If you are looking to discover amazing New England hidden gem family-friendly destinations for your 2020 travel, I highly recommend the following gems…
Pawtuxet Village, R.I.
Warwick and Cranston, Rhode Island — the second and third largest cities in Rhode Island, respectively — share one of the most charming, hidden historic neighborhoods in southern New England that is only an hour’s drive from Boston.
Pawtuxet Village straddles both communities for only a short distance, but makes up for its small size with picturesque coastal and quaint village scenes, impressive historical preservation and a restaurant resume that rivals much larger towns.
The look of an old-fashioned village suddenly comes from out of nowhere after driving several minutes through densely populated residential areas and seemingly never ending area commercial strips depending on the roads leading from Warwick, Cranston and nearby Providence. The roads narrow, the travel appeal widens and retro New England takes a front seat when historic homes and buildings right off the imperfect red brick sidewalks reveal just the beginning of what’s to come in one of America’s oldest settlements.
Pawtuxet was founded by the Pawtuxet tribe (Pawtuxet translates to “Little Falls”) and then settled in 1638 by four English families, most notably Rhode Island founder Roger Williams who purchased the property extending south from Providence to the Pawtuxet River. Pawtuxet started as a farming community, then grew into a bustling seaport in the 1700s, a textile manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s and a summer resort in the 1900s. In 1772, patriots organized the first military action towards independence by attacking and burning the British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, according to an article on the Pawtuxet.com web site history page. The article also states this was “America’s First Blow for Freedom” that “led directly to the establishment of permanent Committees of Correspondence, unifying the individual colonies, and starting the process of the American Revolution.” Today, The Gaspee Days Committee holds the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June to commemorate the burning of the HMS Gaspee.
Charming Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian homes lend a grand look to the Village, while an armory, old churches, dance hall, a boat house and former still
house set an ambiance that evokes the best elements of a traditional, small New England small. Given its deep historical roots, it is no surprise that Pawtuxet Village, in 1973, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
While Pawtuxet Village certainly maintains the feeling and preservation of its historical past, the neighborhood serves most prominently today as an ideal place to live in the Providence area, as well as bringing in visitors looking for a pleasant day trip — or to visit as part of a vacation.
Community involvement helps keeps the district vibrant and appealing. The Pawtuxet Village Association, with its high number of volunteers, works with city government to help preserve and improve the community. The organization also publishes The Bridge newspaper covering history, architecture and Village life. The Friends of Pawtuxet Village offers year-round activities to village residents and visitors.
“It’s got a quaint charm of a colonial era village,” said Jeffrey St. Germain who co-owns the Little Falls Bakery and Cafe with Matt Donnelly. “The people are diverse and friendly. There is a great deal of interest in the community and pride of the residents. We have water on three sides of the village. The upper Narragansett Bay to the north, the Pawtuxet River to the south and Pawtuxet Cove to the east. So boating is a big draw. That we’re seven minutes from Providence is a plus as well. We have some great restaurants, a pub, cafés, and just a beautiful little place on the edge of two cities.”
Pawtuxet Park, on the Warwick side, sets a wonderful tone with its paved paths, lush green open spaces, abundant trees providing nice shade, benches, picnic tables, gazebo and the Aspray Boat House leading to beautiful close-up views of the Pawtuxet River. A short walk to a pedestrian-friendly bridge provides beautiful water views of Pawtuxet Cove while connecting to the Cranston side of Pawtuxet Village where the majority of shops and restaurants reside in a prototypical “Main Street USA” setting.
While Pawtuxet Village has its share of locally-owned mom and pop shops that sell jewelry, art, antiques, clothing, ice cream and candies, it is the dining out scene that stands out. The impressive diversity of restaurants within just a few minute’s walk on, or just off Broad St. include Basta Italian Restaurant (Italian cuisine), The Elephant Room (crepes and loose leaf teas), Little Falls Bakery and Cafe (coffee, sandwiches, quiche and New York style pizza). O’Rourke’s Bar and Grille (Irish-American menu and water views from the patio), Revolution (American bistro fare), Rim Nahm Thai Cuisine, and Sweet Indulgence (a delightful pink and white accented Parisian-style bakery and cafe).
In addition, the Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet, 60 Rhodes Place (just off Broad St.), 9 a.m. to 12 noon through Oct. 29, has been running for 14 years with an impressive array of local produce, meats, fish, flowers, artisan and ethnic foods.
