Mystic and New London Connecticut – Seafaring a Cut Above

Stop and visit the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center in Olde Mistick Village, a quaint shopping center with off the wall boutiques. Get some wonderful advice. Besides the famous aquarium which has both indoor and outdoor exhibits and the hands on exploration of Mystic Seaport, which offers costumed docents and craftsmen describing 19th century life in a shipbuilding seaport, take a drive across the river and explore the homes on the waterfront. Not only are you afforded views of crowded Mystic Seaport with hundreds of children roaming the ships, buildings, and other exhibits, you also have the narrow waterfront streets to yourself. Drive at a walking pace, admiring the homes of the citizens. Each house has a plaque naming the original owner, occupation, and date of construction. There were carpenters, captains, sail makers, doctors, clergymen, merchants, tavern keepers, mechanics, etc. This is a real treat, not only being far from the madding crowds, but also seeing the 19th century actual houses where these men and their families lived. From the exterior construction, size, architecture and surrounding landscaping, these were prosperous men.

Leaving the quiet waterfront, visit the rest of the town, passing by Mystic Pizza, where the 1988 movie was filmed. The rest of the town climbs into the surrounding hills, offering views of the Mystic River and the Long Island Sound. On the way out of town on Rte. 1 find a small cemetery dating from the War of 1812.

Stop at Stonington, CT; another surprise. Once again the streets are very narrow with the homes of people in the seafaring business. One notable home is of Captain Edmund Fanning who was the first one to fly the United States of America flag around the world in 1798-9 aboard the Betsy.

A little known event which occurred here is a fierce battle against the British. Holding off the landing parties from three British ships the local citizens of Stonington and Mystic held off the invasion. A lighthouse at the point still stands from the days of the battle. The cemetery you passed is the home to these brave men from Mystic. The men from Stonington are interred in a likewise historic cemetery in their town.

Across the Pawcatuck River, the dividing line between Connecticut and Rhode Island, you venture into Westerly, RI. See the carousal at Watch Hill Point. This merry-go-round was built in 1870. Each horse is hand carved out of a single piece of wood. Their tails and manes are real horse hair. The horses swing out when the carousal rotates giving the illusing of flying. The carousal still is in operation.

Next visit New London. New London is also the boyhood home of Eugene O’Neill, Monte Cristo Cottage. Overlooking the harbor, O’Neill, the only playwright to win the Nobel Prize, used this setting for two of his plays, Long Day’s Journey into Night and Ah, Wilderness. Signage in Connecticut is wonderful, until you get into the towns. The founding fathers assume that you know what street you are on. They are very good about giving the names of the cross streets, but are remiss on the main streets. You might have a difficult time finding Pequot Street, where O’Neill’s home was at. Use a map.

Trumbull’s House, War Office. In the heart of Lebanon, CT, find the home of Jonathan Trumbull, the only colonial governor who sided with the revolutionaries. London was situated midway between Boston and New York. His home was the meeting place of more than 1,200 strategy meetings. Perhaps the most important one was with Washington and Comte de Rochambeau before the battle of Yorktown.

His neighbor happened to be Dr William Beaumont, the “Father of Physiology”. He observed and documented the digestive process in human beings through a wound to the stomach of a patient, which did not heal properly.