You’ve lived here for years, but have you really ever seen it?
Focused on getting to work, school, or the other routines of daily life, have you ever slowed down for a chance to appreciate the fascinating culture, history and nature of the place you live?
Northeastern Connecticut is known as Connecticut’s Quiet Corner, of course; but it certainly is not boring. More and more vacationers, in fact, are discovering this pocket of New England style that has escaped the heavy development and commercialization to its north and south.
It’s the perfect day-trip environment*.
Here is but a sample of the many opportunities:
Northeastern Connecticut makes up the majority of The Last Green Valley – so named because it is the only remaining mainly rural area in the sprawling Bosh-Wash urban corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C. The 1,085 square-mile “valley” area is defined by the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers.
The area is rich in camp sites, hiking, fishing, swimming, boating and paddling opportunities.
The Last Green Valley organization publishes a terrific online walking guide, and Joshua’s Trust, the region’s most active land conservation group, sells a Walk Book that details dozens of walking trails.
For fishing and boating enthusiasts there is a 500-acre lake at Mansfield Hollow State Park. Swimming is not allowed there, but fishing is open 24 hours a day. Mashamoquet Brook State Park off Route 44 in Pomfret offers camping and swimming. (Its most famous feature is the Wolf Den, where Israel Putnam -- later a significant figure in the Revolutionary War -- shot and killed a troublesome wolf that had been menacing the local farms.)
There is also the Natchaug State Forest in Eastford, Quaddick State Park in Thompson (a popular swimming destination), and the enormous Bigelow Hollow State Park in Union. This park and the adjoining Nipmuck State Forest encompass more than 9,000 acres of forested land.
Northeastern Connecticut is a wonderland for Revolutionary War buffs. The lives and achievements of pivotally important figures like Nathan Hale, Gen. Israel Putnam and Col. Thomas Knowlton still reverberate in the area’s contemporary life.
Historic architecture abounts. There are way too many places to visit in a week of day trips; but suffice it to say the range of possibilities starts with the humble yet historic three-hole outhouse in Ashford, to the Gurleyville Grist Mill in Mansfield, to the Samuel Huntington Homestead in Scotland and on to Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, a fabulous example of Gothic Revival architecture built in 1846.
Dining and Entertainment
There is no shortage of unique places to eat and drink in the Quiet Corner.
For casual and cozy dining, there’s the Vanilla Bean Café in Pomfret – a well-known and respected eatery that also has live entertainment on many Friday and Saturday nights. Its sister restaurant, 85 Main in Putnam, is more upscale, with an elaborate menu of American fusion cuisine, raw bar and sushi.
Eastford is home to what Connecticut Magazine dubbed the state’s best restaurant, the Still River Café. Superlatives such as “extraordinary” and “breath-taking” are typically used to describe this place; and, as might be expected, the prices reflect that. All the produce served there is grown on the premises in organic gardens; and entrées include New England pastured beef, free-range chicken and rabbit.
If you’re into wine, try the Pangaea Wine Bar and Bistro on Putnam’s Main Street. In addition to having wines from Connecticut, California and France, the bistro offers adventurers a chance to try the work of wineries in places such as Greece and Uruguay. Pangaea also dispenses “flights” of wine in four 2½ oz. themed samplers, featuring a particular type or flavor.
Ice Cream and Drama
Even if you don’t want to spring for an entire meal, you can stop for some exceptional ice cream.
In Hampton, We-Li-Kit Farms produces ice cream from its own cows. (Try the homemade waffle cones.) The roadside location is like a trip back to the 50s.
Besides making more than 24 flavors from its own milk, the UConn Dairy Bar in Storrs gives visitors a chance to see the ice cream-making progress through a special observation window.
The Harvest Garden at the intersection of routes 44 and 74 in Ashford sells “concrete” in its “Concrete Factory.” It’s actually frozen custard – a product rich in eggs and more dense than ice cream, but equally yummy.
Hungry for some drama? Take in a show at the Bradley Playhouse, the 110-year-old Vaudeville theater in Putnam where amateur performers stage a variety of shows. (The Producers is playing in August.)
Shopping for Old Stuff
Are you an antique lover? Then you might want to fuel up the pickup and head to Putnam, probably the state’s antiquing capital, if not New England’s. The mother lode, if you will, is the Antiques Marketplace on Main Street -- four floors of shops with every imaginable kind of old furniture, collectibles, and glassware. There are a dozen other antique dealers all within walking distance, too.
The Quiet Corner also is a terrific source of antique architectural materials and parts. The Old Wood Workshop in Pomfret Center has everything from reclaimed flooring to doors and hardware. Similarly, Brooklyn Restoration Supply in Brooklyn is a wonderland of old hinges, boards, plumbing, mantles and hand-cut timbers.
Farmer’s Markets, Etc.
Farmer’s markets abound in this region. There are small ones like the ones in Ashford and Storrs and nationally recognized ones such as the Coventry Regional Farmer’s Market on the grounds of the Nathan Hale Homestead. At the latter, some of the region’s finest food artisans and craftspeople market their work, earning it recognition as from Yankee and Boston magazines as the state’s best.
Here’s a list of those in Windham County. There is at least one open every day of the week.
Every third Thursday from May to September, Main Street in Willimantic erupts in music, entertainment, art and shopping. The 3rd Thursday Streetfest is a volunteer-run celebration that features more than 100 vendors.
Owing to its long agricultural heritage, the Quiet Corner is big on country fairs. Two of the biggest and most elaborate are the Brooklyn Fair, Aug. 25-28, and the Woodstock Fair on Labor Day weekend.
These fairs have everything you would wish for in a country fair: livestock and poultry exhibits, pie contests, horse and tractor pulls, carnival rides and sack races, musical entertainment and fireworks; and, of course, plenty of hot dogs, barbecue, cotton candy, and ice cream. Children are free and admission is as little as $10 per adult, (excluding the price of the carnival rides).
*Some tourism facts
According to research conducted by The Last Green Valley organization, 74 percent of the tourists in the region are day-trippers, and 65 percent of them are Connecticut residents. The majority of out-of-state visitors are from the Boston area.
Tourist satisfaction with the area is also very high: 85 percent.
That means the odds of having a great time are heavily in your favor.