Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Where To Live In Connecticut That Has A Small Town Feel?

Noank, Conn.
Editor's note: We recently received an email from one of our readers looking to possibly move to Connecticut. Here is her inquiry, followed by our response...

Hi, my name is Courtney and I found your website completely truthful and helpful. I talked to my cousin who lives in the northern part of the east coast and she described exactly what you did! I am currently in Orange County, California, and don't like the "ingenuinity" (we're assuming the word is"disingenuous") and mindset of the people. I have found that Connecticut is a place with great weather and has a lot if cities with a small town feel. I was wondering if there was any way that you could help me specify my search in CT? I would like a city with a small town feel where your neighbors are sweet, but it still has a high quality of life. Essex and Stonington caught my eye, but I've never been so I can't say! Thank you for your time.

Thank-you for your inquiry. We do write straight-from-the-heart here and glad you appreciate that!

My response here will be no exception as we will mention a few Connecticut towns that move us the most and that make us feel great because of their small town feel and friendliness. Granted, we don't live in the towns that are about to be mentioned, but these are the places we would consider if moving to the "Constitution State."

I'm not sure about a city in Connecticut that has a small town feel. West Hartford might be the closest to that description, with its developed downtown but pleasant downtown and tree-lined streets with beautiful homes. It's pretty expensive there, but if you can afford it West Hartford might be worth a look.   I noticed that you mentioned Stonington Borough and Essex, so maybe you meant "towns?"  If so, I can tell you about small, friendly Connecticut towns with attractive neighborhoods and/or a strong community feel  In order, they would be Guilford, Mystic, the Noank section of Groton, Pomfret and with a few reservations, Putnam.

Guilford has one of the prettiest town commons in New England. It is really the centerpiece of the downtown -- large and shaded with benches to take in a quintessential New England way of life. Cute little shops, cafes and restaurants surround the "village green." The friendliness of the town, however, has been most pleasing about our visits to Guilford. People walked by and say "hello" to you on the streets. We once struck up great conversation with one of the locals at a "hometown" type restaurant. The local said that he loved Guilford and felt safe enough there to never lock his home or car doors. I still have trouble with that concept no matter where you live, but we got the message loud and clear that Guilford is a safe town. Although situated on the coast, Guilford, to us, feels more like an inland town -- perhaps because the downtown is away from the water. Still, you have the best of both worlds -- inland and coastal New England beauty. You're not isolated from everything, either, as Branford -- a bigger, quite impressive town with good historical preservation -- is right next door. New Haven, a mid-sized city, and home to Yale University, is about minutes away. You're also about 15 minutes to Hammonasset Beach, one of Connecticut's best public ocean beaches.

Mystic, Conn.
Mystic, located on the southeastern Connecticut coast is best known as a tourist town. The summers get busy with its myriad travel attractions like Mystic Seaport (a "living history museum consisting of a village, ships and 17 acres of exhibits depicting coastal life in New England in the 19th century), the Mystic Aquarium, Old Mistick Village shops, and a vibrant downtown. That thriving downtown makes it all worthwhile, in our opinion, for someone wanting to move to Mystic. You have shops and restaurants of all kind without losing that small town feel. There's a beautiful developed riverwalk, downtown, too, and a nice networks of sidewalks to stroll -- many with water views. If you love seafood, you'll never find a shortage in downtown Mystic. Some restaurants like S and P Oyster Company have outdoor waterfront seating in the summer. We personally love the independent book and toy stores, the famous Mystic Pizza that is not the tourist trap you would think it is, Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream for some wonderful homemade ice cream, and the huge Mystic Drawbridge. The 21 ft. long bridge has a counter weight of 230 tons each and moveable span length of 85 ft.!

Find a home near the downtown, and you'd have access to, really, one of the nicest small town downtown districts in New England. You're also less than a half-hour from myriad public beaches in the Westerly, R.I. area. This area certainly affords a wonderful quality of life for those that like a thriving small downtown by the sea. It's very friendly, too!