For more information on Pawtuxet Village — including seasonal activities and events — log onto the Friends of Pawtuxet Village at http://www.friendsofpawtuxetvillage.org, the Pawtuxet Village Association at http://www.pawtuxetvillageassociation.org/ and the Gaspee Days Committee at http://www.gaspee.com/.
Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Mass.
Visiting the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts proves that taking the road less traveled affords some of the best discoveries in New England.
Just a few minutes from the popular Mohawk Trail on Routes 2 and 2A in the western part of the state, the Bridge of Flowers blossoms every year as a one-of-a-kind attraction from April 1 to October 30 with thousands of bulbs, perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees spanning a 400-foot former trolley bridge.
Each month brings a different look to the Bridge of Flowers, given its revolving door of colorful, seasonal plant life and also with fall bringing an added scenic touch with its foliage in the surrounding hills juxtaposed with the beautiful Deerfield River. From anemones to veronica, the mix of well-known and less common plant life ensures a stunning display, no matter what day visited during the Bridge of Flowers’ operating season.
The Bridge of Flowers — just a two hour drive from Boston — also serves as a prime example of creative community revitalization that has resulted in a “bridging” together of town beautification and tourist attraction appeal. The arched bridge dates back to 1908, constructed to “deliver heavy freight from the Shelburne Falls railyard to the mills on the 7 1/2-mile line along Route 112 North to Colrain, as well as passengers and local goods, such as milk, apples and cotton,” according to the Bridge of Flowers web site (http://www.bridgeofflowersmass.org/#!history/cldy). The invention of the automobile and birth of the trucking industry eventually took over as main transportation in this area in the 1920s, forcing the railway company to go bankrupt in 1927.
The Shelburne Falls Women’s Club, in 1928, thought of a way to keep the bridge from turning into an eyesore by managing and maintaining plantings where, according to the Greater Shelburne Falls Area web site, “Eighty loads of loam and several loads of fertilizer were spread over the Bridge, and the first flowers were planted in 1929.”
Through the years, the Bridge of Flowers structure, unfortunately, fell into disrepair thus prompting local and state funding from public and private sectors to restore the Bridge beginning in 1983. That restoration project has allowed visitors to safely enjoy the densely-populated plant life along the whole length of the Bridge.
The Bridge of Flowers Committee, initiated in 1929, remains the central catalyst in keeping the Bridge beautiful and thriving with its gardeners and volunteer members. The volunteers — 12 to 15 regulars and approximately 50 contributors from the local “Blossom Brigade” — work on many maintenance and improvement projects including planting flowers, weeding, deadheading and debugging.
“It’s an all volunteer effort to keep the Bridge beautiful,” said Carmela Lanza-Weil, executive director of the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association. “”There’s a master gardener, other gardeners, and the Blossom Brigade for anyone that wants to help — they meet every Wednesday evening and Friday morning.
There is so much care that goes into the Bridge.”
Nancy Fischlein, co-chair of the Bridge of Flowers Committee (a subcommittee of the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club), said that the Bridge of Flowers goes beyond just “plants.”
“People do some here to see the plants, but also to just visit for the antiquity and the history behind it,” said Fischlein. “They come here to slow the pace. It’s like walking through a poem… I was out there early this morning and thought ‘This is one of the most beautiful, most precious places in the hilltowns (a series of small several towns in this part of the state). This is really something special.’”
Located in an idyllic, Norman-Rockwell-meets-Currier-and-Ives village setting, the Bridge of Flowers connects Shelburne Falls with Buckland. Shelburne Falls — designated as a Cultural District by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2012 — features a quaint tree-shaded center with a nice mix of restaurants and unique mom and pop shops that sell arts and crafts, quilts, books, home furnishings, clothing, sweets, and, of course, flowers. In addition to The Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls also features another stunning attraction: more than 50 glacial potholes ranging from six inches in diameter to 39 feet across. The potholes can best be viewed near Salmon Falls (a short walk from the Bridge of Flowers) at the end of Deerfield St.
Buckland shares the central business district with Shelburne Falls (within the Town of Shelburne) with a smaller scale of equally appealing, locally-owned shops and dining destinations. Shelburne Falls and Buckland are both exceptionally well-preserved and friendly — steeped in history and an old-fashioned vibe.
“There’s a metaphor to the Bridge connecting Buckland and Shelburne,” said Fischlein. “It’s speaks to the friendliness and welcoming nature of the two towns that come together. It is a beautiful place to be.”
