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

Monday, April 25, 2011

Underrated Downtown Districts in the Boston Suburbs

Articles and photos by Eric H.
There's an interesting discussion forum going on right now at City -Data.com entitled, "What is the prettiest suburban downtown in Greater Boston?" Participants have been offering some great comments, mostly focusing on obvious choices like Concord, Hingham, Newburyport, Marblehead, Salem and Rockport. Each and every one of these communities deserves to be mentioned for their great downtown districts.

Although the question begs for specificity (how do you define a pretty downtown?), the detailed, thoughtful feedback amongst participants was enough to make up for the perhaps overly general inquiry.

I regard a pretty downtown as having a pleasing-to-the-eyes town common, a well-defined business district, big old homes, churches with tall white steeples and historic municipal buildings. What really makes a downtown pretty, however, is seeing it be utilized with events and community gatherings -- this showcases the vibrancy of a community. The combination of all these things create a classic New England look.

I would like to add several south-of-Boston downtown districts that might not be obvious choices, but that are able to exhibit the aforementioned criteria that make up a pretty downtown. I'll let the pictures do the talking from this point on in regards to these underrated downtown districts in the Boston suburbs (and slightly beyond):

Bridgewater, Mass.
Wrentham, Mass.
Taunton, Mass.
Dedham, Mass. 
Fairhaven, Mass.

Walpole, Mass.
North Attleboro, Mass.

Norwood, Mass.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wetherell's Lawn and Garden Comes to Norton, Mass.

This just in to our news room, just the type of story we like about hard-working New Englanders starting a local business...

Brothers Bill McKinley and Dan Lenoci will be opening Wetherell's Lawn and Garden Fri., April 17, at their 4,000 sq. ft. facility, 27 South Worcester Rd. in Norton, Mass.

Wetherell's features an enormous inventory of everything related and lawn and garden needs -- and beyond. This includes lawn and landscaping care items and professional grade machines, and the little things that make a big difference in the outdoor world -- bug spray, shovels, rakes, fertilizer, grass seed, etc. Pet owners can also rejoice as Bill and Dan will also be selling dog, cat, rabbit and bird food.

What gives Wetherell's a real "wow" factor is that Bill and Dan will also offer highly-regarded Vermont Castings and Napolean wood stoves, as well as fireplace inserts.

Bill and Dan are lifelong residents of the south of Boston area. Bill owned for many years McKinley's Auto Body in Abington, Mass., while Dan has extensive experience in the landscaping business. They are both excited about opening this new business venture in an area that needs this type of service.

"There's a real need for this type of (lawn and garden) business around here," said Bill. "We hear that all the time."

Wetherell's is named after the landowner, Hank Wetherell, a beloved local figure who served as Norton's fire chief for 40 years (1930-1970) and lived to be 100-years-old (he died on Oct. 20, 2006).

Wetherell's Lawn and Garden will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.. The telephone number is (508) 455-0042

Finding Wetherell's:

View Larger Map

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peaceful Meadows, Whitman, Mass., Leading in New England Ice Cream Poll

Peaceful Meadows, Whitman, Mass. (photo by Eric)
Peaceful Meadows ice cream stand in Whitman, Mass., leads our VisitingNewEngland.com New England Vacations Facebook Fan Page Ice Cream Poll with around 17 percent of the total vote.

Coming in second is Kimball Farm in Westford, Mass., with about 14 percent of the vote. Rounding out the top 10 are Dairy Chief (now located in the CV Variety Store) in Dartmouth, Mass., Crescent Ridge Dairy in Sharon, Mass., Dairy Queen in Abington and Middleboro, Mass., Browns Old-Fashioned Ice Cream in York Beach, Maine, Richardson's in Middleton, Mass.,  Kimball Farm in Jaffrey, N.H., Bubbling Brook in Westwood, Mass., and Kimball Farm in Carlisle, Mass.

Others mentions include Kellerhaus, Weirs Beach, N.H.,  Howard's Drive-in, West Brookfield, Mass., Skinner's Sugar House in East Bridgewater, Mass.,  The Common Man Town Docks in Meredith, N.H., Gray's in Tiverton, R.I., Bedford Farms, Bedford, Mass., Erickson's, Maynard, Mass., Memories, Kingston, N.H.,  The Big Dipper, Prospect, Conn., and Emack and Bolio's, Orleans, Mass.

Additional mentions include Four Seas, Centerville, Mass., The Whole Scoop, Hanson, Mass., Heidi's Hollow Farm, Hanson, Mass., Uhlman's, Westborough, Mass., Beaks Ice Cream, Milton, N.H., Farfar's, Duxbury, Mass., Park St. Ice Cream, Natick, Mass., Whistlestop, Monument Beach, Mass., Hayward's Ice Cream Stand, Milford, N.H., Arnie's Place, Concord, N.H., Puritan Backroom, Manchester, N.H., Rich's Ice Cream, Oxford, Conn., J. Foster's, Simsbury, Conn., Mystic Drawbridge, Mystic, Conn., and White's in Ipswich, Mass.

