STURBRIDGE AND THE CONNECTICUT SHORE

 

 

A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase.  Includes Places to Stay in proximity.

ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:

This itinerary takes the traveler from Boston to Lexington and Concord, sites of historical events that led to the founding of the Colonies, and from there, westward to Sturbridge Village and south to the Connecticut shoreline, with a visit to Mystic Seaport. This is an especially good route for those with children, since the historical sites have guides who theatrically depict the events that took place in days of yore.

Recommended Pacing: The Lexington and Concord portion of this itinerary is an easy day trip from Boston, since this area is only about an hour’s drive from the city. Alternatively, you can overnight here or go on to Sturbridge, a little less than an hour away, and sleep there. Plan on spending one full day in Sturbridge before heading for the Connecticut shore, about an hour and a half beyond Sturbridge. You will definitely want to include at least one night based on the coast in order to adequately explore the towns of Essex, Old Lyme, and Mystic with its wonderful “living museum,” Mystic Seaport.

Fall foliage touring in this area is ideal for those who want to do a day trip to see what New England is so famous for. There is no prettier area for seeing color in the trees than in the towns to the west of Boston. Couple the history of this area with the beauty of the countryside as the leaves begin to turn, and you have a very special itinerary. This foliage trip can also be the beginning of a visit to areas beyond the towns west of Boston, down into Connecticut, and to the shore towns along the Connecticut River.

Today, Lexington and Concord are residential suburbs of Boston, but their place in history has linked them together for over 200 years. It was here, in April 1775, that the Colonial troops fought with the British in skirmishes that eventually led to the American Revolution. That story comes alive in the preservation of the sites and monuments, and in the annual April 19th re-creation of those important events. In areas now designated as national parks, guides relate the events that led to the revolution giving the visitor, young and old, a graphic understanding of what took place during that momentous time. Perhaps the most famous story is that of Paul Revere‘s horseback ride from Boston to Lexington and Concord-to warn of the impending attack by the British-which enabled the colonists to meet the challenge and drive them back.

To reach Lexington, leave Boston on Storrow Drive and then follow signs to Route 2, which takes you from Boston west through Cambridge and Arlington. Exit Route 2 in Arlington on Route 60 to Route 2A, which will take you into the center of Lexington. Lexington’s village green, with its several monuments to the April 19th route of the British who fled back to Boston, is surrounded by lovely homes. There are a few shops and restaurants where you can refresh yourself after walking around the historic area.

Leaving Lexington, continue along Route 2A to Concord and visit the area where the battle at the Old North Bridge between the British and the Minutemen took place. The Minutemen, so called because of their willingness to pick up arms on a minute’s notice to defend against injustices inflicted by the British government, drove the British soldiers back through Lexington and on to Boston. At the Old Old North Bridge Visitor Center there is a replica of the “bridge that arched the flood” and a national park ranger recounts the story.

The Minuteman National Historic Park between the towns of Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord has a Minuteman Visitor Center showing a movie that re-creates that period.

The Concord Museum, in the town center, houses 19 galleries with furnishings of the revolutionary period and the century that followed. What is particularly interesting in this museum is that each room represents a different period. As you tour these various rooms, guides explain the evolving style of decoration and life as it was lived at the time. Other interesting stops include Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, Ralph Waldo Emerson House, home of the poet, and Walden Pond where Henry David Thoreau lived and wrote. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the ancient burial ground for many of these famous citizens, is a suitable finale to the Concord tour.

From Concord, Route 126 leads south to the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), which is the fastest way to reach Sturbridge, less than an hour away. The town itself is worth a stop. Beautiful, old houses line the common or central lawn, the old tavern still serves fine food in an ambiance of the past, and the cemetery with tombstones that date back hundreds of years identify and lend tribute to many of the original settlers. On the outskirts of town is the Old Sturbridge Village, a living-history museum; you should allow a full day to explore the re-creation of life as it was lived in the first half of the 19th century. Costumed actors inhabit the village by day, wandering the streets, manning the stores, and tending to the tasks of yesteryear. They bring history to life.

