Once Upon a Lighthouse
Visit one of New England’s most storied 19th-century villages and Connecticut’s only town facing the Atlantic. Start your getaway at the 1840 Old Lighthouse Museum (http://www.stoningtonhistory.org/light.htm), a diminutive stone fortress overlooking Little Narragansett Bay, where you can climb the spiral staircase to the top of the tower and view three states. After exploring the museum’s exhibits, pick up the self-guided walking tour or register for a guided tour of the village sponsored by the Stonington Historical Society. And, don’t forget to ask for a free pass to the 1850s Capt. Nathaniel B. Palmer House (http://www.stoningtonhistory.org/palmer.htm) , a National Historic Landmark, home of the American discoverer of Antarctica.
- Next door to the Lighthouse, enjoy the protected waters and white sands at duBois Beach (http://www.sviastonington.org) with its pavilion and clean, family-oriented swimming area. It’s hard to envision that this peaceful point of land was the scene of battles: first when the British bombarded Stonington during the Revolution and then again in 1814, when the Battle of Stonington dragged on for three days. In both cases, the tiny local militia stood firm and repelled the armed ships of the British Royal Navy!
- Take a stroll along Water Street ( www.stoningtonboroughct.com), passing Stonington Commons, a 19th-century industrial complex that now includes upscale housing, public waterfront access, a cultural center, and other amenities (see below). At Cannon Square enjoy photo opportunities amid the newly restored cannons that repelled the British in 1814.
- Continuing on Water Street, note one of America’s oldest strip malls, the 1837 Stonington Arcade, and other buildings featured in the movie Mystic Pizza. Then, visit art galleries, antique shops, jeweler’s, and unique boutiques, all housed in beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings. Great eateries are found all along the way, including seaside dining at the Dog Watch Café at 194 Water Street, open seven days a week (http://www.dogwatchcafe.com) and Skipper’s Dock at 66 Water Street (http://www.skippersdock.com), which features “Jazz at the Dock” on Sundays.
- At the north end of Water Street is Wadawanuck Square, a large shady village green, with the Stonington Free Library (http://www.stoningtonfreelibrary.org) in the center, surrounded by church, post office, shops, and sea captain’s villas. This is the site of the annual Village Fair on the first Saturday in August, with wonderful arts, crafts, books, flowers, music and fun for kids and everyone. Sponsored by the Stonington Community Center (http://www.thecomo.org). Other special events are offered every weekend.
- Turn (west) to the Town Dock, former Steamboat Wharf, to visit Connecticut’s last fishing fleet. Here fishermen unload their catch and get ready for the next voyage. On Saturdays , visit the local Farmer’s Market (http://www.sviastonington.org) and take home freshly caught Stonington scallops (http://www.farmfresh.org). The harbor provides a number of mooring and slip options to visiting boaters: Dodson Boat Yard at 194 Water Street (http://www.dodsonboatyard.com), Stonington Harbor Yacht Club in Stonington Commons (http://www.shyc.us/home.html), and Don’s Dock (http://dons-dock.com) at 228 North Water Street, across from the Capt. Palmer House.
- The Velvet Mill Studios, 22 Bayview Avenue, are located in a converted factory on the east side of the village. The studios are often open to visitors on Saturdays. (http://www.velvetmillstudios.com.) The La Grua Center is also housed in an early industrial building, at Stonington Commons (see above), and offers an eclectic mix of art exhibits, concerts, lectures, and films (http://www.lagruacenter.org) .
- It may be time for a visit to Milagro Café (http://www.milagromexican.com) at 142 Water Street, which offers the best homemade margaritas this side of the Sound. Later, spend the night at one of Stonington’s one-of-a-kind accommodations, such as the Orchard Street Inn (http://www.orchardstreetinn.com) or the Inn at Stonington (http://www.innatstonington.com). The award-winning Another Second Penny Inn is an early 1700s farmhouse, located 2 miles into the rural hill country above the village (http://www.secondpenny.com).
- Next morning, watch the sunrise from Dodge Paddock, a 2.6 acre nature preserve tucked behind the mansions of Main Street (http://www.avalonialandconservancy.org). Little Narragansett Bay can be viewed through walls of golden grass, a perfect place for spotting cardinals and smaller avian varieties, and just offshore, waterfowl may be seen. This was the site of the States Pottery Works during the early 1800s; an excellent collection of the antique wares are on view at the Old Lighthouse Museum.
- Go west along Wall Street (formerly known as Shinbone Alley) to 24 Main Street (private home). Built in 1787, this was home to Whistler’s Mother (1837-40) when James McNeill was a child. Later it became the residence of the poet Stephen Vincent Benet. Next door, at 26 Main Street, is the headquarters of the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society. Built in 1836 for the first president of Stonington’s railroad, the building has served as a social center for this important Azorean community since 1914. During Lent, wonderful fish and chips are offered on Fridays.
- Continue down Main Street, past the pillared villas of Stonington’s 19th-century sea captains and entrepreneurs. There are also outstanding examples of church architecture, including the 1890 Baptist Church at 50 Main Street, now converted to a private residence. The United Church (http://www.uccwebsites.net) was built in1834 and has a recently restored clock tower. The Borough government owns and regulates the clock, creating a partnership between church and state. The grassy strip along the south side of the building became the right-of-way for the Stonington Railway in 1832, the first in the state. The train continued west to Steamboat Wharf, where passengers boarded steamers for New York. Nearby on Church Street is Calvary Episcopal (1849), designed by Richard Upjohn (http://calvary-stonington.org). The village Catholic Church, St Mary’s, is on Wadawanuck Square.
- After brunch, perhaps at Noah’s, 113 Water Street (http://noahsfinefood.com), or the Water Street Café (http://waterst-cafe.com) 143 Water Street ,head for the glorious 19th-century villa, Pine Point, home of the American Discoverer of Antarctica, Capt. Nathaniel B. Palmer and his brother Capt. Alexander. The Capt. Palmer House (http://www.stoningtonhistory.org) is a National Historic Landmark, located at 40 Palmer Street, next door to the Historical Society’s Woolworth Library House (http://www.stoningtonhistory.org) and research center, which features changing exhibits.