Regarding the Bridge of Flowers, Fischlein concludes, “I try to draw back and think if I were to visit a place to see flowers, this is the place I would want to visit.”
The Bridge of Flowers is located off Wilson St., in Shelburne Falls. For more information, log onto the Bridge of Flowers Committee web site at http://www.bridgeofflowersmass.org/. To discover more on Shelburne Falls, visit the Greater Shelburne Falls Area web site at http://www.shelburnefalls.com/.
Downtown Putnam, Connecticut proves that New England mill towns from the past can manufacture themselves into appealing modern day destinations for locals and tourists to enjoy.
Putnam’s central district has transformed from a dying cotton mill town in the 1970s to a one-of-a-kind 21st century, easily walkable one-block treasure with some of the best antique shopping in New England, many restaurants and cafes (seven with outdoor seating), boutiques, galleries and more locally-owned stores. 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.
Getting out of the car and walking the main streets and the quieter side streets reveal a completely different town — and the many charming nuances that go along with it — than what one sees when only driving a vehicle along Route 44. Old buildings, for example, proudly hang onto the past with remaining signs from the former Bugbee’s and Montgomery Ward Department stores, while a huge faded, paintedCoca Cola sign seems forever embedded on the side of an historic building. The level streets showcase a mix of retro buildings that are almost entirely occupied with colorful business signs competing with each other. The hilly parts of Putnam add a hint of the unknown, as walking up or down a curvy street leaves one in anticipation of what will be discovered next. The Quinnebaug River features a beautiful waterfall, a bridge connecting to the downtown and area walkways juxtaposed with well-maintained old factory buildings and homes. The retro WINY-AM 1350 “Broadcasting House,” overlooking the Quinnebaug River, remains as one of the last southern New England small town, community-oriented AM heritage radio stations.
Putnam, incorporated in 1858 and serving as the largest town in northeastern Connecticut at just over 9,000 people, certainly comes across loud and clear as a unique destination in a region known as the “Quiet Corner of Connecticut” (known for its beautiful pastoral scenes, town greens, farms, and historic homes, inns and restaurants).
“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 almost didn’t make it out of the collection of decaying mill towns in New England that never quite came back to life after promising starts during the Industrial Revolution. A 1955 hurricane proved devastated Putnam, causing a flood from the Quinnebaug River to wipe out homes, businesses, the mills and the railroad beds that helped provide a prosperous conduit from local factories to the rest of the country. That coupled with post-World War II economic challenges — forcing so many northeast industries to move to the warmer and less expensive south — proved an almost overwhelming challenge for Putnam.
As late as the mid 1980s, Putnam often seemed like the town that rolled up the carpets early and had too many abandoned storefronts and factories for one to ever consider it a travel destination. Strong community revitalization efforts, however, started to bring Putnam back to life and today, the community has an appeal — and enough things to do — to make it worth the 90-minute drive from Boston.
Ironically, something from the past initially brought the future to downtown Putnam: antiques.
Jerry Cohen, owner of the Antiques Marketplace (109 Main St., Tel. 860-928-0442), has owned his business for 25 years, and helped revitalize Putnam by bringing the antiques store culture to town. Soon, Putnam would be known, to many antique fans, as the “Antiques Capital of the East.”
Cohen, however, eventually saw the peaks and valleys of the local antiques shopping scene. He said that the 1990s brought in antique stores but then “Ebay came online and put a lot of antique stores out of business. They closed in droves, maybe 80 percent of them in Connecticut. I thought, if we just waited it out, we would be survivors. We did.”
Today, the Antiques Marketplace features 20,000 sq. ft of antiques shopping with more than 100 independent dealers offering up to 300 spaces of virtually every
category of antiques. Jeremiah’s Antiques & Shoppes (26 Front St., 860) 963-2671)
serves as another major antique shopping destination with an impressive collection of antiques for all budgets.
Cohen added that Putnam’s growth kept evolving after the antiques stores, next with restaurants opening up all over the downtown and many other local businesses setting up shop.
“The next wave was the emergence of restaurants and some with outdoor patios that gave the town a vibrancy the visual of eating and drinking coffee outdoors,” said Cohen. “… I think the best thing about Putnam is the downtown businesses are locally-owned by committed business people. There are no chain stores. These are local business people creating businesses that are one-of-a-kind.”
