Picturesque historical villages blend with urban centers, rolling hills, stone walls, graceful shorelines, spectacular fall foliage and diverse attractions to make southeastern Connecticut a wonderful place to live.
COLONIAL SETTLEMENTS THRIVE ON THE THAMES
Long before the American Revolution, colonialists were already settling along the same Atlantic coastline, brought by tall sailing ships that are once again on display in historic towns first settled in the 1600s. One inviting spot for these new settlers was a tidal estuary and short river that they named “Pequot” for the Native Americans who lived in the area.
On the western shore, John Winthrop the Younger laid out a settlement in 1646, which he named after the Pequot Indians. Perhaps yearning for their British heritage, the citizens renamed the settlement “City of London” in 1658; and the river was renamed the “Thames” after its European counterpart. The city was later renamed and incorporated as “New London” in 1784.
Across the river, another settlement was building up in 1650 as a part of the “City of London,” at the site of what is now Groton. That settlement was incorporated as a separate town in 1705 and was incorporated as the city of Groton in 1964.
Other colonial settlements were springing up around the same period throughout southeastern Connecticut. Waterford was first settled in 1635 and incorporated as a separate town from New London in 1801. Ledyard was settled in 1635, organized as a parish of North Groton in 1725 and incorporated as a town in 1836. Montville was originally an Indian reservation — settled by Samuel Rogers from New London in 1670. Stonington was originally settled in 1649 by a company led by William Chesebrough from the Plymouth Colony.
Both Connecticut and Massachusetts claimed the town as part of a boundary dispute that was not resolved until 1662.
New London is now the county seat for an area encompassing approximately 665 square miles and more than 270,000 people in southeastern Connecticut. There are villages with a few hundred people and urban areas such as Groton — one of the largest towns in New London County — with a population of approximately 40,000 residents.
Even though it’s only 15 miles long, the Thames River is still the economic heart of the area, serving as a gateway for a Navy submarine base, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and commercial harbors.
Southeastern Connecticut is truly a microcosm of New England. Its industry ranges from large employers such as Electric Boat and Pfizer (both in Groton) to small, single-employee enterprises. Yet, it has miles of beautiful coastline and acres of wooded retreats.
The area offers a wide variety of events throughout the year. Summer brings carnivals, fairs, town picnics, fireworks displays and Lobster Days. In the fall, there are food festivals and Oktoberfests. During the holidays, lantern-light tours of the seaport and historic homes add to the festive atmosphere. Spring brings parades, concerts and more.
The Garde Arts Center, in New London, has hosted such renowned performances as Tony Bennett, Itzhak Perlman and Bob Dylan as well as touring Broadway productions. The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford sponsors a wide variety of artistic programs. Each summer, the region is treated to a musical jubilee with concerts at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford.
Norwich’s Dodd Stadium is home to the Connecticut Tigers, a minor league baseball team and affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. The Mohegan Sun Arena is home to the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. The Waterford Speedbowl hosts NASCAR stock car auto racing, drag racing, demo derbies and more. There are sporting activities available for every interest.
For the children in the family — and the child at heart — nearby amusement parks include Six Flags New England and the Lake Compounce theme and water park. The Dinosaur Place offers a 50-acre setting for 40 life-sized dinosaurs. Strawberry Park offers a 160-acre campground nestled in a region of lakes, streams and ocean beaches.
Additional information on local events and discounted tickets for area attractions is available through SUBASE New London MWR.
Groton, with approximately 16,300 households, is the largest municipality between New Haven, Connecticut, and the cities surrounding Providence, Rhode Island. Framed by the Thames River and the Mystic River, Groton has 40 miles of coastline on Long Island Sound. Both state and municipal parks provide abundant access and views of the water. Groton shares with New London one of the finest natural harbors on the Eastern Seaboard.
The three major employers in Groton are the Naval Submarine Base New London; the submarine construction facilities of the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics; and the Global Research and Development campus of Pfizer Inc. Other industries in town range from traditional fishing boat fleets to advanced medical supply manufacturing. The recent completion of the University of Connecticut Marine Sciences and Technology Center at Avery Point gives Groton a unique place among centers of science and learning. The government sector also accounts for a large number of jobs in Groton.
A conning tower, on Thames Street in Groton, commemorates the 52 submarines lost during World War II that are now “on eternal patrol.” Bronze plaques memorialize the vessels. The area is also the site of the National Submarine Memorial Wall of Honor that contains the names of submariners who were lost at sea.
New London’s Waterfront Park, located on the Thames River and Long Island Sound, is recognized as a destination point for tall ships and luxury cruise lines. Visitors can spend hours of strolling and taking in the breezes and sun of southeastern Connecticut.
It is also home to important historic landmarks such as the 1833 U.S. Custom House Maritime Museum and acres of public parks. Festivals and special events sponsored by the city are enjoyed by thousands of citizens in each season of the year. The city is presently in the midst of a period of economic revitalization with plans for a National Coast Guard museum in the downtown area.
The historic waterfront is probably best known as home for America’s Tall Ship, the Barque Eagle, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The academy is unique among the service academies in that it educates the leaders of a humanitarian force — the oldest life-saving service in the world. With a beautiful campus on the Thames River in New London, the academy provides a four-year Bachelor of Science program with a full scholarship for each individual. The academy is homeport for the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, the training ship for future Coast Guard officers.
Mystic, a picturesque seaport that draws thousands of visitors every summer, is truly “a state of mind” that represents historic New England. Mystic is technically a part of Groton and Stonington and, as such, has no government or services of its own. But it does have a 19th-century village replica filled with unique shops, a seaport with historic ships, a world-famous indoor and outdoor maritime museum, and a marine aquarium that features more than 300 species.
Located at the mouth of the Mystic River, the settlement was originally a highly profitable whaling and fishing center that still provides opportunities for commercial and sports fishing to this day. Capt. John Mason settled the area, located on a saltwater estuary fed by freshwater streams, in 1634. By 1750, shipyards were operating up and down the Mystic River. It became a major shipbuilding center catering to the whaling and fishing industries.
From 1850 to 1870, Mystic produced a greater tonnage of ships than any other port of equal size in America. But, by the turn of the 20th century, the clipper ship era and wooden boat building ended.
Today, visitors are able to stroll through historic downtown Mystic to shop; explore its side streets and the eclectic architecture of sea captains’ homes; and walk along the Mystic River, where large wooden sailing vessels were launched that ruled the oceans of the world.