Monday, April 20, 2015

Ferry Landing

You won't see it from your car on the bridge that carries I-95 high above the Connecticut River, but you might glimpse it from the window of an Amtrak train rushing to New York. You might look away from your work or your phone and glance down at just the right moment, as you travel above Old Lyme. If you do, you might catch it, stretching out across the blue water below: a narrow wooden pier, extending from the rocky shore to a raised platform, where - were you not on this train - you could sit for hours, surrounded by the marsh and the birds and the stillness.

You might be surprised that this slow watery place exists so far off your radar, somewhere between Providence and Baltimore, or Boston and Washington, or whatever two bustling places you will be in today. You will probably forget about it soon afterwards. If you don't, though, you can always come back to Ferry Landing State Park at the DEEP Marine Headquarters.

Standing on the wooden walkway, if you look up at just the right moment, you can spot the Northeast Regional as it comes into view, blurs into a streak of silver, then moves on.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Nutmeg Poisoning

-Freda Moon and Tim Stelloh wrote a gripping four-part story for Buzzfeed about a 1993 New Haven murder and its Corrupticut-style aftermath.

-When I wrote this post, I recommended the bookstore Other Tiger in Westerly, RI. Then the store closed. (Sad face.) But according to Shelf Awareness, the owners of Bank Square Books in Mystic will open a replacement, the Savoy Bookshop and Cafe, possibly in July.

-WNPR's Patrick Skahill reported on a "mysterious" historic house in Guilford.

-The Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast covered the Hartford Circus Fire.

-The nation's oldest furniture store is in Connecticut, of course. Well, it was in Connecticut. (Sad face again.)

-Johnsonville, the East Haddam "ghost town" I mentioned here and here, is for sale again (via

-Kristen of Milo and Molly and the Nutmeg Collective rounded up some locally made Etsy gems.

-This New Yorker cartoonist understands my life.

-And finally, FiveThirtyEight explored 50 years of American spice consumption. ("Nutmeg peaked in the 1980s and has since declined, while mace, made from the fruit of the same plant, has seen an increase in imports in recent years after declines in the 1980s and ’90s.")

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

NYC | High Line

I am probably one of the last people in the Tri-State area, if not the world, to make it to the attraction I overheard a tourist in Chelsea last week describe as "That High Line thing. It's like a walkway. I don't know what's up there."

Preservation of the High Line, the 1930s railroad trestle above Manhattan's West Side, began in the 1990s. But by the time the first section was opened to the public, it was 2009, three years after I had left the city. I've been back since then, but I've never had the time to be a tourist. Perhaps more importantly, I didn't want to be a tourist. New York moves fast, and when you leave you're gone, like you've stepped off a quickly spinning platform. You can't just jump back on. Returning to the city where I'd lived for so long, only to realize I was no different from those slow-walking hordes who don't know what's up there, on that walkway thing, just didn't sound like fun.

But last week, finally, I climbed the stairs and walked the entirety of this linear park, from Gansevoort Street to the Rail Yards. Joining throngs of other visitors, I followed the path between art installations, billboards, and the back windows of apartments which must have, not long ago, seemed quite private.

The High Line was just as I'd expected (the billions of photos everyone and their dog has taken ever since it opened helped with that) but it was also better. There's something novel and wonderful about moving through the city well above the sidewalks. From the High Line, the views of  pedestrians and yellow cabs navigating the streets below are somehow different than those you'd get from a third-story window. You are closer to construction cranes, window-washers hoisting themselves up walls on their little platforms, and water towers high up on rooftops. You see things the city didn't exactly intend to show you; it's almost like a view of New York from backstage. And it's worth going, even if you're late to the party, even if you're just a another tourist.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Cottage Living

In 1846, Henry and Lucy Bowen added a dash of Loud to the Quiet Corner when they built their summer house, a bright pink Gothic Revival "cottage" across from the green in Woodstock. Henry, a successful New York-based businessman, had grown up in this sedate and rural Connecticut town.

The northeastern part of the state was more connected to the world back then, with trains running up and down frequently from New York and Boston. The Bowens were connected too; four United States presidents (Grant, Harrison, Hayes, and McKinley) were just a few of the politicians, dignitaries, and literary stars to visit the house.

