducks swim happily everywhere. The leafy, monument-studded Broad Street Green is the second longest town green in Connecticut. (The longest is, confusingly, in New Milford, though both of those seem shorter to me than Lebanon's endless meadow of a town green.)

Many years ago, I used to spend a lot of time in Milford. Back then, no one seemed particularly thrilled to be spending time in Milford, but that's been changing for a while now. The city hasn't lost its old-fashioned feel - just look at the duck pond and the little storefronts on the small streets that curve between the train station and the river - but it's gained a new kind of energy. Maybe that's simply a result of Fairfield County's population overflowing to the east in search of slightly less expensive housing. Whatever the reason, for the moment it strikes a very pleasant balance - not yet obnoxiously gentrified, just a bit brighter and shinier, like all those ducks are finally lining themselves up into a row.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Main Street, Clinton

I would guess that to most people in most parts of Connecticut, the town of Clinton is synonymous with Clinton Crossing, the outlet center on Route 81. (And if the recorded welcome messages in multiple languages that you hear as you walk along the center's "sidewalks" are anything to go by, that probably holds true far beyond Connecticut as well.)

I will admit to spending an embarrassing amount of time at Clinton Crossing, but if you think - as I once did, years ago - that its stores are the only reason to visit this shoreline town, you are mistaken.

Take a walk down Clinton's Main Street (East and West Main meet above the Indian River, which winds its way past the town's beach and into Long Island Sound.) You'll see the Elisha White House, a.k.a. Old Brick, built in 1750 and now used by the Clinton Historical Society. Witch hazel, used "by early settlers for medicinal purposes" and "by Unilever/Ponds, a corporation that dominated manufacturing in Clinton for decades," grows in the garden in the back. 

You'll also pass all the usual small-town staples: coffee house, ice cream parlor, appliance store, post office, pizza place.

One thing I always notice every time I'm in Clinton is how much history and eccentricity remains. Some other towns might have demolished this little house and replaced it with a drab brick rectangle of an office building by now, but here it still stands proudly.

.The 1791 Adam Stanton House was built "by a wealthy, striving merchant-businessman."

The store sold "a wide array of dry goods from baskets to salt to tools and tea."

The Academy was founded in 1801 as, essentially, a prep school.

Higher education was big around here long before that, though; the Reverend Abraham Pierson, who was minister of the Congregational Church in Clinton beginning in 1694 (back when Clinton was still part of Killingworth) attended Harvard and helped found the school which would later become Yale.

(Speaking of New Haven - did I mention pizza?)

The current Congregational Church building, almost obscured by summer trees and standing high up on a hill, was built in 1837.

Everywhere you look in the center of Clinton, you'll spot some little plaque or monument. On a recent walk through town I noticed for the first time a little waterside gazebo at Clinton Landing, behind the Town Hall, and the site of the goldsmith shop of Abel Buell. 

Though I love the shoreline year round, summer is the time when this region comes alive. Merchandise is moved out of stores and onto sidewalks, people emerge from indoors to be near the water, and flowers bloom everywhere.

Summer is also when the flags appear. Suddenly, one day, they are everywhere (large, small, draped over doorways, hanging from utility poles on the main roads, stuck into flower pots) and weird, obstinate little Connecticut transforms into classic, jubilant America.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Nutmeg Poisoning

Happy Friday. Have an overdose of Connecticut.

-Matt Debenham writes for Buzzfeed about what it's like to live as an adjunct professor in Westport. Well, he never says it's Westport, just "one of the most expensive [towns] in the country" where your kid's friend's mom might say to you, “Your house is so cute! Is it your only one?” So we all know.

-The New York Times notices that "locally made cheeses are having a moment" in Connecticut.

-American Dirt has an interesting view of a topic that might not sound very interesting at first: the Brass Mill Center, that rather sad shopping mall in Waterbury.

-Robert Sietsema and Nick Solares explore Connecticut (the geography of which, they write, includes "small mountains scattered seemingly at random, creating isolated pockets of habitation") for an Eater NY piece on the state's best "franks, burgers, and fried clams."

-Trend CT analyzes the data on Dunkin' Donuts stores in New England. (Hartford and New Haven both make the list of top five DD-saturated towns in the region.)

-New London's Ledge Light and Norwalk's Sheffield Island Lighthouse appear on this Country Living slideshow of the "30 Most Beautiful Lighthouses in America."

-And finally, file under "So this happened..." Hartford (specifically, the Mark Twain House) is in Domino.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Trolley Trail

It's difficult to imagine this today but once upon a time, trolleys connected the towns of the Connecticut shoreline. They are long gone (though they have their own museum in East Haven, not to be confused with the trolley museum in East Windsor that I wrote about in this post) but their route remains. Part of it has been converted into one of my favorite short trails in the state.

The Trolley Trail in Branford is less than a mile long. It begins as a gravel path lined with beach grass, crosses a 1907 truss bridge, then transitions into a walkway shaded by ancient rocks and leafy trees. It suddenly becomes a concrete catwalk above the salt marsh, before ending as an aisle cut through a wild place where bees buzz and unruly flowers bloom. Its route takes you over tidal wetlands and past the Thimble Islands, those famous rocks with houses perched improbably on top. It smells like salt water and sweetness, and it sounds like birds and footsteps and the occasional train speeding past on a parallel track.

There are parking lots at either end of the Trolley Trail. The one off West Point Road is easier to find, and to reach it you get to drive through the wholly charming village of Stony Creek. You can bike (most of) the Trolley Trail, but don't. It would all go by too fast, and this is one route you definitely want to travel slowly.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Laurel City

Winsted is a city located within the town of Winchester, much like Willimantic is a city within Windham and Groton is a city within Groton.

If you live in Connecticut long enough you'll get used to such things, but the first time you discover one of these little cities wearing a town like an overcoat, your mind will be blown.

I remember when I first drove through Winsted. It was perhaps seven years ago, shortly after I moved back to Connecticut, and I was perplexed by what I thought was a singular (and uniquely weird) municipal and geographical arrangement.

But that's not what I remember most about my first impression of Winsted. What struck me initially was the unusually wide main street, not the norm for a Connecticut town settled in the mid-18th century. As it turned out, the street had not originally been laid out in such an open, almost Midwestern manner; it was widened to four lanes after the devastating floods of 1955 wiped away a great swath of downtown. Then I noticed the old mill buildings along the Mad River. (Is there a better-named river anywhere in the country? The world?) Here they made scythes, and hosiery, and clocks - a typical non-sequitur of a shopping list from Connecticut's manufacturing glory days.

Today in Winsted, as in other Connecticut cities, people are making - or trying to make - good use of those old brick mills and factories. There is still a long way to go, but I hope their efforts succeed. There's so much potential in that wide main street, the proud buildings that line it, and the little river - calm, for now - that runs alongside.


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