The restaurant scene is quite remarkable for a town of this size including traditional and fusion American fusion cuisines, as well as sushi, Asian, Italian and deli-style, a brew pub and a few coffee houses.
Barry Jessurun, owner of the well-known Vanilla Bean Cafe in neighboring Pomfret, realized Putnam’s potential many years ago and opened 85 Main (at, surprise, 85 Main St., Tel. 860-928-1660) in 2005 with brother Brian Jessurun and Chef and General Manager James Martin. 85 Main, which offers a cozy indoor dining environment as well as outdoor seating overlooking the downtown, specializes in fresh seafood and mouthwatering steaks along with locally grown produce.
“Ever since we opened The Vanilla Bean Café in 1989, we had been looking at Putnam as a place to open another restaurant,” said Jessurun. “Many of our customers were traveling to Providence and West Hartford to experience high quality restaurants with full-service and high quality food and a full bar. We knew that the market existed to open an urban style restaurant in the quiet country town of Putnam.”
Jessurun sees Putnam as far more than a restaurant town, however, and knows that the town can continue to grow upon its initial revitalization.
“It is the quintessential small New England town that has had its share of ups and
downs, and yet many people are proud to call Putnam home and a place where they can do business,” said Jessurun. “I really like its location in southern New England and the nearness and relative closeness to much of what New England has to offer. The Main Street has ‘good bones’ and great potential for more business.”
Meanwhile, The Putnam Business Association continues to successfully advocate for a thriving business environment and all that Putnam offers, while hosting and supporting many seasonal events throughout the year.
“Our business association brings everyone together to market our town as a destination,” said Coderre. “It’s really an ideal destination as a day trip, or as part of another trip.”
For more information on Putnam, log onto the Putnam Business Association’s DiscoverPutnam.com.
Salem Willows, Salem, Mass.
Salem, Mass., features many witch attractions that cast a joyous travel spell on approximately a million visitors a year, but this famous North Shore city also offers hidden gems with vacation appeal unrelated to the witch culture.
Case-in-point: the 35-acre Salem Willows Park, a family-friendly coastal destination that features a beautiful park with expansive seaside grounds, two small beaches, an amusement park, concerts, and water recreation opportunities.
Hard to find but worth the visit, Salem Willows Park resides on a peninsula –where the Danvers River and Atlantic Ocean meet — about a mile from downtown Salem. At first, the prospects look rather dim for finding this slice of old-fashioned Americana as summer visitors can often experience heavy downtown traffic leading to an extended narrow residential road that doesn’t seem to go anywhere — that is, until you reach the sights of a power plant and sewage treatment facility.
All of a sudden, however, things begin to change in a hurry as a big “Salem Willows” sign appears with views of a pleasant looking downtown, an expansive park and panoramic water views in the distance. Upon closer inspection, the downtown does not offer any typical central district stores, but instead a wonderful concentration of arcades, kiddie rides, mini golf and comfort food vendors.
Families walk the stretch with kids often pulling their parents’ hands to each attraction. The aroma of fried foods, Chinese cuisine, hot buttered popcorn and other foods that offer sentimental value to visitors draws crowds as early as 11:30 a.m. The sights and sounds of open-air arcades bring a carefree summer vibe where kids know that “school’s out for summer,” as the Alice Cooper song goes, and studying isn’t the only game in town.
Across the street, the five-acre park offers peaceful, waterfront strolls along paved pathways and gazebos where groups gather for family outings, birthdays and other social events.
Lisa Finocchio of Saugus, Mass., recently held a birthday party for her six-year-old daughter, Lillian St. Pierre, at one of the parks’ gazebos overlooking the water. She arrived at 6:50 a.m. to successfully ensure securing the space for the large party.
“I love it here,” said Finocchio. “I’m 52 and started coming here at 16 or 17. It’s got everything — the water, the park, the arcades and rides. Why go anywhere else? We have our family reunion here every August and everyone loves it. We can enjoy the park, the kids can go across the street to the arcades and down by the water… It’s safe, too. We have never had a problem in the day or at night.”
Walking past the park and central district leads to the water where fishing off the extended pier reels in crowds, as well as a small beach where visitors can sunbathe and swim. Kayakers and paddle boarders navigate the relatively gentle waters (Coast to Coast Paddle has a kiosk here offering rentals, lessons, and tours) with islands, colorful boats and charming old landlocked homes saturating the classic New England scene. On the other side of the park near the entrance is another small beach, Deadhorse Beach, which is far more appealing than its name, as well as the Salem Willows Yacht Club (dating back to 1933) and the new Clam Shack restaurant specializing in fried clams, boiled lobster and, of course, water views.