We received mention of ice cream places with no town or city identified. If we did not know the mentioned ice cream stand or store without town or city name, it wasn't included on this list. Interestingly, we also received a vote for Carvel in Carteret, N.J. Now there's a classic New England city!

Thanks to all that voted. We recognize how much you enjoy eating ice cream! We'll keep you updated on additional votes coming in. If you'd like to vote, visit our Facebook Fan Page and scroll down to the April 7 "Ice Cream" post.

Dedham, Mass., in Contention for All-American City Awards

Downtown Dedham, Mass. (photo by Eric)
Nice to hear that the National Civic League has chosen Dedham, Mass., as a finalist for the All-America City Awards.

The only community in New England to make the finals, Dedham is the only community in New England to make the finals. This mid-sized town, southwest of Boston, is one of 26 communities nationwide competing for the honors.

We're not surprised about Dedham ending up in the finals. Ask anyone in these neck of the woods about community spirit and participation in Dedham and you'll get glowing reports. People really seem to care about their town -- you can see it in everything from the residential and commercial landscaping to community involvement. Additionally, not too many towns we know can maintain and improve an impressive traditional downtown while forging into the 21st century with a state-of-the-art open air shopping complex like Legacy Place.  Downtown, you'll find the Dedham Community Theater, Blue Bunny Books, the independent HR Wardle Pharmacy, several restaurants, some fabulous historic municipal buildings and a beautiful town common. The Dedham Square Improvements Project should make things even better, most notably creating better crosswalks and overall pedestrian safety. Legacy Place has many familiar stores and restaurants like L.L. Bean, Whole Foods Market. and P.F. Chang's. Without doubt, Dedham is a business-friendly town!

The National Civic League All-America City Awards uses the following criteria in its mission: "...each community must demonstrate innovation, inclusiveness, civic engagement, and cross sector collaboration by describing successful efforts to address pressing local challenges."

This year’s event will be held June 15-17 in Kansas City, Miss., where 10 winners will be announced.  Good luck to Dedham in the finals!

Friday, April 8, 2011

What Is Your Favorite New England Ice Cream Stand Or Shop?

Ice Cream Machine, Cumberland, R.I. (photo by Eric)
We have a fun mini-poll going on right now, asking for your favorite New England ice cream stand or shop. You can access the poll by scrolling down three posts (at this writing) on our VisitingNewEngland.com New England Vacations Facebook Fan Page. If you don't see an ice cream stand that you'd vote for, please feel free to write in your choice. Please make sure to list the ice cream stand or shop's location, too, as we've received a few ice cream places without geographical mention.

So far, Kimball Farm in Westford Mass., is leading the pack, with Peaceful Meadows in Whitman, Mass., coming on strong! We've also received votes on ice cream destinations that tend to fly under the "ice cream radar." That's great to see as we're big fans on "hidden gems."

We'll post the final results next week of which ice cream stands wins the mini-poll.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Portsmouth, N.H., Wins Our Facebook Fan Page Mini-Poll As Best Small City In New England

Downtown Portsmouth, N.H. (photo by Eric)
New England has so many wonderful small cities, so we thought it would be a fun idea to poll our Facebook Fan followers on their favorite communities.

Portsmouth, N.H., won with 24 percent of the vote, followed by Burlington, Vt. (about 19 percent), Newport, R.I. (about 12 percent),  and a tie between Portland, Maine and Northampton, Mass. (both at approximately 8 percent).  Other cities that finished strong were Salem, Mass., Keene, N.H., and Montpelier, Vt. Some fans voted for communities that are technically towns -- Provincetown, Mass., York, Maine, and Bethlehem, N.H., to name a few.

For those not familiar with Portsmouth, this is a wonderful, little coastal town with a population of a little more than 20,000 people.  The feeling is small-town, but the number of downtown restaurants, diverse array of locally-owned shops and cultural attractions give Portsmouth an urban feel. It's a perfect place for strolling, especially the quaint, brick-tinged Market Square business district (and charming side streets), Prescott Park with its waterfront views, and Strawberry Banke -- an early settlement that features restored historic Colonial, Georgian and Federal homes.

For more on Portsmouth, we recommend reading our "Portsmouth, NH, Offers True New England Coastal Charm" article at VisitingNewEngland.com. Log onto our Facebook VisitingNewEngland.com - New England Vacations Fan Page to become a follower of all things New England!



Popular Posts