Delve into Connecticut’s deep history this winter, and you will uncover a new world of opportunities!
Immerse yourself in history while remaining warm and content this winter. With fluffy beds, crackling fireplaces, Jacuzzis, warming beverages and big country meals, historic inns and B&Bs around the state are the perfect setting for seeking solace from the cold while learning about Connecticut’s history.
Located in the late 17th-century village of Poquetanuck, Captain Grant’s Inn was originally built by Captain William Gonzales Grant in 1754 for his wife. After Grant died at sea, his wife continued to live there, and three generations followed. During the Revolutionary War, soldiers used the home as a military post, and during the Civil War, the home provided solace to runaway slaves. Now restored to its original grandeur, the inn features wide-board hardwood floors, 253-year-old hand-hewn beams and an array of authentic antiques, including a hand-cranked phonograph (still in operation), 18th-century church pew, 19th-century pedestal sink and 1870s four-poster canopy bed. Opportunities to get cozy are around every corner: in the guest rooms, where roaring fireplaces and complimentary sherry await, in the library, where guests may curl up with a book and in the dining room, where a full country breakfast – including the inn’s signature homemade jams and jellies – is served family-style by a fire in the raised hearth.
Built in 1734 and listed on the National Historic Register, 3 Liberty Green Bed & Breakfast in Clinton was a regular stop for the legendary “Leather Man” during his travels. The B&B is located within a 300-year-old National Historic District that began as a settlement for 30 families from England, Wales, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, Clinton established itself as a key trading port, and during the War of 1812, the village’s citizen militia fought numerous attempts by the British to raid the harbor. The B&B sits on Liberty Green, which served as a Revolutionary War encampment and muster field once visited by Generals Washington and Lafayette. Each of the inn’s four rooms features a double Jacuzzi tub and comfortable king or queen canopy bed. In the morning, treat yourself to a large breakfast in the country kitchen.
In nearby Old Saybrook, the Deacon Timothy Pratt Bed and Breakfast Inn was built by Deacon Timothy Pratt in 1746 and served as a private school in the 1790s. Pratt was a carpenter and deacon in the church across the street from the property. The charming B&B still contains many original details, including wide-board floors, hand-hewn beams, wainscoting, a corner cupboard, beehive oven, 12 working fireplaces, and listed on the National Historic Register. In the comforts of your room, relax in a Jacuzzi whirlpool tub or lounge by the fireplace in the parlor. After a good night sleep in a four-poster or canopy bed, enjoy a formal candlelit breakfast in the elegant dining room. Take a spin on the ice-skating pond just one-eighth of a mile away, then warm up by the fire in the parlor, where games and complimentary port wine, teas and hot chocolate are available.
The Cornucopia at Oldfield Bed & Breakfast in Southbury’s Historic District was built circa 1818 by John Moseley, Southbury’s first town clerk and state representative and listed on the National Historic Register. The AAA three-diamond-rated B&B offers four guestrooms, all with Kingsdown beds; a keeping room featuring a fireplace, cards and board games; a formal dining room where a country breakfast is served and a front parlor for reading by the fire. Cross-country ski or snowshoe on the B&B’s 2.5-acre grounds, then warm up by the fire with a complimentary glass of wine in the keeping room. A Connecticut certified “green” lodging property.
Located in picturesque Woodbury, the Curtis House Inn is Connecticut’s oldest inn. The Curtis House was built some time before 1736 by the Reverend Anthony Stoddard and opened as the Orenaug Inn in 1754 by the Reverend’s grandson, Anthony Stoddard. Having been occupied by some 30 different owners, since, it has remained, throughout, a Publick House. The main house offers 14 quaint guest rooms and the former carriage house has been transformed into four comfortable guest rooms.
Nourish your stomach and artistic side at the 200-year-old Silvermine Tavern Bed & Breakfast in Norwalk. The tavern was part of the earliest settlement near the New Canaan and Wilton town lines and got its name from the mini silver rush the area experienced. The tavern later served as a Temperance Hall in the early 1900s and then a taproom where area artists gathered, expanding into a restaurant after prohibition. Today, Silvermine Tavern continues to operate as a restaurant, as well as an inn. The guest rooms feature antique furnishings, and paintings that were part of former owner and well-known antiquarian J. Kenneth Byard’s personal collection. Warm up in a canopy bed, then fill your stomach during a free continental breakfast featuring the tavern’s famous homemade honey buns, or at the tavern’s famed Champagne Brunch Buffet.
The Industrial Epoch
For about 100 years, beginning in the 1840s, Connecticut was a manufacturing juggernaut. In almost every corner of the state, in large factories and small, people were making things and the rest of the world was buying them. Today, you can find the old manufacturing buildings in almost every Connecticut town - some of the old brick factories have been abandoned, but others have found new life as retail centers, residential complexes or even museums. And if you want to revisit the era, Connecticut has some places where you can do that, too:
New Britain is known as The Hardware City for its manufacturing prowess, and much of its input can be found at The New Britain Industrial Museum. Here, the collection includes local products from the past and present. You’ll find everything from pistols to toasters on display, and products from Stanley Works, Fafnir Bearing and other local luminaries.
Connecticut enjoys a spectacular history as a maker of clocks and watches. Early inventors and innovators such as Eli Terry and Seth Thomas lived here, but the state was also the early home of the Mickey Mouse watch. Visitors can get a good taste of the history of marking time at the Timexpo Museum in Waterbury, the city that was home base for the Waterbury Watch Co., which became U.S. Time, which today is known as Timex. While there, you might consider the short trip across town to the Mattatuck Museum, where the stunning local history exhibit traces, among other things, the story of manufacturing might in the city and region.
