Connecticut Foliage Driving Tour
Autumn Splendor in the Quiet Corner
by Janice Brand
Submitted by Winter Caplanson
Submitted by Peter Szruba
VIDEO: Watch editor Mel Allen's introduction to Connecticut's Last Green Valley
THERE'S A PERFECTLY good reason why Nathan ("I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country") Hale came from northeastern Connecticut. Settled a generation after the rest of New England's colonizing along the coastline and the Connecticut River Valley, this area became home to many ex-Massachusetts families looking for more elbow room. Distanced from their Puritan comrades, the settlers began thinking and acting for themselves. That independent spirit eventually bred not only discontent with British rule, but Nathan Hale as well.
As you travel southbound on I-91 into Hartford, be ready to make a left-lane exit onto Interstate 84 east to I-384 (toward Providence). As the freeway ends, follow signs to Coventry; a good place to start our tour is the Nathan Hale Homestead. Hale himself might not recognize the house in which he grew up. It was substantially rebuilt in the fashionable Georgian style in the year of his death, 1776. The Connecticut hero might find the surroundings familiar, though. The house sits in the middle of the 1,219-acre Nathan Hale State Forest, off Highway 6, a wooded setting not too dissimilar from the surrounds of Hale's boyhood 300-acre farm.
Farming persists in the region, especially in nurseries, gardens, and vineyards. Be sure to visit the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market (11-2 on Sundays through October) on the grounds of the Museum of Connecticut Glass at the intersection of Route 44 and North River Road. Another good stop is Topmost Herb Farm, 244 North School Road, a beautiful farm set on a dirt road in an idyllic setting and open weekends in the fall.
To get to Coventry center, follow South Street east from the Hale Homestead, bearing right at the stop sign and soon thereafter turning left onto Cross Street/Lake Street, which intersects with Route 31. Here you can find two good places for a meal before getting back in the car: Bidwell Tavern and Bea's Country Kitchen. Bidwell's is known for chicken wings; it sells 3,000 pounds a week in more than 25 different varieties. It has nearly the same number of beers on tap. Or hold out until you get to Willimantic Brewing Co./Main Street Cafe, a microbrewery housed in an old post office building, keeping up with national trends in Willimantic. With 10 house brews (I'm a big fan of the Address Unknown IPA) and 25 guest brews, the brewery's list of beers is impressive. To get there, take Route 31 south from Coventry, which merges with Route 32 and then with Route 66 East, into Willimantic.
Willimantic is one of many former mill towns in the Quiet Corner that helped bring prosperity to this region in the 19th century. The brick mill architecture, mansions and Victorian houses, and commercial fronts reflect the days of cotton thread and cloth production. Willimantic was nicknamed "Thread City" for its production of silk and cotton thread. In the 1890s these mills were the state's largest employer. For more in-depth exposure to the milling industry, visit the Windham Textile & History Museum. Or, if sitting by the river is more your thing, stroll across the street to Windham Hills State Heritage Park. It's open from sunrise to sunset.
Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.