House Peeping in Connecticut
Impressive Edifices in the Constitution State
With a vibrant history spanning from pre-Revolution to post-Victorian, it’s no wonder why Connecticut lays claim to some of the most diverse, fascinating structures in the country. National Historic Landmarks, National Register of Historic Places and sweeping estates that recall the turn-of-the-20th-century architectural splendor inspired by Queen Victoria dot the state’s landscape, as do former residences of literary and iconic greats. Visitors to Connecticut can explore the region’s – and the country’s – history through buildings that have more than stood the test of time. Our advice: take the house tour.
Connecticut’s comparably long history of European influence aides mightily to its architectural grandeur. In Guilford, visitors will find Connecticut’s oldest standing house: the Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford, which dates all the way back to 1639! Outside, the chipped brick building is understandably (and endearingly) simple. Inside, the museum features three floors of 17th- to 19th-century furnishings vividly displaying Colonial life. The museum also regularly hosts special exhibits, like the recent Three Centuries of Postcards exhibit with prints dating back to the 1800s. (203) 453-2457, http://www.cultureandtourism.org/cct/cwp/view.asp?a=2127&q=302248&cctPNavCtr=|#43550
Also in the New Haven region is the Ward-Heitmann House Museum, in West Haven. Built between 1684 and 1715, the post-medieval building is one of the oldest standing residences in the region. Period furnishings and original installments such as the fireplace help tell the home’s 300-year history, which continues to be uncovered in modern times: In September 2004 a caché of 36 musket flints were found beneath the floor boards. Experts have determined that the ammunition was manufactured for use in the American Revolution. (203) 937-9823, www.wardheitmann.org
The Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington is a stunning, turn-of-the-century colonial revival estate filled with an outstanding collection of Impressionist paintings. Its 152 acres encompasses ten buildings – among them an original 18th-century farmhouse – and the site is recognized as a National Historic Landmark, National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour the prized collection of French Impressionist paintings as well as century-plus-old sculptures, prints, ceramics, textiles and furnishings. (860) 677-4787, www.hillstead.org.
Other noteworthy structures are worth the visit for its famous historical inhabitants and events. In Coventry, the Nathan Hale Homestead highlights the family life and times of Connecticut’s state hero. The 1776 farmhouse is a moving tribute to one of America’s first patriots, whose only famous regret was that he had “but one life to lose for my country.” 860.742.6917, http://www.ctlandmarks.org/hale.php, reopens for season on May 1.
In Canterbury, the Prudence Crandall Museum, built in 1833, was the site of New England’s first school for black women. Named after one of Connecticut’s first heroines, the National Historic Landmark, National Register of Historic Places features period furnishings, a research library and a regular rotation of exhibits. 860.546.7800.
Hartford was once home to two of America’s most noteworthy authors, whose former residences stand as testament to their achievements. The Mark Twain House and Museum is a Tiffany-decorated mansion that the literary legend called home for 17 years. During this time he penned his dueling masterpieces: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (860) 247-0998, www.marktwainhouse.org. Right next door is the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, where visitors can learn about the author and Litchfield, Connecticut native who helped change the world with 1852’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (860) 522-9258, www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org
Many of Connecticut’s most stately mansions were built at or around the turn of the 20th Century, during the Victorian or post-Victorian era. Torrington is home to one of Connecticut’s grandest house museums, the Hotchkiss-Fyler House. Constructed in 1897, this Victorian Mansion remains elegantly furnished with glistening parquet floors, mahogany paneling, porcelains, painting collections and a Louis XV parlor, providing detailed insight into the lifestyle of its well-heeled original owners. (860) 482-8260
At the Eolia Mansion at Harkness Memorial State Park, enjoy the panoramic views of Long Island Sound from the elegant summer mansion of the Harkness family, which is set on over 230 seaside acres of sweeping lawns with a wide variety of trees and spectacular gardens. (860) 443-5725. In the quaint village of Moosup, near Plainfield, Millridge Manor is a meticulously restored historic estate with 22 guest rooms returned to their original 1920s splendor. Tranquil, scenic grounds make the perfect setting for a wedding or other special event.
For more information about ways to have a romantic getaway this winter in Connecticut, please call 1-888-CTvisit (1-888-288-4748) or log on at www.CTvisit.com. Connecticut offers visitors a multi-faceted wealth of attractions, historical, cultural and recreational activities, diverse and beautiful natural landscapes, parks, beaches and wilderness sure to fulfill any getaway need- winter, summer, spring or fall.