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Discovering the Curiosities of Northern Hartford County

If you’ve never been to the towns along central Connecticut’s northern border, you might be unaware of the range of entertainment you can find there.

One glance at the map reveals something strange in northern Hartford County: a little notch along the Massachusetts line, where it seems someone cut into Connecticut as if sneaking a small piece of cake.

Called the Southwick Jog, it’s the result of early surveying irregularities and later disputes between the two states. But the oddities of this region are not all cartographical. If you enjoy variety and the unexpected, this region will not disappoint.

The Southwick Jog itself can be explored from Granby and Suffield. The area is quiet, with just a few restaurants and a view of the pretty Congamond Lakes. The main amusement comes from crossing and re-crossing the wacky border, trying to discern how - or if - the culture changes from side to side.

Outside of town centers, the landscape is dotted with long, narrow tobacco sheds, which distinguish this area from other rural parts of the state. Native Americans grew tobacco here before Europeans got in on the action in the 1600s. In Windsor, Connecticut’s oldest town, the Luddy-Taylor Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum chronicles this history. There are photographs and a few explanatory words, but mostly the story is told through the tools and machinery displayed in the barn. These artifacts conjure up a way of life that seems obsolete, but shade tobacco for cigars is still one of Connecticut’s largest crops.

The museum, in sprawling , is part of a complex that could be described as fun masquerading as education. Attractions include a nature center, a barn housing ducks, goats, and other farm animals, and miles of nature trails.

In the nearby Palisado Historic District, you can’t miss the statue of John Mason on Palisado Green. It resembles any other monument to a Colonial leader, but what’s unusual about this bronze figure is how it got here. It originally stood in Mystic, near the site of the Pequot War massacre in which Mason led English troops in an assault on a Pequot village, killing up to 700 people including women and children. As a plaque on the statue’s base vaguely implies, that location became controversial, and Mason was moved to Windsor - which he helped found and govern - in 1996.

In East Windsor, the   is dedicated to the history of electric rail. But its purview goes beyond vintage trolley cars. The adjacent Fire Museum houses a collection ranging from early sled-like wagons to more modern firefighting equipment. Kids will love the unlimited trolley rides, but possibly the best part of the experience for adults is the museum’s  ramshackle character. Trolleys (and some retro buses) are crammed tightly together or parked around the grounds, creating an appealingly haphazard scene.

“Shaker Historic Trail” may not come immediately to mind when you picture Enfield. Yet the National Park Service includes the town for the remnants of the Shaker community that once thrived here. The village of the sect, now mostly associated with their distinctive simple aesthetic, once encompassed almost 100 buildings. A few of these, like the South Family Complex on Cybulski Road (incongruously located near the massive, shiny LEGO buildings) still stand.

Enfield figured in another religious movement when Jonathan Edwards, the firebrand of the Great Awakening, gave his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” at a local church in 1741. Today a plaque on a rock in a bush marks the spot, a subdued reminder of a dramatic period in New England history.

In Hazardville, near the Scantic River rapids, lurk reminders of another chapter of Enfield’s past. The eponymous Colonel Augustus Hazard was a leading gunpowder manufacturer in the early days of the industry’s predominance here. From the 1830s to the early 20th century, many buildings - and workers - were blown up while supplying powder for wars, railroad construction, and mining. Ruins of an old dam and other stone structures hide in the trees along the riverside path, like a civilization lost to time.

If You Go:

Roads that cross the MA border at the Southwick Jog are Route 202 (Route 10) in Granby, and Route 168 and Babbs Road in Suffield.

Connecticut Trolley Museum

58 North Road, East Windsor

860-627-6540

Mon, Wed - Fri, 10 am - 3:30 pm, Sat, 10 am  - 4:30 pm, Sun, Noon - 4:30 pm

Adults, $8.50, Seniors, $7.50, Children 2-12, $5.50, Children Under 2, Free

www.ct-trolley.org

 

Palisado Green is located on Palisado Avenue (Route 159) in Windsor.

Luddy-Taylor Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum

Northwest Park, 145 Lang Road, Windsor

860-285-1888

Tues, Wed, Thu, Sat, Noon- 4 pm

Free

www.tobaccohistsoc.org

The former Shaker village in Enfield is centered around today’s Shaker, Taylor, and Cybulski Roads.

The Jonathan Edwards marker is located on Enfield Street opposite Post Office Road.

The free parking area for the hiking trail along the Scantic River is next to the bridge on South Dust House Road.

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