The interior of Roseland Cottage is as ostentatious as you might predict from the outside. The wall coverings alone make you wonder why we think of the Victorians as straight-laced, conservative people, and that's before you get to the indoor bowling alley - which just happens to be the oldest surviving one in America. Though the thought of a leisurely outdoor stroll is not as appealing with the last of the spring snow lurking on the grounds, the boxwood parterre gardens are one of the cottage's most loved features.

Roseland looks gigantic when you first encounter it, but it begins to seem quite dinky when you realize that the Bowens had ten children. (Imagine putting all of them, plus luggage for a summer away, on that train.) Lucy died of complications from childbirth in 1863, and the couple's youngest son died not long after. Henry married Ellen Holt (who came from Pomfret) two years later and they had another child. Eventually there were seventeen grandchildren, and the family continued to expand Roseland Cottage and purchase additional property nearby so they could spend summers together.

Historic New England, which purchased Roseland Cottage from the family in 1970, offers tours of the property. Special events are held here, like concerts and tea parties and the Roseland Cottage Fine Arts and Crafts Festival, though they will probably never surpass Henry Bowen's Fourth of July celebrations, which got so massive that he had to buy a 60-acre plot of land to host them. (This is now Roseland Park, maintained by the Town of Woodstock.) 

If you don't have time for a tour or a garden party, just drive up Route 169 and admire the building sometimes called "the Pink House." You can't miss it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Glastonbury | Spring

Spring officially arrived two weeks ago. (Whatever that means. It's not like the weather reads the calendar and reacts accordingly.) Last year, I vowed to hate spring less, and I'm sad to say that despite my best efforts I did not succeed. Spring in popular imagination involves pastel sweaters and little cartoon birds singing. Spring in Connecticut is not like that; it's cold, and damp, and muddy, and it stretches on far longer than it has any right to.

But yesterday, when I ventured out into the 30 degree morning to move my car to the opposite side of my street, I smelled it. Real Spring may not have the balmy days and ubiquitous budding flowers of Imaginary Spring, but it does have a scent. It smells like earth emerging tentatively from a blanket of snow, or a river just beginning to transform from ice to water again. It smells cold, but not like cold arriving; it smells like cold getting ready - very slowly - to leave.

So I decided to combine the errand I had to run in Glastonbury with a quick walk down Main Street. Glastonbury looks lovely in any season, but it wasn't exactly warm out. Sadly, nobody was wearing a pastel sweater. But there's still time. Maybe Imaginary Spring will show up next month.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Nutmeg Poisoning

It's been a while since I compiled a round-up of Connecticut bits and pieces. Here are some I've been saving up.

-The New York Times had a story on Connecticut's tearooms.

-And one on living in Wilton. ("To live happily in Wilton, you should enjoy driving.")

-Gawker got a lot of attention for publishing this stupid tirade about how nothing good comes from Connecticut. (I think someone needs an Edible Arrangement.)

-The New England Historical Society has a brief  guide to old New England taverns.

-The Colin McEnroe Show had a discussion about spices - including nutmeg, of course.

-It's not Connecticut-specific, but Yankee Magazine has a little history of New England house colors. (Some of these seriously need to be eyeshadow colors.)

-From i09, there's the story of when Daylight Saving Time was illegal in Connecticut.

-Town and Country lists 27 ways to know you're from Connecticut. By which they mean 27 ways to know you're a certain kind of person from an area that covers about 1/8 of Connecticut.

-Design Sponge has an updated guide to Litchfield. (For a New York-based site, they're pretty low on the Connecticut stuff. I pitched them a Quiet Corner guide once, but it went the way of all pitches about the Quiet Corner because no one outside of Connecticut wants to know about the Quiet Corner. More Quiet Corner for us!)

-And finally, on Instagram, I found a company that makes (among other adorably twee creations) Husky rings. (Speaking of Instagram, follow me there!)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Britain (At Last)

True blog story: I have been trying to write a post about downtown New Britain for years. It's always been one of those places (Mine Hill in Roxbury was another) that seemed to be trying to foil me at every turn. Be it weather, or timing, or who knows what else, whenever I planned to do this post - even when I actually got as far as driving to New Britain with my camera - some inconvenience interfered and it couldn't be done.

UNTIL NOW. You might not be as excited about this as I am, but that's only because you didn't wait years to finally climb two feet up a snowbank to put coins in the meter at a New Britain parking lot and begin roaming the streets.

