Hills, History & Yankee Ingenuity

Location

Litchfield, Bantam, Morris, Thomaston, Plymouth, Terryville, Wolcott, Bristol, Burlington, Harwinton

Approximate Mileage: 80

Approximate Driving Time: Full Day Trip

* Denotes sidetrips in narrative.

Start at the jct. of Rte. 118 and Rte. 202* in Litchfield. Take Rte. 202 west to Rte. 209 south to Rte. 109* east to Morris. At the jct. of Rte. 109 and Rte. 6, in Thomaston take Rte. 6 east; at the jct. of Rte. 6 and Rte. 8, take a left onto Rte. 254* north to Main St.; follow through Thomaston center to Rte. 6. east through Plymouth and Terryville to Bristol. At the jct. of Rte. 6, Rte. 69, and Maple St. in Bristol, take a right on Maple St. to the American Clock and Watch Museum and the Federal Hill Green. Retrace your steps. Continue on Rte. 6 east, take a right on Rte. 229 south to Lake Compounce; retrace your steps; take Rte. 72 west to the New England Carousel Museum. Retrace your steps heading west on Rte. 6. At the jct. of Maple Street, Rte. 6, and Rte. 69, take Rte. 69 north to Burlington to Rte. 4 west to Harwinton. At the jct. of Rte. 4 and Rte. 118 take Rte. 118* west and follow to the jct. of Rte. 202 in Litchfield where this tour began.

Tour two begins in Litchfield at the jct. of Rte. 118 and Rte. 202, take Rte. 202 west. No matter what time of year, Litchfield impresses visitors with its colonial charm and serenity. Litchfield is considered to be one of America's finest surviving examples of a typical, unspoiled 18th century village because of its wide maple-lined streets, well preserved 18th and 19th century homes and its Congregational Church facing a picture book village green.

The Congregational Church, an architectural classic, built in 1828 is the most photographed church in New England. The refined proportions of this church built in the Federal style were not always appreciated. Incredibly, in 1873, this outstanding example of church architecture was sold, and moved around the corner to make way for a more "fashionable" church in the Gothic style. The "old church" whose steeple had been shorn served as an armory during W.W.I, a dance hall, a movie theater, and even a roller skating rink! In 1929 a colonial revival effort began in Litchfield. As a result of the revival, the Gothic style church was demolished and the "old church" was re-purchased, moved to its former site, and painstakingly restored to the classic beauty it is today.

The Litchfield Green laid out in the early 1770's has remained much the same through the years. On the Green, you'll find a tempting variety of shops, restaurants, and galleries such as P.S. Gallery showing original paintings and prints by the areas most talented artists and Troy Brook Visions Gallery in Cobble Court that displays handmade Shaker, Mission, Arts and Crafts furniture as well as original designs by Master Craftsman Daniel Gugnoni. Just outside the center is the Studio of Walt Pascoe, an independent designer and builder of custom furniture specializing in contemporary interpretation of classic forms.

Just off the Green, a quick jaunt down Rte. 63 North and Rte. 63 South takes you through the historic heart of Litchfield that has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1959. Driving down Rte. 63 North you will pass the house once owned by Benjamin Tallmadge (circa 1760), an aide to George Washington, who added the two story porticos after seeing Mount Vernon. Further on the mansard-roofed house was the former Sheldon's Tavern and is now a private residence. It was built as a hostelry in 1760 and hosted George Washington several times. Washington's aide Alexander Hamilton stayed with him in 1781 -- Litchfield resident, Aaron Burr would kill him in a duel years later. Continuing on Rte. 63 North you will also pass the birth site of Harriett Beecher Stowe (1775), author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the site of the Pierce Academy that was the first school for girls in America established by Sarah Pierce in 1792.

On Rte. 63 South you will pass the Litchfield History Museum which has seven galleries displaying a fine selection of early American paintings, furniture, decorative arts, and exhibits on Litchfield County history; and the Tapping Reeve House and Law School (1773), the first Law School in America whose graduates included two-vice presidents, Aaron Burr and John Calhoun, three supreme court justices, six cabinet members, a dozen governors and over one-hundred members of Congress. You will also pass houses once belonging to Oliver Wolcott, Jr. (1799) now used as Litchfield's Library, complete with a second floor ballroom; the birthplace of Ethan Allen (1736) (on Old South Rd. off Rte. 63 south) Revolutionary leader of the Green Mountain Boys, and the oldest house in the Borough on its original site, owned by Oliver Wolcott, Sr. (1753), a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an early Connecticut Governor.

Leaving the center of Litchfield, proceed on Rte. 202 west to White Memorial Foundation and Conservation Center , a 4,000-acre nature sanctuary with a Natural History Museum bordering Bantam Lake. The Foundation, larger than any CT State Park, has 3 campgrounds and 35 miles of trails for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, and x-country skiing.

The Natural History Museum provides a glimpse of the natural diversity found in the sanctuary and features hand painted and photographic murals, dioramas, interactive exhibits, plus unique exhibits on "The Art of Taxidermy", as well as a working honeybee hive, and a fluorescent rock cave.

