Autumn In New England (Connecticut)

Connecticut: The Constitution State

The sixth article in a series of 7

On Friday, October 10, 2008 Connecticut Supreme Court Ruled in Kerrigan & Mock et al v. Connecticut Department of Public Health that Same-Sex Couples can Marry!

But naturally there is a twist and this issue could be on the Connecticut ballot in this upcoming election. A ban on gay marriage could be approved by a constitutional convention. Connecticut law requires a state referendum every 20 years asking whether it should hold a convention at which delegates would consider rewriting anything in the state’s Constitution. The referendum happens to be scheduled for next month. Therefore this up-coming election plays an important role for each resident of Connecticut. I hope that everyone understands that every vote counts on November 4th, 2008. I do hope that each Connecticut registered voter casts a vote for their selected candidate and reviews the ballot amendment regarding the Constitution of Connecticut. If you have not registered yet the following are the deadlines to do so: Mail-in – 14 days before the election, In-Person – 7 days before election. The Link to the Connecticut voter registration form is:
http://www.ct.gov/sots/LIB/sots/ElectionServices/ElectForms/electforms/ed671.pdf

I would like to introduce you to the State of Connecticut a.k.a the Nutmeg State, and where the roots of my father’s family settled, way back when. Preparing this series of articles has certainly has become an interesting personal journey. I can now understand the growing interest in searching into family heritage. My parents relocated from Connecticut to New York because their marriage in the 1950s was not socially acceptable, and I am amazed that I eventually ended up as a resident of this state.

The reason for my return, and eventual settling in Connecticut, was purely based upon my strong dislike of senior nursing homes.  I became the primary caregiver to my grandmother, “Dotty.” During this period of becoming the primary care-giver, I learned a great deal about myself, I also met my partner, Nick, and we are now celebrating our 17th year together.

To say the least, there was a most definite clash between my grandmother and I. Within a short period of time I discovered that she suffered from agoraphobia, which I certainly was not prepared for. Over a period of time, her fear of going outside of the house was finally overcome and then we would take daylong country road trips throughout this beautiful state.

Since I am focusing on the Autumn period within New England I would like to point out once again one of the best sources in predicting the best times to view fall colors can be found on the web site of the “Old Farmers Almanac

I would like to begin with a little history regarding the state. Before the Dutch explorer, Adriaen Block, settled in the area in 1614, it was inhabited by the Mohegan Indians.  The state’s name is derived from their language, “QUINNITUKQUT”, meaning “place of long tidal river.” It was a few years afterward that the current spelling, “CONNECTICUT”, was Adopted. The first settlement was near the present capitol, Hartford, which had been Huis van Hoop, which translates to “House of Hope”.

For hundreds of years the state’s nickname has been the Nutmeg State, but apparently there was a bit of controversy surrounding this title and in 1959, the state’s nickname was officially changed to the Constitution State.

The state basically has 5 regions to go and explore:

Coastal Fairfield, the Hills of Litchfield, Greater New Haven, Mystic Country and the River Valley. Each of these areas is packed with beauty, seasonal events, all kinds of activities and of course those stone walls that as you drive around you cannot miss.

The residents of Connecticut are rather active in supporting and promoting the remaining active farms within the state, against the growth of further residential development. I can certainly attest to this issue, for I have witnessed over my years how certain quaint charming small town villages have turned into small cities, and those established cities have also expanded.

As I mentioned, “Dotty” suffered from Agoraphobia, therefore I had to take short trips within the area that we lived. On one of these trips I discovered the Towns of Essex, Centerbrook and Ivoryton, each part of this area is uniquely different. I fell in love with the charm of the area, with it’s open space, architecture, the rivers and it’s over all general charm. There are many cultural, historic and educational attractions as well, from the Essex Steam Train, to the Ivoryton Playhouse, the Connecticut River Museum, the Connecticut Audubon Ecotravel, and the Bushy Hill Nature Center.  The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat ride is a wonderful little adventure where you can just relax and let your imagination wonder as you take this train ride.

They have two coal-fired locomotives available to pull their collection of authentically restored railroad cars. You can be swept away by the hiss of steam, the blast of the whistle, and the clickety-clack of the tracks. From the exciting “All Aboard” to the engineer checking the locomotive before the run, you will experience an authentic journey back to the days of steam. The train travels northward from Essex Station, through the scenic towns of Deep River and Chester. You will see pristine meadows, picturesque farms, a millpond with waterfall, and several bridges over rivers and creeks. You also travel along the Connecticut River near Deep River, where you can see the undeveloped Selden Neck State Park, which is accessible only by boat.

Heading a bit further East you wander around the Mystic Country area or spend time in the towns of New London, Groton and Mystic. One of the nice things about New London is that the great outdoors is just outside your doorstep – surrounded by a year-round scenic paradise for boating, canoeing, rafting, tubing, hiking, biking, golfing, fishing, and snow-mobiling. Within the city and surrounding area there are 900 acres of parks, trails and recreation facilities. This town has been going through a “renaissance” over that last few years, it’s like a mini “Soho” similar to the district in New York City. The Art Galleries, restaurants and diversity of nightlife offers the visitor a warm New England welcoming charm. While in Mystic, you can visit The Museum of America and the Sea, the nation’s leading maritime museum, then enjoy the Mystic Aquarium. Explore American maritime history firsthand as you climb aboard historic tall ships, stroll through a re-created 19th-century coastal village or watch a working preservation shipyard in action. After spending some time visiting this outdoor museum town you can also visit the Mystic Aquarium and enjoy several of their audience participation programs such as “Touch-A-Beluga” and even pat its tongue. Hear it breathe, spout and vocalize.  You can also experience an hour-long intimate encounter where you get to see exactly what penguin experts see and get a unique perspective on the special world of African penguins.