“Summer gets busy with local visitors and a tourist crowd,” said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem. “The Salem Willows is like (Hampton Beach or Old Orchard Beach) but on a much smaller scale and seems to bring in a family crowd with younger kids, although people of all ages certainly come here. We get a lot of visitors from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Eric McCarthy, activities coordinator for the Salem Department of Parks and Recreation, added “It’s an amazing neighborhood there. The citizens at Juniper Point (a Salem Willows neighborhood) are always looking out for each other and take care of the place (along with Salem DPW workers helping keep Salem Willows Park clean on a regular basis). It would be hard for a ‘shady’ area to develop as everything is out in the open and the neighborhood pride is there. You can feel safe there.”
The arcades and midway win the prize as the most popular Salem Willows destinations. The Willows Casino, features many familiar, classic arcade games from Skee-Ball to air hockey. The Willows Arcade, according to the Salem Willows web site, offers favorites like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga and Tournament Arkanoid, vintage pin-ball machines, Zoltan and the Fortune Teller, as well as modern virtual reality games. The Midway features bumper cars, batting cages, and games where one can win prizes. At Kiddieland, the 135-year old Carousel — one of the oldest in the country — stands as the main draw but boat, car and ladybug rides and miniature golf offer great summer fun appeal, too.
Unlike many New England travel destinations with entertainment offerings, the Salem Willows has deep historical roots. Named after the European white willow trees planted here in 1801 to give patients some shade at a former smallpox hospital, the area was designated a park in 1858 and open for business in 1880 as a convenient weekend oasis for workers taking the nearby horse-drawn trolley lines to work during the weekdays. During the first half of the 20th century, Salem Willows Park featured “Restaurant Row” offering fresh seafood, the aforementioned carousel with carved flying horses, and big-name entertainers playing at the bandstand like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie at the former Charleshurst Ballroom — now the Willows Casino arcades building, according to the Salem Willows web site at http://www.salemwillowspark.com/.
In 1906, Everett Hobbs & William Eaton (E.W. Hobbs, which is still a popular Salem Willows food destination) offered Americans the first ice-cream cone while “Blind Pat” Kenneally featured Spanish “double-jointed” peanuts to America from his cart at the Willows.
The Salem Willows historical template remains despite significant changes. The “household-name” famous entertainers have given way to highly entertaining general concerts, most notably the traditional, free-to-attend Salem Jazz and Soul Festival. This year’s festival will be held Aug- 20-21,and will feature newcomers and returning favorites. The original horses on the carousel were sold to Macy’s in 1945, but the merry-go-round continues to bring in crowds to this very day. The “Restaurant Row” has been reinvented into a series of food vendors now offering fried seafood, char-broiled hamburgers, gyros, chicken tenders, hot dogs, pizza, salt water taffy, and soft and hard-serve ice cream. Long-time food traditions, have been established, too, according to Fox.
“People come for the American Chop Suey Sandwich (at Genghis Salem) and the hot buttered popcorn at E.W. Hobbs,” said Fox. “Jack Welch (former General Electric CEO and Salem native) called the popcorn the best he ever had.”
Salem Willows will ultimately never attain the popularity of Hampton Beach or Old Orchard Beach, but that’s all right with those who have discovered this off-the-beaten path summer place for kids of all ages.
“I think anyone who visits here will have a great time,” said Finocchio. “Just look around. You never see anyone not having a great time. We just love it here so much. We never get tired of coming here.”
Salem Willows Park is located at 167 Fort Ave. in Salem. Through Labor Day Weekend, most businesses are open seven days a week at either 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. with closing times between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., depending on the business. For groups more than 40 looking to secure space for a social gathering, contact the Salem Parks and Recreation Department at (978) 744-0180.
For more information on Salem, log onto http://salem.org or call 877 SALEM MA (725-3662)
The FarmCoast, Rhode Island and Massachusetts
Imagine visiting a place that seems like a million miles away from civilization with its quiet, postcard-perfect colonial-era villages, beautiful ocean beaches, stone walls, churches with tall white steeples, general stores, farms, one-of-a-kind regional cuisine and tucked away wineries.
Consider yourself lucky that this idyllic destination is only an hour’s drive from Boston.