Leaving White Memorial Foundation, continue on Rte. 202 west to the village of Bantam where you will find a cluster of interesting antiques shops, restaurants and art galleries. To visit New Arts Gallery, located before the center of Bantam on Maple St. off Rte. 202 is set in a two story barn that exhibits the works of internationally recognized artists and newly discovered artists in all media. Continuing on Rte. 202 is the Gallery of Ella Knox that showcases the artwork of Ella Crampton Knox and other Litchfield County artists. A bit further along visit Bantam Tileworks, a studio and workshop where over 100 unique ceramic tiles are made as well as one of a kind gifts.

Continuing the tour, take Rte. 209 south to drive along the shoreline of Bantam Lake, the largest natural lake in Connecticut. White Memorial Foundation owns three quarters of its shoreline thus ensuring the preservation of its natural beauty.

At the jct. of Rte. 209 and Rte. 109, take Rte. 109 east to the center of Morris. This bucolic community was named after James Morris, a Revolutionary War hero and founder of the Morris Academy in 1790 that accepted girls as well as boys.

At the jct. of Rte. 109 and Rte. 61, turn right on Rte. 61 south to visit The Morris Historical Society Museum located in the "Old Town Hall." The Museum displays collections of antique kitchenware, farm tools, general store merchandise, military memorabilia, and the Finch Bottle Collection. A completely restored one-room schoolhouse built in 1772 is located next to the museum.

Continue on Rte. 109 east passing lovely colonial homes, a Laotian Temple, and the entrance to the thirty-five mile Mattatuck Trail that is a crossover between the Quinnipiac-Tunxis and the Appalachian Trails. This hike traverses Prospect and Mohawk Mountains and goes by several lakes and streams.

Next you will pass Black Rock Lake where you can hike, picnic and fish during daylight hours. Further on is the Thomaston Dam constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of a network of flood control dams built in response to the destructive flood of 1955. To date it has prevented over $300 million in flood damages. Thomaston Dam has trails for trail bikes and snowmobiles as well as an area for flying radio controlled model aircraft.

At the jct. of Rte. 109 and Rte. 6, take Rte. 6 east to Thomaston, the original home of the Seth Thomas Clock Company, whose founder, Seth Thomas, transformed the town from a farming community to a thriving industrial area with his clock factory in 1813. Located in Town Hall, the Thomaston Historical Society Museum (by appt. 860- 283-2159) displays farm tools, clothing, home furnishings, and antique clocks. The centerpiece of town is the elegant Thomaston Opera House built in 1884. Today, it serves as a cultural and recreational center and is the home of a popular regional based theater that presents performances year-round.

Continuing on Rte. 6 east you will pass the entrance to the Thomaston Railway Station on East Main Street. Built in 1881 this historic landmark serves as the headquarters for the Naugatuck Railroad and The Railroad Museum of New England. A scenic 20 mile train ride along the Naugatuck River passing the Thomaston Dam, massive brass mills, and the Mattatuck Forest is offered in restored vintage 1920s coaches. A major restoration of the station to its mid.-1950's appearance is underway.

Leaving Thomaston, continue on Rte. 6 east to Plymouth, incorporated in 1795. Plymouth was where Eli Terry developed his famous clocks that revolutionized the clock industry worldwide because of the development of interchangeable parts and mass production techniques.

The focal point of the Plymouth Center Historic District on Rte. 6 is the Plymouth Green with its classic Congregational Church built in 1838. The Church houses the only Eli Terry wooden works tower clock in the world.

In 1824, as the importance of the clock industry grew, Plymouth's business center moved to Terryville named after Eli Terry Jr. As the lock industry grew in the 1830's, Terryville became known as "America's Lock Capital" because 100 million locks were made here. To learn about the rise of the lock industry, visit the Lock Museum of America that has 8 rooms displaying the nation's most extensive collection of locks, keys, Victorian hardware, and locksmith related items. Of special interest is the Eagle Lock Company Room containing 1,000 plus locks and keys manufactured from 1854 to 1954 and the Antique Lock Room with a large display of colonial locks and ornate European locks dating to the 1500's.

Just beyond the Lock Museum, on your left, you will pass the Eli Terry, Jr. Water Wheel that supplied early clock and lock companies with power. This is the only existing manufacturing water wheel in the U.S. with original gear.

Continue on Rte. 6 east for 7 miles to Bristol, at the jct. of Rte. 6 and Rte. 69 in Bristol, take a right on Rte. 69 south and follow for 9 miles to Wolcott. To reach the Old Stone Schoolhouse, take a left on Nichols Rd. and follow for one mile. The schoolhouse built in 1825 is the oldest stone schoolhouse in Connecticut. Open by appointment, the schoolhouse displays old farm tools, spinning wheels, artifacts from Revolutionary and Civil Wars, plus many arrowheads from Tunxis Indians. Retrace your steps.