Within about half an hours drive north of these coastal towns you can go to the Gambling and Entertainment resorts of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.  Mohegan Sun located in Uncasville, Connecticut and is the second largest casino in the US. It is on 240 acres along the banks of the Thames River. Though gambling is a major focal point, it is also a great destination to see Las Vegas “type” shows, wonderful and diverse dinning experiences as well or indulge yourself in Elemis Spa program. Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut is the largest casino in the US.  It is situated on approximately 400 acres of land. Within the area of the Foxwoods Resort and Casino is the The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, which is devoted to the culture and history of The Mashantucket Pequot Nation. It is a state-of-the-art, tribally owned-and-operated complex, which brings to life the story of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. This museum is a major resource on the history of the Tribe, the histories and cultures of other tribes, and the region’s natural history.

The northwest section of Connecticut is Litchfield County, about a 2 hour drive from New York City.  From September through late October the days are crisp, clear and sunny; the evenings are cool. The rolling hills and river valleys are alive with the activity of the harvest, which culminates in fifteen of the State’s Country Agricultural Fairs. During the first three weeks in October the bucolic countryside and colonial villages are transformed into a palette of brilliant colors.

In this area I would suggest that you plan to stay at The Mayflower Inn and Spa, in Washington, Connecticut, originally built as the Ridge School.  In 1920 one of it’s alumni, Harry Van Sineren, decided to convert the school into an inn: The Mayflower Inn. He devoted his time and talent to renovate this school house into an Inn on 58 acres. While under his care, the property’s reputation grew. It grew so much, that in 1933 the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, drove up the driveway in her blue Buick Roadster for a brief stay. It is easy to imagine her comfortably enjoying the Mayflower, its private library and deep fireplaces; surroundings very much in keeping with those to which she was no doubt accustomed. Over the years the current proprietors, have devoted their talents and to re-creating a retreat that is devoted to the comfort and well-being of your New England visit. The 20,000 square foot spa is a luxurious haven that no more than 28 guests can enjoy the benefits of exceptional treatment practitioners, fitness staff and cuisine.

Last but certainly not least, is Fairfield County, along the southwest coastal section of Connecticut, a 45 minute drive from New York City or about the same by train.  I will keep this to only two towns in Fairfield County; Westport and Ridgefield.  I have seen Town of Westport grow and expand over the years and the residents work extremely hard to maintain that small New England charm. One of the historical features of this town is the Westport Country Playhouse. This tiny barn style playhouse started in the 1930’s, and has attracted onto its stage such persons as Ruth Gordon, Bert Lahr, Ina Claire, Dennis King, Laurette Taylor, Eva LeGallienne, Paul Robeson, Helen Hayes, Ethel Barrymore, Van Heflin, Jose Ferrer, and many more. I am sure that it certainly must be on an historical landmark. Just entering into this Playhouse, you are immediately surrounded by the presence of great actors and actress. I cannot express the historical feeling I get when I walk into the “Playhouse” and watch the current running shows, and still imagining all the incredible people that have been on the stage.

If you should decide to choose Westport for a getaway, I also love the Inn at National Hall , which was built in 1873 and transformed into a luxury hotel in 1993. Fashioned after Europe’s elite manor houses, The Inn at National Hall invites you to journey into the rich heritage of yesteryear. Decor at the Inn is a delightful mix of whimsy and history. The unique restoration of this circa 1873 Italianate structure includes the skilled hand-stenciling of gifted artisans from throughout the era. The Inn is located in the heart of the National Hall Historic District on the Saugatuck River shoreline in Westport.

What would be an artistic community be without its G & L Bar: “The Cedar Brook Café”, which is the 2nd oldest G & L Bar in the nation. Over my many years this place has always been a “safe-haven” during my visits from New York City, while spending a weekend with my grandparents. Just as you would walk into any historical establishment, you can let your imagination go and only wonder what the walls could tell you.

The Town of Ridgefield is home to a charming retreat that I recently discovered called: Green Rocks Inn. The proprietors of this delightful eco-friendly Bed and Breakfast are Kim Wanamaker and Barbara Simkins. What I am most taken by, is their eye on detail in the decors and arts. Upon walking into the foyer, the décor and attention to detail in a mixture of Oriental and modern art. All of the guest rooms feature all organic bedding and towels, yoga mats, Flat TV’s and wireless Internet. This a bed and breakfast, but the town of Ridgefield, like many in this state, has wonderful restaurants and activities near by that can fill your day as well as several nearby hiking trails.

Connecticut, as well as most New England States is famous for their quiet country roads that as you drive along and or walk around you will see these wonderful stonewalls. The original settlers and farmers constructed them. These stone walls are now also in danger of disappearing, but as I have mentioned the residents of this State are working very hard to maintain it’s historical charm.



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