The FarmCoast — comprising Little Compton and Tiverton, R.I., and Dartmouth and Westport, Mass., in southern New England — truly delivers upon its name, offering a scenic wonderland of farmland, rivers, the sea, and many fun things to see and do.
The geographic convenience for Boston area residents makes the FarmCoast a unique, idyllic travel destination with a vibe markedly different than other New England coastal tourist spots like Cape Cod, Newport, R.I., and the southern New Hampshire and Maine seacoasts given its expansive rural template.
Although by no means an exhaustive list of what to see and do, here is a sampling that represents well the appeal of the charming FarmCoast towns and their neighborhoods:
Tiverton – Taking exit five off Route 24 to Route 77, the laid-back FarmCoast ambiance can instantly be experienced in Tiverton with salt sea air filling the senses, sweeping Sakonnet River views, a small waterfront town park and beach, a few mom and pop shops and locally-owned restaurants, and rolling green hills in the distance. When in Tiverton, be sure to check out Coastal Roasters (1791 Main Rd., 401-624-2343) — this small coffee shop with splendid outdoor patio water views seems to be the unofficial meeting place in town.
The seasonal Evelyn’s Nanaquaket Drive-In (2335 Main Rd. 401-624-3100), about a mile from Tiverton’s central district, serves local Rhode Island culinary gems like Rhode Island clam chowder, “Stuffies” (local quahogs halved and filled with spicy blend of chopped clams and seasonings) and clam cakes. Its most famous dish, however, is the unlikely but delicious lobster chow mein with five ounces of lobster atop a hot chow mein gravy and crispy noodles. Evelyn’s evokes that classic seasonal, roadside seafood shack look and features a beautiful outdoor dining area overlooking the water.
Tiverton Four Corners – Driving farther south on Route 77, Tiverton Four Corners offers a delightful hodgepodge of sometimes hidden, non-contiguous stores that include art galleries, crafts, jewelry, antiques, clothing, home and garden accessories and a few dining options in an authentic 18th century village-like setting. Tiverton Four Corners also features Gray’s Ice Cream stand (16 East Rd., 401-624-4500), which has been making homemade ice cream since 1923.
Little Compton — Continuing on Route 77, this quaint, quintessential New England small town features stunning ocean views at Sakonnet Point (the end of Route 77, or any other road, for that matter) and a nice, off-the-beaten path swimming beach at South Shore Beach (125 South Shore Rd., and open to non-residents for a fee).
“We like to keep it little,” said Richard Sisson, of Little Compton. “It’s a beautiful place.”
The lifelong resident who owns a lawn and garden business added, “We like a quiet place. There are no traffic jams, no stop lights, no Walmart. We don’t want to be known as Newport.”
The tiny downtown district, known as “The Commons,” offers some big delights: a welcoming, large town common (the only town green in the state), the larger-than-expected, old-time Wilbur’s General Store (50 Commons, 401-635-2356) with a retail shop, supermarket and deli counter, and the welcoming, long-established Commons Restaurant (48 Commons 401-635-4388) where everyone seems to know each other. The Commons — open for breakfast and lunch — is famous for its delicious johnnycakes. A Rhode Island culinary staple dating back to colonial New England, johnnycakes have a distant relation to pancakes but could be described better as a cornmeal flatbread.
Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards (162 West Main Road, 800-919-4637) has its business roots going back to 1975 and offers tours and daily tastings, as well as “international award-winning wines” for sale in an idyllic vineyard setting.
Westport wonderfully mixes open farmland with beaches, as well as offering a growing dining scene, including a few waterfront restaurants like The Back Eddy (1 Bridge Rd, 508-636-6500) and The Bayside Restaurant (1253 Horseneck Rd, 508-636-5882). If looking to commune with nature, check out The Trustees of Reservations-owned
Westport Town Farm (830 Drift Rd., 508-636-4693), with a centuries-old farmhouse and pastures bracketed by stone walls leading to views of the Westport River.
Horseneck Beach (5 John Reed Rd., 508-636-8816), one of the most impressive ocean beaches in New England, offers two miles of coastline, soft sand, marshes and dunes that bring in daily crowds of beach lovers.
Gray’s Gristmill (638 Adamsville Rd., 508-636-6075) is the oldest continuously operating mill in the country dating back to 1717. Gray’s continues to ground corn meal from Rhode Island Narragansett Flint Corn — ideal for making johnnycakes (the cornmeal is available for purchase). Gray’s Daily Grind, on the premises, offers coffee, smoothies, organic teas, and pastries.