Continue on Rte. 6 east to the jct. of Maple St., Rte. 69 and Rte. 6. Throughout the early and middle 1800's, Bristol was the premiere clock-manufacturing center in the world. To see the leading collection of CT made clocks in the world, take a right on Maple St. and follow to the top of the hill to the American Clock and Watch Museum. Here you will find the nations finest collection of American manufactured clocks on public display in the Miles Lewis House circa 1801 and adjoining galleries. Today, this impressive legacy is preserved through the Museum's display of over 3,000 timepieces, watches, case clocks, shelf clocks, wall clocks, precision regulators, novelty clocks, tower and church clocks and alarm clocks. Exhibits trace the beginning of the clock industry from an old clockmakers shop to an early factory to show how Connecticut clock manufacturing gave rise to commercial mass production techniques. Retrace your steps to Rte 6.

Proceed on Rte. 6 east; take a right on Rte. 229 south to Rte. 72 west (one mile) to the Carousel Museum of New England displaying New England's largest collection of carousel art from brightly painted antique carved horses to band organs and chariots encrusted with shimmering glass jewels. Different carving styles of famous carousel craftsmen are highlighted by the variety of carousel horses and menagerie figures on display. The Museum also has two Fine Art Galleries, one with changing shows and the other featuring the work of Glo Sessions.

Upstairs, you will find the newly opened Museum of Fire History that has memorabilia and collections from firehouses all over the world as well as the Carousel Museum's Restoration Area. If work is in the shop, you can watch craftsmen painstakingly bring carousel pieces back to life.

For family fun, visit Lake Compounce Theme Park, America's first family theme park opened in 1846. To reach the Park from the jct. of Rte. 72 and Rte. 229; take Rte. 229 south for one mile, the park's entrance is on the right opposite the world headquarters for ESPN. The park combines an attractive lakeside setting and Victorian charm with the most thrilling up-to-date rides found anywhere.

Retrace your steps to the jct. of Rte. 6, Rte. 69 and Maple St.; take Rte. 69 north to Burlington. Along the way, you may want to visit the Barnes Nature Center (right on Shrub Rd. two miles) that has a Nature Museum with live and static natural history displays and a self-guiding trail system that winds its way through a variety of habitats. Several of the trails are lined with Mountain Laurel, the state flower that blooms in mid.-June through early July. Retrace your steps.

Continuing on Rte. 69 north you will pass Sessions Woods a Wildlife Management Area. The three -mile gravel hiking trail is especially interesting because it has side paths that lead to areas featuring demonstration sites showing wildlife practices for large tracts of land and how these practices can be incorporated into average backyards to enhance wildlife habitat.

At the jct. of Rte. 4 and Rte. 69, take Rte. 4 east for .5 mi. to visit the Burlington Historical Society located in in the Elton Tavern, a beautiful Federal-style house built in 1810 overlooking the town green. The house served as a private home and then as a public house and inn. Today lovely heirloom gardens surround the house that displays furniture and artifacts preserving Burlington's treasured past.

Leaving Burlington, take Rte. 4 west to Harwinton settled in 1731. Many beautiful 18th century homes built close to the road preserve the rural ambience of this lovely village. Both Washington and Lafayette dined at the Abijah Catlin Second House (circa 1765) when it served as an inn. Harwinton has a history of being primarily an agricultural community since it was founded in 1732. Each year, Harwinton's agricultural heritage is celebrated the second weekend every October at the Harwinton Agricultural Fair.

Continuing on Rte. 4, you will pass the T.A. Memorial Hungerford Library Museum that displays a fine collection of New England Indian baskets, Civil War memorabilia, antiques, and tools from Harwinton's many lovely 18th and 19th century homes. The Harwinton Green has remained much the same since the 18th century and is noted for its classic Congregational Church. At the jct. of Rte. 4 and Rte. 118, take Rte. 118 west passing the Harwinton Historical Society's restored 1840 One Room Schoolhouse with original teacher?s desk and the Barn Museum that houses an interesting display of farm tools and implements. Both are open by appointment.

Proceeding on Rte. 118 west, you have the option of taking two side trips. To reach Topsmead State Park, take a left on East Litchfield Rd. and your first right on Buell Rd. to the park's entrance on the right. Here, on 511 acres you will find an English Tudor style cottage designed by Richard Dana for Miss Edith Chase, heiress to a brass family fortune from nearby Waterbury. Two formal gardens frame the house and miles of hiking trails surround the house, which is open for weekend tours in the summer. Retrace your steps and continue on Rte. 118 to Haight-Brown Vineyard (left on Chestnut Hill Rd.), the first farm winery in the state. Visitors are invited to tour the vineyard and sample award-winning wines.

Continuing on Rte. 118 west, you will pass Lourdes in Litchfield Shrine Grotto, a replica of the famous grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. This thirty - acre shrine was built by the Montfort Missionaries and dedicated as a place of peace, prayer and pilgrimage. The grounds feature a spectacular hillside Stations of the Cross path. Lourdes is open daily, year round, dawn to dusk. Follow Rte. 118 to Rte. 202 in Litchfield where this loop began.