Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In My Footsteps: Trip 104: Old Saybrook, CT

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 104:  Old Saybrook, Connecticut
January 6, 2011

            Old Saybrook.  The name conjures up images of an historic old New England village and after paying it a visit I can assure you that my initial impressions were accurate.  Originally a short-lived trading post established by the same Dutch settlers who first settled Manhattan the town of Old Saybrook has roots that go back to the second Mayflower voyage.  Saybrook Colony was settled in 1635 and the first Governor of the colony was John Winthrop the Younger, son of the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  I was able to get a taste of the nearly four centuries of Old Saybrook’s history from the moment I got off of the highway.
Deacon William Parker House c.1646
            Only a short drive from the highway exit I took sits the oldest standing house in Old Saybrook.  Deacon William Parker built the house in 1646 and it has stood the test of time very well.  Parker became Deacon of the First Congregational Church in 1670 and was a frequent representative for the town in sessions of the general court.  The house sits on the corner of Middlesex Turnpike and Old Spring Brook Road with parking behind it.
Axles on the tracks at the Connecticut Valley Railroad Roundhouse and Turntable Site
            Immediately after founding Saybrook Colony Governor Winthrop commission that a fort be built.  Located on the shore of the Connecticut River, Fort Saybrook does not look like the earthen forts or granite forts I have seen before.  However, this fort is also two hundred years older than any of those I have visited.  There is basically just a simple border made of wooden posts which surround the majority of the fort.  The series of plaques let you know what the fort was like back in the 1630’s.  There is a statue dedicated to the man who built the fort in 1635, Lieutenant Lion Gardiner, on the western side of the fort.  Gardiner also built a windmill for grinding corn and his son David who was born in 1636 was the first recorded English child born in Connecticut.  After his contract with Governor Winthrop expired Gardiner bought himself Manohonake Island which was later renamed Gardiner’s Island.  It is located off of the eastern coast of Long Island.
Gen. William Hart House aka. Old Saybrook Historical Society.
            In addition to Fort Saybrook there is another interesting piece of history on the grounds.  The Connecticut Valley Railroad Roundhouse and Turntable Site was built in 1871, it was very important for the servicing of locomotives.  The roundhouse could be circular, or semi-circular, in this case it is semi-circular.  It has a few sets of tracks which all end in the same general area.  There are wheels and axles sitting on the tracks to give you an idea as to how the roundhouse would have looked while in use.  I enjoyed perching myself right behind the axles and imagining how the area looked more than a hundred years ago.  Also you only need to take a short walk to get a great view of the Connecticut River which is worth a few extra minutes of your time.
            There is a seemingly endless supply of historic homes on Old Saybrook’s Main Street however I will stick to just one.  The town’s historical society is housed in the General William Hart House.  Built in 1767 it is one of the oldest houses left standing in the town.  Hart was a prosperous merchant who also led the First Regiment of the Connecticut Light Horse Militia during the American Revolution.  Beginning in April the Hart House gardens are opened to the public as well.  Unfortunately I was not able to partake in those but the gardens should be put on any travelers list when visiting in the spring or summer.
            Main Street is a great place to park and walk as well.  There are places such as the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center to visit in addition to the many other historic houses I mentioned before.  I made sure to take a moment to watch as a man filled a rectangular shape in front of the Town Hall with water to make a public skating rink for the town to enjoy.  Little things like that helped make even the most mundane moments in Old Saybrook special for me.
Lynde Point Lighthouse from a nearby beach.
            The final spot I visited is one that cannot be reached but I felt I owed it to the readers to share all of what I did in Old Saybrook.  Being a big fan of lighthouses I wanted to pay a visit to Lynde Point Light located in the village of Fenwick in the southern part of Old Saybrook.  I drove out across Bridge Street which gives you a great view of South Cove, Long Island Sound, and Lynde Point Light as well.  This was not close enough though.
            What I discovered was that the lighthouse sat deep inside a private neighborhood.  I debated for a few minutes and then decided that since I had already driven two and a half hours to get to Old Saybrook I was going in anyway.  I drove into the private neighborhood and got closer to Lynde Point Light.  However it sits behind a home as well which pretty much ended my journey.  I ended up snapping a few photos from a nearby beach and decided to be satisfied with those rather than push it more.  Not wanting to encourage others to venture out there I will not put directions up below, still you can go if you wish just know the risks.
            An historic New England town complete with an historic sounding name Old Saybrook is filled with beautiful sites to see.  Fort Saybrook and the Connecticut Valley Railroad Roundhouse and Turntable Site are fun and unique and also close to the Connecticut River.  A walk on Main Street will only add to the experience even if you do not stop at every historic home along the way, and trust me there are a lot of them.  Lynde Point Light is a wildcard, while it is deep in private property you can get a nice view if you walk out onto Bridge Street.  There is a small parking area nearby.  Enjoy all of what Old Saybrook has to offer.  Have fun and happy traveling!

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DirectionsFort Saybrook:  From I-95 take Exit 68 for Rt. 1 heading into Old Saybrook.  After a mile turn left at Rt. 154 which is also Main Street.  Slight left keeps you on Rt. 154, follow 2 miles, fort is on left.
            Deacon William Parker House:  From I-95 take Exit 69 to merge onto Rt. 9.  Take Exit 2 for Rt. 154, turn left at Essex Rd.  Take a slight left at Old Spring Brook Rd., Parker House is on right with parking behind it.

ReferencesOld Saybrook

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