Story: Connecticut- So Near Yet So Far Away

Ron Kapon

By Ron Kapon
Written on 22 August 2011

The name Connecticut is from a Mohican/Algonquin Indian name "quonehtacut", which means "long tidal river."

Massachusetts is on its northern border, Rhode Island on the east and New York on the west and south. Both the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean are its bordering bodies of water. Connecticut joined the union in 1788 and was the fifth state in the USA. It has a population of 3.5 million and only two states are smaller in square miles (Rhode Island and Delaware). The 43rd President of the US George Walker Bush was born in New Haven and attended Yale University. The state capitol is Hartford and the largest city is Bridgeport.

The first European settlers were Dutch. Initially, half of Connecticut was a part of the Dutch Colony, New Netherlands. The English established the first major settlements in the 1630's. Many came overland from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founded the Connecticut Colony. In 1662 Connecticut became a crown colony, one of the Thirteen Colonies that fought against the British in the American Revolution. The Connecticut and Thames Rivers as well as ports along the Long island Sound have given Connecticut a strong maritime tradition. Hartford has long been the headquarters of major insurance companies and Fairfield County is filled with hedge funds. The 2010 census gives Connecticut the highest per capita income and highest medium household income in the United States.

I spent one day in Fairfield County, which contains among others the towns of Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien and Norwalk, all less than an hour from NYC. My other day was in the northwestern Litchfield Hills. It featured rolling hills, horse farms and vineyards. The contrast was striking. The industrial cities are located along the coastal highways from the New York border to New London, then northward up the Connecticut River to Hartford. The towns along Litchfield County are centered along a "green" with a meeting house (known as a church in colonial times), tavern and several colonial homes that serve for both historic preservation and which draw many visitors.

Fairfield County Must Sees- The following I did not visit, only because of time constraints.
Audubon Center- Greenwich- Opened in 1942 as the National Audubon Society's first educational center. There are 285 acres with 7 miles of walking trails.
Putnam Cottage/Knapp's Tavern- Greenwich- Built 1690. In 1906 converted to a museum. A National Historic Site.
Bush/Halley Historic Site- Cos Cob- Built in the18th Century. Connecticut's first art colony. A visit to the Elmer Macrae Studio with its Japanese inspired artwork is a special treat.
Bruce Museum- Greenwich- Built in 1853 as a private home. In 1908 deeded to the town of Greenwich. Over 15,000 objects displayed. Another wing details geology from Connecticut and displays a brilliant collection of minerals from around the globe. Voted best museum in Fairfield County.
Stamford Museum & Nature Center- Interactive exhibitions. 118-acre site with a working farm, nature center, galleries and a planetarium. There are 80 acres of nature trails.
Earthplace- Westport- Hands on science center. 62 acres are a wildlife rescue sanctuary. The Nature Trail winds through an open meadow where native grasses and abundant wildlife can be found.
National Helicopter Museum- Stratford is the birthplace of the American helicopter industry and this museum contains hundreds of photographs and models tracing the history of the helicopter around the world. Igor Sikorsky's first craft is modeled here.

My first stop was to go antiquing along Dock Street in Stamford. For one stop shopping I found the Hamptons Antique Galleries, four floors of art, jewelry, watches, fashion, sculpture, photos, lighting, etc. which opened in 2008. The same folks have a shop in Bridgehampton, LI, (opened in 2005) hence the name. Dealers have a set space and customers can wander the floors picking out what they want to buy. There are people to help and the dealer gets his money when items are sold.

My next stop was Sound Water Environmental Center in Cove Harbor (Stamford). It is difficult to find without a GPS system. Just head toward the water. One can learn about the wonders of Long Island Sound on the Schooner SoundWaters, an 80-foot three-mastered replica of a sharpie schooner. There is a small aquarium where one learns about the creatures of LI Sound. There were day camps filling the place when I was there. Stamford residents have parking privileges. Everyone else pays.

It was time to meet my guide through my two-day visit, Janet Serra, the executive director of the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau. We met at the Marine Aquarium at Norwalk. I have visited the nationally known Aquarium in Monterey, California and at Mystic, Connecticut and this small gem outshines the others. There are seals, river otters, sea turtles, jellyfish and more than 1,000 other marine animals. I tried the touch tanks with crabs and sea stars and got up close and personal with the sea lions. This is a very hands on aquarium with much interactivity, especially for kids. They have a boat that cruises Long Island Sound and Norwalk Harbor with marine science educators aboard. There is also an IMAX theatre with current movies shown on the six story high screen.