So, no matter how busy Mystic gets in the summer, there's a feeling of peacefulness in the air. But if it gets to be too much in the thick of the tourist season, we love to drive five minutes down the road to Noank. Part of the town of Groton, Noank seems like the little village that time forgot. Tree-lined side streets meet beautiful coastline for a truly scenic, idyllic setting. There's a little grocery store and country store, a bakery, big old homes overlooking the sea, and the famous seasonal Abbott's Lobster in the Rough restaurant with the most delicious lobster (overlooking the water, too). Last time we were in Noank, we struck up a nice conversation with an older lady walking her dog. Although Noank is a "money" town, she had no pretenses about her and her love of the village was overflowing with enthusiasm. We got that feeling, overall, in Noank. It's a nice escape, but yet so close to Mystic and Groton's central district. This would be a nice place to call home for anyone looking for a quiet setting.

Putnam, Conn.
Pomfret, with its big town common and rural ways, is beautifully situated around the rolling hills of northeastern Connecticut -- otherwise known as the "Quiet Corner." The feeling of the town is simply great. The Vanilla Bean Cafe, in a restored 1800s farmhouse, is a community gathering place, of sorts, serving made--from scratch breakfast, lunch and dinner items. They also feature some great entertainment, including local folk singers. Route 169 is one of the most scenic byways in New England and the old farmhouses, classic white churches, big open skies and fresh air are quite rejuvenating. Nearby are more quintessential New England town likr Woodstock and Brooklyn. Neighboring Putnam is known as the "antiques capital of New England," with more than 50,000 square feet of antiques. While some areas of Putnam are rundown, the downtown district is impressive with the antique stores, restaurants and, truthfully, one of the friendliest vibes we've experienced in New England. No pretensions here, it's sort of like an industrial village version of Mayberry RFD. Some people might scratch their heads and ask why I would would pick Putnam when there are so many perceived prettier towns in Connecticut. I just believe that you can't judge a book by its cover and I would choose to pick a place where I feel a connection. I have that feeling in Putnam, more so than the more hyped, polished and gentrified towns that some travel guides feature.

While Putnam serves as the commercial center of the "Quiet Corner," it's certainly not a big town. Worcester, Mass., the second biggest city in New England, is about 40 minutes away, and features a growing restaurant and cultural scene, 13 colleges and universities, and an overall authentic city feel. Worcester gets knocked around as not the greatest place, but I personally think it has more going for it than most other mid-sized New England cities. In a way, Worcester is more a series of neighborhood and you'll find unique character in each section. It's pretty fascinating and you'll find some real hidden gem restaurants in each neighborhood.

You had also mentioned Essex and Stonington (Borough). They are great-looking areas with classic New England presences. Both are certainly worth a look, but they don't move us the same way the aforementioned towns do -- that is, in terms, of if we were to ever consider a move. This is certainly not to deinigrate Essex and Stonington Borough; they could certainly be idyllic for someone else. Again, we just go with our hearts when visiting a town and ask ourselves: is it an interesting town with friendliness, community spirit, visual appeal, and a good vibe?  I know that Essex and Stonington Borough pass with flying colors on each of the criteria, but on a personal level, Guilford, Mystic, Noank and Putnam (with some few caveats) draw me with their true New England spirit.

Courtney, you had also mentioned that you heard that the Connecticut weather is great. With all due respect, I guess that all depends on who you talk with. Like all New England states, the winters can be rough (but certainly not like New Hampshire or Vermont), so that is something to keep in mind. We're also not sure of your budget, but all of the towns we suggested are relatively affordable by Connecticut standards (it's generally an expensive state with high taxes when compared to the rest of the country). Putnam is probably the most affordable of the towns with Pomfret, Mystic and Guilford having a high concentration of high-priced homes with a few that are more affordable.

Additionally, there are some areas in New England where it might take some time to build relationships. But if you choose the right community -- and once people accept you -- you'll have friends for life.  Although we are native New Englanders, we chose a good town where strong relationships didn't happen right away. But because it's a good town (translated, good folks live here!), the relationships eventually grew in a truly meaningful way.

Hope this helps, Courtney. If you have any follow-up questions, please write us back and we'll offer some more suggestions. Readers of this blog, please feel free to comment with your own suggestions on what Connecticut communities that you think Courtney might want to research. Thanks!

Eric from VisitingNewEngland.com
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