New Britain (with a few exceptions, notably the New Britain Museum of American Art) is part of what I think of as the bit of Connecticut we don't put in the tourist brochures. This small city, about ten miles southwest of Hartford, is what you might call rough around the edges. Actually it's a bit rough in the middle too. But it has managed to hold on to a particular kind of retro vibe that few towns in the Northeast still retain. There's something very 1950s about the center of New Britain, with its small storefronts, sturdy old buildings, and eccentric layout.

So if you ever come here to visit the NBMAA or the Rose Garden in Walnut Hill Park or "Little Poland," take a few minutes to stroll around the Downtown District (does anyone really call it that? I don't know) and pretend you've entered a little time warp.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Connecticut's One-Room Schoolhouses

I grew up practically down the street from an old one-room schoolhouse, but I didn't really care about them - or begin to notice them everywhere I went  - until I found this one while researching a travel story. Since then I've found schoolhouses all over Connecticut: in towns, in cities, and on rural roads. I've also become very fond of them - strange, perhaps, since I hated almost every minute of school from kindergarten to college.

Now, I think of these historic one-room (and sometimes technically larger) schools as a classic bit of Connecticut scenery, worth seeking out or at least stopping to appreciate when they turn up unexpectedly along your route.

Some of my favorites.

-State Hero Nathan Hale taught at two schoolhouses. In urban New London, the little red school named for him stands at the center of the city's downtown on the Parade across from the train, bus and ferry terminals. Thirty miles away, its counterpart in rural East Haddam stands alone on a grassy hill above a church. Both are maintained by the Sons of the American Revolution.

-In North Woodstock, the Red-White School is pull-over-and-stare adorable.

-Killingworth has one of Connecticut's largest collections of schoolhouses, but the mint green Union District Schoolhouse is a special one.

-And in Ledyard, where an impressive number of old schools have been preserved, the Geer Hill Schoolhouse is particularly sweet.

How to find schoolhouses.

Searching online for any town's name + "old schoolhouse" will frequently turn one up. (Except in some rare cases where you will instead find clubs playing old school house.)

Often, local historical societies own and care for schoolhouse buildings, so check their websites as well. Some simply keep the school building from falling down, but many offer programs for local children and sometimes for the public. Some schoolhouses have been put to creative use - one is now an art school in West Hartford, and another is a restaurant in Wilton. Many are private homes.

Sometimes, if the school is of particular interest to the town, it will be listed in the "history" or "visitors" section of that town's website.

If search engines and historical societies don't reveal any schoolhouses where you're heading, look for local history books at independent bookshops, museums, and in the "local" section at Barnes & Noble and other large bookstores. If you can't get to a store, try Google Books - just search for the town's name + school or schoolhouse.

Following a Schoolhouse Road will very occasionally yield a schoolhouse, but more often it won't; many have been torn down or moved over the years to more central locations for preservation.

In my opinion, though, schoolhouses are best when found by chance. Some good areas to do that are Ledyard and Killingworth, as mentioned above; country roads; older residential areas; and any part of town with a large concentration of historic houses and museums. A town where nothing of great import has happened since the 18th or 19th century is a good place to explore. And if you see a small white, red, or stone building, especially one with two doors, chances are it was once a school, even if it is no longer marked as such.

Schoolhouses were sometimes built in the center of a road. I've heard that this was a way of sparing good farmland, and/or that no one would dispute the ownership of such land. In any case, a small structure on the traffic island in the middle of an intersections is likely to have been a school.


Finally, if you're wondering about the school in the above photo, it's the Dr. Daniel Lathrop School on the green in the Norwichtown section of Norwich. In 1782, Lathrop left 500 pounds sterling to be used for a free grammar school. It was completed in 1783, and is one of Connecticut's oldest surviving brick schoolhouses - though there is another, very similar one nearby, known as the East District School, built just a few years later.

If you visit this school, a special bonus is the 1774 Joseph Carpenter Silversmith Shop next door. I've come across one or two blacksmith's shops in Connecticut before, but this is said to be the only remaining silversmith's shop in New England.

The other buildings facing the Norwichtown green, though much larger, are equally send-you-back-in-time lovely.


I created an Instagram account, @OldSchoolCT, just for historic Connecticut schoolhouses. There I'll collect schools I've featured on the Size of Connecticut, schools I've posted pictures of elsewhere, and new-to-me schools that I come across when out and about around the state.


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