After lunch at Donovan's along Restaurant Row (Washington Street) in South Norwalk we walked back a block from the Aquarium and boarded the Sheffield Island Ferry for a 45 minute ride to the Lighthouse. Built in 1868 it has been decommissioned. There is a tour of the furnished inside of the Lighthouse as well as an opportunity to stroll along the nature trails of the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge. There are clambakes and other theme cruises during the summer. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is rare in my field that I meet a hotel executive that so impressed me that I want to continue to correspond with her. Irene Dixon is the Director of Sales and marketing for the Hilton Garden Inn Norwalk, where I spent the night. She won best Director of Sales for all 500 Hilton Garden Inn's worldwide. The hotel has lots of packages, especially to Sheffield Island for their Thursday summer clambakes. There is breakfast for two adults and two children under 12, overnight accommodations, shuttle to the ferry dock, two roundtrip ferry tickets and the clambake dinner for two.

Day two was all about tasting wine. If Fairfield County was crowded and full of traffic the 1 1/2 hours it took me to meet Janet Serra on the "green" in Litchfield was pastoral with little traffic. The town of Litchfield, as opposed to the county, has a population of a little fewer than 10,000. It was founded in 1719 and is now a vacation, weekend and summer home community. The Historic District is a National Historic Landmark. Stop at the Litchfield History Museum to investigate the evolution of a small New England town. There is the Town Green established in 1720 and the center of the town. Galleries, shops and restaurants surround it. The first meetinghouse was built in 1723. The town epitomizes the Colonial Revival movement. Lunch was just off the green at West Street Grill (established 1990), which had a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for their 225 wines and 12 by the glass. This is "the place" to be seen in town and the food was excellent. The Parmesean Aioli Peasant Bread was to die for.

Before stating our wine tasting adventure we stopped at Lourdes in Litchfield Shrine Grotto to view the replica of the Lourdes Shrine Grotto in France. I prayed for good wine. Connecticut has one of the New England region's best cool climates for grape growing and wine production. There are 31 Farm Wineries in the state. Ten of the 31 are located in Litchfield Hills. Many of the wineries grow Cabernet Franc, Merlot, St. Croix for reds and Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Seyval Blanc for whites. Many of the best selling wines tend to be off dry. The Connecticut Wine Festival was a two-day affair featuring over 20 wineries with food, artisans, crafters and entertainment. It was held at the Goshen Fairgrounds July 30-31, 2011.

Haight-Brown Vineyards in Litchfield was our first stop. It is the oldest winery in the state established in 1975. In 2007 it was sold to the Browns. They own 8 acres of grapes and sell about 2,000 cases. They have local food and gifts in their farm store. Miranda Vineyards is in Goshen. They have 7 acres of vines and sell about 1,000 cases. Sunset Meadow Vineyards is also in Goshen. The tasting room was originally constructed in the 1800's. They sell about 3,500 cases and have 31 acres under cultivation. Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston may be the largest in the state with sales of 7,000 cases and 25 acres planted in vines. The original farm was founded in 1787 and became a winery in 1979, converting the 200-year-old barn. My last stop was DiGrazia Vineyards in Brookfield. The 40 acres of vines are located 20 miles from the winery. They were planted in 1978 in the town where Dr. DiGrazia was a gynecologist. Dr. DiGrazia produces wines (3,360 cases) without added sulfites and 25 churches use his wine. He has also made a wine with the highest amount of antioxidants. Using his knowledge of genetics he is working to discover a gene that he believes exists on the skins of grapes and other fruits that will increase longevity. A most fascinating man.

My final night was spent in Southbury at one of the most beautiful B&B's I have ever seen. The Cornucopia at Oldfield is located in an antique home, circa 1818 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. There are extensive gardens, maple trees and an outdoor pool. It was perfectly located right off I-84 and in a bit over two hours I was back in NYC. You Jersey Shore and Hampton folks please try the Connecticut coast. There is less traffic and the beaches are rarely filled. The towns are quaint and the people really New England friendly. I just wish they were not Red Sox fans.

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