You’ve probably seen the “Connecticut?” look. You’re in the South, or the Midwest, or some other region of the country, and someone asks you where you live. “Connecticut,” you reply. They stare blankly. “Connecticut?,” they say. “What’s in Connecticut, anyway?”
I’ve often wished I could just transport those people here for a day, and let them experience a quintessential Connecticut town. There are a number of good candidates, but one of the best must be Madison.
First, I’d send them to , which looks as if the best features of all the state’s other beaches were magically combined into one. There are plenty of amenities - restrooms, showers, picnic tables and shelters, concessions - but the wild atmosphere of the dunes and two miles of rugged beachfront predominates. Hammonasset’s 900 acres include a boardwalk, 550 campsites, walking trails, and a nature center where visitors can learn about the wildlife of the salt-marsh along the Shoreline.
Not far from the beach is the downtown shopping area. There are no chain stores here; those are cleverly hidden on a sort of parallel road of real life that tourists need not confront. The wide Boston Post Road, decorated with flowers in summer, is preserved in all its cuteness. Businesses are housed in graceful old homes, little cottages, or stately brick buildings.
And although Madison is decidedly upscale, stereotypical Connecticut snobbery is absent. Even if you don’t buy anything, just strolling along and browsing for jewelry, clothing, and gifts is a pleasant way to spend an hour or three. There are many opportunities to pause for a snack or meal while you’re shopping, but one spot that thoughtfully blends the two activities is , which incorporates a cozy café.
It wouldn’t be a representative day in the Constitution State without historic houses, and Madison doesn’t disappoint. Part of the town’s charm is simply happening upon a center-chimney Colonial from 1733 standing unobtrusively near a home accessories store. But a few significant buildings also allow sightseers to look inside. The runs the Allis-Bushnell House, which dates from the late 1780s. Their museum focuses on local history, and includes a sweet period herb garden. A short distance away is the Deacon John Grave House, built around 1685. Inhabited by one family for over 300 years, it’s been used, among other things, as a courtroom and a weapons depot.
If they hadn’t already, my out-of-state visitors would certainly notice at this point how Madison’s historic character exists side-by-side with its more modern sensibilities. In front of the Grave House stands a large abstract sculpture. It, and the other striking artworks visible throughout the center of town, is part of the Sculpture Mile. This outdoor exhibit of works by well-known artists is the first such year-round installation in the United States.
Of course, I would not have picked a microcosm of Connecticut without a lovely town Green. Madison’s is overlooked by a bright white church topped by a glinting gold dome. Also located here is Memorial Town Hall, a distinctive yellow brick Neo-Classical Revival building, constructed in 1897 to honor local veterans of the “War for the Union.” Farmers’ markets are held on the Green on Fridays from May to October, and the surrounding historic district - aside from being very pretty - gives a sense of the town’s progress and preservation over several centuries.
My travelers could go back then, to wherever they’re from, and tell everyone that they’d just spent a day in Connecticut. Hopefully that would begin to dispel a little of the confusion.
If you go:
Open 8am – sunset. Seasonal Fees: Weekends and Holidays, Residents, $13 ($6 after 4pm) Non-Residents $22 ($7 after 4pm) Weekdays, Residents, $9 ($6 after 4pm), Non-residents, $15 ($7 after 4pm)
The museum is free and open seasonally for special events and open houses or by appointment. The garden is open to the public year round from 8am to sundown.
Deacon John Grave House
Summer Hours Wed – Fri, Noon – 3pm; Sat, 10am – 4:30pm; Sunday, Noon -4:30pm. The suggested donation is $2 for adults, $1 for children.
Free maps and catalogues are available seasonally at the visitor center by the green and the Scranton Library.
Store: Mon – Sat, 10am – 8pm; Sun, 10am – 6pmCafé: Full Menu, Mon – Sat, 10am – 7pm; Sun, 10am – 4pm. Coffee and Dessert, Mon - Sat 7pm – 8pm; Sun 4pm - 6 PM