Time is also the be-all and end-all at the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol. Here, you’ll find over 1,500 time pieces on display, as well as the compelling story of how Eli Terry and others spurred the industry in America, and especially in western Connecticut. Be sure to be on hand at the top of the hour, when many of the clocks begin chiming. If you’re in Bristol, you won’t be far away from Terryville, home to the Lock Museum of America. The lock-centric collection includes locks made in Connecticut, but also others dating back to the early 1500s and sturdy, intricate locks from banks and prisons.
The history of Manchester is intertwined with the history of the Cheney Brothers silk mills, and much of that story is accessible today through the Manchester Historical Society and its guide to the Cheney mills, mansions, churches, halls and housing built for mill employees and still standing in town. The Manchester History Center and the Old Manchester Museum both house collections and artifacts relating in great part to the city’s glowing industrial era.
Textiles were the thing in eastern Connecticut, and Willimantic’s Mill Museum of Connecticut is a place that “preserves and interprets the history of textiles, the textile arts and the textiles industry.” Here, the industry’s fascinating history is combined with special exhibits and programs to make a well-timed visit very worthwhile.
In Connecticut, it’s not hard to explore the stories of women from history who were first (Ella Grasso was the nation’s first female governor elected in her own right), best (Katharine Hepburn won four Oscars for Best Actress) or extraordinarily influential (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin fired up public sentiment for a war over slavery) in the lives they led. Today, some of Connecticut’s best-known travel destinations have a woman’s story at their center. You can find these and more by visiting the Connecticut Women’s Heritage Trail.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center features Stowe’s life story and her literary works, and it colorfully illuminates her 19th-centure world in Hartford. The Stowe Center is part of the Nook Farm complex, home to Stowe and her influential family, including many strong, successful women (not to mention neighbor Mark Twain). The Center is home to regular programs that connect issues of the past to modern day problems of gender equality.
The Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington is located in a house designed for her parents by architect Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the first female architects in the country. Riddle and her parents toured Europe together, where they picked up the impressive collection of Impressionist art that is now displayed throughout the museum. The Hill-Stead also boasts a restored sunken garden.
The Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury celebrates the life and work of this educator of young women, who in 1832 admitted Sarah Harris, an African American girl, into her academy. She faced down the objections of townspeople and a Connecticut law that made her school illegal, and fought her arrest and conviction until she was acquitted. The museum’s exhibits and period rooms allow visitors to explore Crandall’s work to educate young women of color.
Florence Griswold helped cultivate American Impressionism by hosting painters in her home in Old Lyme, turning the little town into a thriving artists’ colony in the late-19th century. Today, the Florence Griswold Museum, housed in Griswold’s former home, presents an outstanding collection of American Impressionist Art and preserves Griswold’s legacy as a patron of the arts.
Similarly, in the 1890s, Josephine Holley and her daughter Constant ran a boarding house for writers and Impressionist artists and fostered an artist colony in the village of Cos Cob. John Twachtman and Theodore Robinson were among the painters attracted to the site, now known as the Bush-Holley House. However, Holley was not the first remarkable woman to occupy the home. During the Revolutionary War, while her husband was imprisoned, Sarah Bush defended her house and family against attack. Both women’s stories are interpreted here.
Civil War Remembrance
It was 150 years ago, this past July 1-3, that Confederate forces were turned back at the Battle of Gettysburg and the outcome of the Civil War was at last foretold. Although no battles were fought on Connecticut soil, the state’s role in the conflict was not insignificant. Many thousands from Connecticut served, over 1,100 were killed in action and another 3,000 perished from disease. Today, there are Civil War monuments in nearly every town – and some places have a real Civil War connection.
For many years before the emancipation of slaves and the outbreak of war, the Underground Railroad moved African-Americans from south to north, and to relative safety. With its concentration of abolitionists, Farmington was key stop for escapees and a number of local houses provided shelter. Contact the Farmington Historical Society for information on tours and other events.
When President Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, legend has it that he said, “So you’re the little woman whose book started this great war.” Whether he actually said it or not, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave many Americans a vivid picture of slavery and in some sense may have helped set North against South. Her life and literary works are chronicled in Hartford’s Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, located in the house she lived in during the last 23 years of her life.
Once the war began, thousands of Union soldiers were recruited to and trained at New London’s Fort Trumbull. The fort, built between 1839 and 1852 on the site of two previous installations, has a rich history spanning almost all of America’s story.
A taste of Connecticut’s role in the Civil War can be found at the New England Civil War Museum in Rockville. Located inside a former Grand Army of the Republic Hall, the museum houses the collections of several Connecticut Civil War veterans.
In the years following the war, many memorials, including well over 100 in Connecticut, were erected in the memory of those who had fallen. The state’s first memorial, and possibly the nation’s, is Soldiers Monument in Kensington, dedicated 150 years ago last July 28, and soon followed by Bristol, North Branford, Cheshire and Northfield. Among the most notable is the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Hartford, the first permanent triumphal arch in America. A highlight is a classical frieze that wraps around the top of the arch – the north side tells the story of war and the south the story of peace. Other prominent memorials are the dramatic Soldiers and Sailors Monument, located high on East Rock in New Haven, and George E. Bissell’s magnificent Soldiers’ Monument, just off the green in Waterbury.
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