Padanaram Village – This unassuming, hidden South Dartmouth neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places features scenic harbor views along the Apponagansett River, pleasant tree-lined neighborhoods leading to the water, a few restaurants, ice cream options, galleries and other specialty shops, and a feeling of peacefulness. It’s remarkable that this quiet hidden gem is only 10 minutes from New Bedford, one of the most densely populated cities in the state.
For more information on the FarmCoast — also including summer events and festivals, farm stands and places to stay — log onto the FarmCoast web site at http://farmcoast.com/.
Gillette Castle, East Haddam, Conn.
The Gillette Castle at Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam, Connecticut reigns as one of New England’s most interesting travel attractions: a complex 14,000 square foot stone castle that was once the semi-retirement home of a late 18th century celebrity.
William Gillette, an actor, playwright and director best-known for turning Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories into a play (he also starred as Holmes), eventually used his fortunes to design the Gillette Castle. The castle proved far more than “elementary,” with 25 men building the main structure from 1914 to 1919 for $1.1 million. Located high atop the the most southerly hill in a chain known as the Seven Sisters, the property sits on 184 beautiful wooded acres and provides stunning panoramic Connecticut River views.
The State of Connecticut purchased the home in 1943 from the executors of Gillette’s will (Gillette had no heirs) and the adjoining property, according to the Gillette Castle State Park web site. Making the residence a tourist attraction seemed well-aligned with Gillette’s directions in the will — that is, in his words, stressing that his home did not fall into the hands “of some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” Today, expert tour guides — under the oversight of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — help visitors with their self-guided tours, often offering encyclopedic knowledge of Gillette and his home, as well as showing boundless enthusiasm and a genuine love for the property.
Gillette, widowed and childless, lived in the 24-room home from age 65 until his passing at 83-years-old, and managed thousands of refinements created by local craftsmen that would eventually make the castle a one-of-a-kind residence. Forty-seven doors (no two exactly the same) feature intricate designs and external latches carved from wood. The woodwork comprises hand-hewn southern white oak. Stone stairways lead to elegant rooms (including a huge main living area called the “Great Hall,” a study and library). Adding to the unique residence: a movable table on tracks to keep the floor unscratched, built-in couches, a fountain in the conservatory with replicas of his two beloved pet frogs, heated day beds and wood-carved light switches. Outside shows no creative drop off with stone-arch bridges and walls, wooded trestles spanning up to 40 feet, a goldfish pond, a vegetable cellar and a three-mile long narrow gauge railroad where Gillette would give guests rides on one of his trains (no longer in service).
An inside door, near the entrance, leads to the Great Hall, but Gillette clearly had more in mind than just an access route. A sign reads, “Through this doorway, Gillette would theatrically appear, emerging quickly at the top of the stairs to greet guests in the foyer. He also used this as an escape route, to enter the house through the study to avoid greeting anyone in the Great Hall or to exit the house to avoid an unwanted visitor.”
Gillette would also play tricks on those who tried to access the liquor cabinet. Employing a custom-made pin that made the liquor cabinet hard to open, Gillette would observe his guests struggling with the cabinet, and then “reveal the secret procedure.”
Guests at the Gillette Castle included 30th United States President Calvin Coolidge, legendary theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, comedian Charlie Chaplin and actress Helen Hayes, according to tour guide Paul (the guides do not reveal their last names on the tour).
Although the castle stands as the main attraction, the rest of the state park is exceptionally appealing with its Connecticut River views, footpaths across several miles, picnic benches and shelter, public campsites, and food concessions at the appropriately named Sherlock’s Grill. Although one can reach Gillette Castle via a few different routes, many prefer to take the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry (from Route 95, take Route 9N to Exit 6) for amazing water and castle views upon approaching Gillette Castle State Park.
Gillette Castle State Park is located at 67 River Rd., in East Haddam, Connecticut
Tel. (860) 526-2336. According to its web site, Gillette Castle is open Thursday – Sunday from Memorial Day Weekend until Labor Day, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Castle will be closed on Labor Day. The grounds are open year-round. For more information — including entrance fees to the castle — log onto “http://www.ct.gov/deep/gillettecastle” www.ct.gov/deep/gillettecastle.
Editor’s note: I originally wrote these articles for the Walpole Times (Walpole, Mass.), part of the excellent WickedLocal newspaper chain.
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Six easy day trips from Boston to quaint New England country stores