There are more than 40 staffed exhibits, homes, craft shops, mills, and farm buildings on more than 200 acres of fields and farmland. Among my favorite buildings is the clock gallery where many different types of timepieces are on display. In addition to the one-room schoolhouse, the mills, and the demonstrations of shoemaking and cooking over a wood fire, there are seasonal exhibits of sheep shearing, apple pressing, and maple sugaring. For children, there is a special educational program providing hands-on activities. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.

From Sturbridge, the scenic Route 169 leads south toward the Connecticut shore. However, if time is of the essence, I recommend Route 20 from Sturbridge northeast to Auburn, picking up I-395 south to Jewett City, and then Route 164 into Mystic Village Seaport, a stop that appeals to both parents and children alike. Ever since the 17th century, Mystic has been the area’s center of shipbuilding and of maritime commerce. It is now a museum village depicting life as it was in this earlier time. At the visitor center a movie is shown that introduces you to the town-an excellent way to begin your visit. Many clipper ships were built in this port in the middle of the 19th century and here you find several examples of the vessels of that era. Of the three fully rigged sailing craft moored at the docks, particularly interesting-and open for tours-is the Charles W. Morgan, the last of the 19th-century whaling ships surviving today. Don’t miss the shops of the craftsmen who made the materials used in the construction and the sailing of these vessels. There is a Children’s Museum where you can enjoy the activities and games played on board ship.

In the Stillman Building, visitors can watch a ten-minute film describing the adventure of whale hunting on the open sea.

If you have time, a drive through the Connecticut River Valley is most relaxing. To reach the towns along the Connecticut River, take I-95 south to Route 9 north, and exit immediately for Essex. The valley has along its banks a number of lovely Colonial seafaring towns where white clapboard homes, churches, and town greens are still very much in evidence. There are old shops and pubs, and a number of art galleries reflecting the love that so many artists have for this area. Be sure to visit Essex and drive the broad tree-lined main streets of Lyme and Old Lyme. In fact a highlight in terms of sightseeing and well worth a visit is the Florence Griswold Museum, located in Old Lyme and considered by many to be the birthplace of American Impressionism. A prosperous ship builder, Captain Robert Griswold built what is now the museum as a home for his bride. However when the family fell on hard times after the Civil War and with the popularity of transport by steam engine competing with the sea-faring vessel, to save the home it was converted to a school and then later a boarding house. Florence Griswold was left to maintain the family home at a time when the American School of Landscape Painting was established in town. Many of the artists who came here to paint settled into the Griswold boarding house with Florence mothering them all-retrieving brushes, praising work, putting up with the crazy lifestyle of this bohemian group of painters. Evidenced by the number of paintings of which she is the subject, some of America’s finest painters had a great fondness for Ms. Florence. In Old Lyme you will want to visit her home and the grounds and gardens of her home that served as inspiration for many a canvas, the Robert and Nancy Kriebel Gallery, and The William Chadwick studio. (www.flogris.org, tel: 860-434-5542.)

If time allows, it is also fun to note that in season, there is a steam train running from Essex to Chester (about an hour’s trip) enabling you to enjoy the Connecticut River Valley at its best. A riverboat trip from Deep River to East Haddam can be either a separate trip or combined with the train excursion. In the town of East Haddam, during the months of April through December, the Goodspeed Opera House is the home of musicals being previewed for the legitimate theater and revivals of some of America’s most beloved plays.

You have several options at the end of this itinerary: return to Boston going northeast on I-95 along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coasts through Providence (about two and a half hours); go north to I-91 to visit northern New England; or travel west on I-95 along the coast of lower Connecticut to Norwalk, where you can join the itinerary Route 7 & Much More through the western part of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. If you are leaving New England, continue southwest along the I-95 to the airports of La Guardia and John F. Kennedy.

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