As something of an antique itself, old-fashioned Putnam can not be fully realized by just a driving tour. Beyond its sometimes rough-around-the edges facade is a community where historical details, and slices of true Americana combine with all those wonderful antiques shops to create a special, somewhat stuck-in-time New England travel destination. Strolling the time warp-style downtown is really the best way to see all the unique nooks and crannies.
The old Montgomery Ward building serves as sort of the
architectural anchor of downtown Putnam -- it's an old brick
building with character (and the Montgomery Ward name still intact) put
to good use by showcasing several local businesses.
Putnam's hometown head-on parking, the well-maintained 1906 train station, the downtown's large outdoor patio with chairs and tables, a nice mix of modern and mom and pop stores, a community playhouse called the Bradley, and a growing restaurant scene. 85 Main is a terrific fine dining yet casual establishment, operated by Barry Jessurun and Brian Jessurun, owners of the landmark Vanilla Bean Cafe in neighboring Pomfret).
In Putnam, you'll see the old barber shop and the local watering hole, but there's also the boutique or gallery. It is one of those towns where the locals seem friendly -- saying "hello" to you on the streets and also allowing you to use the crosswalk first before they drive their cars. There's a leisurely pace and a welcoming flavor, catering to the many tourists who come here to shop for antiques. Those initial uncomfortable feelings of driving through Putnam are now completely gone, thus proving that there's more to life than what we see behind the wheel. Sometimes, walking brings out the finer details of a community.
“We are not your cookie cutter town,” said Chris Coderre, business coordinator for the Putnam Business Association. “We have kept the quaint New England downtown vibe, but it isn’t just vintage. We have galleries, theater and many restaurants. Our motto is ‘Vintage feel, modern appeal.’”
Putnam has such a welcoming vibe and one-of-a-kind look.
The WINY (AM 1350) radio "broadcast house," right by the scenic but rather rough-looking Quinebaug River and waterfall, has a 1950s-style architectural look with on-air talent and local ads, promoting local businesses, to match. It's almost a throwback to hear announcers broadcasting on location, at the car dealership, and using the "you heard it here first" breaking news flash in this rather quiet town.
Jeremiah's Antiques and Shoppes at 25 Front St. is also a
low-key, friendly antiques store that focuses on less expensive
antiques and features, in the back of the store, a free museum that
showcases props from movie sets and costumes worn by celebrities. Be
prepared to spend some time at Jeremiah's as it is jam-packed with a
wonderful variety of things from the past!
Additionally, Putnam has experienced a cultural upswing
led by the Bradley Playhouse (30 Front St., Tel. 860- 928-7887), which
hosts a number of theatrical events and shows throughout the year.
It's not just antiques that make Putnam such a nice place to visit, however. We truly like the Mayberry RFD small-town feel of Putnam. You'd almost expect Floyd the Barber, Aunt Bee and Andy to walk through town (there were even a few Barney Fifes during our visit, albeit with New York City accents, drawing attention to themselves as loud, self-proclaimed antique shopping experts). We look forward to returning to this surprisingly vibrant, thriving former mill town -- that really looked like a dying mill town when driving. It just goes to show what a little walking can reveal when traveling the "true" New England.
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