By Elizabeth J. Normen
One of my new favorite things to do on vacation is to go on bike tours. I enjoy the deeper sense of being in a place that you get from the seat of a bicycle—something you don’t get whizzing by on a train or in a car. Plus, it’s great to arrive at a museum or historic site by bike! In preparation for two tours we recently took in Europe, my husband and I took some training rides here at home. You’d think it would be hard to beat riding through the gorgeous Provencal and Tuscan countrysides. But in all honesty, I find myself riding around Connecticut thinking, “French and Italian bike-tour companies should bring their customers here—it’s gorgeous!”
Here are three not-too-difficult bike trips; I’ve ridden them, and I highly recommend them. (You’ll want to map them out in more detail yourself before hopping on your bike; none is more than 15 miles long):
Ride 1: From Chester, take the ferry (which began operation in 1769!) across the Connecticut River. Don’t miss the view of Gillette’s Castle as you cross and the charming cluster of historic homes at the Hadlyme landing. Ride north to Gillette’s Castle—this section is a bit hilly but worth the climb. If you have time, take a tour or enjoy a picnic at William Gillette’s iconic home. Continue north to East Haddam. If you didn’t eat earlier, have lunch at the Gelston House, preferably on their outdoor patio, overlooking the Goodspeed Opera House and the river. Cross the river via the bridge—stopping in the middle for a terrific view. Ride south to Chester to complete the loop and check out the shops or stop for a post-bike ride coffee or ice cream cone.
Ride 2: On a Saturday morning, begin your ride in Old Lyme, parking at the commuter lot just off I-95. Head north along the Connecticut River, taking the right fork to Ashlawn Farm. If you’re there before noon while it’s in session, stop for the farmer’s market and enjoy a cup of coffee in the coffee shop there. Make a loop around Rogers Lake, then ride to the Florence Griswold Museum for a visit before ending up back at your car.
Ride 3: A fun urban ride takes you from New London to Groton and includes two historic forts (Fort Trumbull and Fort Griswold) and two lighthouses, plus a thrilling ride across the I-95 bridge over the Thames River via the pedestrian/bike lane.
What has surprised me on these rides—and these are but three of many you could take around the state—is that so much authentic “Connecticut” landscape still surrounds us, with historic houses, barns, fields, forts, lighthouses, and stonewalls intact. There’s no question we could do better in parts of the state in the charm department, having lost much to commercial strips and seemingly endless sprawl. But people in Connecticut, as in many places throughout the United States, have a renewed appreciation for downtowns, town greens, walkable cities, and the historic fabric that contributes to creating vibrant communities that have futures as well as pasts.
That’s what this issue is all about. Under the editorial direction of editorial team member Mary Donohue, with the support of the State Historic Preservation Office at DECD, we bring you stories not of historic properties frozen in the past but of sites that, though historic, are relevant and alive today. Take your favorite mode of transportation—foot, bike, car, even a Segway (The Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford has dedicated parking for Segways)—and take a fresh look at what’s old and what’s new in Connecticut’s historic landscape.
Thank you! Please visit page xx for a list of the generous Friends of Connecticut Explored who made gifts to help us continue publishing! We thank all our supporters for their enthusiasm for this magazine of Connecticut history as we embark on our second decade.
Elizabeth J. Normen