Gateway to New England
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.
Most cities and towns throughout southeastern Connecticut operate their own public schools, keeping the system responsive to local needs. Where you live usually determines where your children will attend school. Two school systems serve families living in government housing at Naval Submarine Base New London. Students residing in government quarters within base gates attend Ledyard Public Schools (www.ledyard.net). The majority of students in off-base government housing attend Groton Public Schools. With more than 5,000 students, Groton Public Schools has six elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school and a magnet school. For K-12 students in the district, average class sizes are normally 25 or fewer students. Information on the entire Groton Public Schools system is available at www.groton.k12.ct.us. The website includes information and forms necessary to register children into the district. The school district can also be contacted at 860-572-2100. Private and charter schools are also available in the area, including Pfizer Kids, Sacred Heart and the Stonington Institute.
The following documents are typically needed to enroll children in Connecticut public schools: proof of residency, a picture ID, the child’s birth certificate, the child’s previous school records, proof of a physical exam and the child’s immunization record.
Public school immunization requirements include:
DTaP: At least four doses. The last dose must have been given on or after the fourth birthday.
Polio: At least three doses. The last dose must have been given on or after the fourth birthday.
MMR: Pre-K children must have one dose on or after their first birthday. Grades kindergarten through 12 must have two doses.
Hepatitis B: Three doses, with the last dose on or after six months of age.
Hib: One dose on or after the first birthday.
Varicella: Two doses separated by at least three months, with the first dose on or after the first birthday, or verification of the disease.
The Connecticut State Board of Education is committed to ensuring that all of the state’s preschool-age children, including children with disabilities, are afforded an opportunity to participate in a high-quality preschool program. Such an experience fosters a child’s overall development, including literacy and readiness for the public school kindergarten curriculum.
Groton Public Schools’ high school graduation requirements call for four credits of English, four credits of mathematics, three credits of social studies, four credits of science, one credit of physical education, one credit of applied arts, half a credit of health and 7.5 elective credits. Other state high schools may require additional or fewer credits. In addition to advanced placement courses, many high schools also offer courses that provide college credit in such subjects as English, science, history, social sciences, world languages and the arts. In 2013, the Groton School District had a four-year graduation rate of 82.3 percent. Mean SAT scores in 2014 were 512 for critical reading, 501 for writing and 496 for math.
Groton public schools and the military community have strong ties. Partnerships and bonds have been developed for the benefit of the children that will continue to expand long into the future.
Higher education opportunities also abound in the area, ranging from two-year programs at Mitchell College (New London) and Three Rivers Community Technical College (Norwich) to the University of New Haven (West Haven and several off-site locations), the University of Connecticut (Storrs and five regional campuses) and Connecticut College (New London). Active-duty members are encouraged to visit the Navy College on base to learn more about college and tuition assistance programs available to military personnel.
Spouse Employment Opportunities
With a labor force of more than 18,000 people and many of the largest employers in southeastern Connecticut, Groton provides excellent employment opportunities for spouses of Sailors working at the submarine base. Major employment sectors include government, health care and social assistance, retail trade and manufacturing.
Military spouses are welcome to do career exploration and receive job search assistance through the Family Employment Readiness Program at the Fleet and Family Support Center in Building 83 on base. Services include resume development and critique, interview training, access to job databases, one-on-one counseling for employment concerns and other employment resources.
Military spouses who relocate with their sponsor under PCS orders are eligible for increased employment assistance through the Military Spouse Preference Program. This program provides hiring preference for military spouses to DOD jobs and nonappropriated fund jobs such as in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation office and Navy Exchange.
Many local government contractors and subcontractors are also looking for workers in facilities and grounds maintenance, security guards, clerks, food service and building custodial services. Pay is excellent and job openings are competitive. Base contractors often post their job vacancy announcements in the FFSC Career Development Resource Center.
Other area government contractors, such as Electric Boat (General Dynamics), list job vacancy announcements on their respective websites.
The DOD has actively engaged private partners and other government agencies to enhance employment and career opportunities for military spouses. As a result of a partnership with Monster.com, the virtual Spouse Channel, www.military.com/spouse, was created to provide career networking services and employment information to military spouses.
Our goal through these many programs is to help military spouses find productive, rewarding career opportunities while living in our community.
A number of area attractions highlight the historic culture of the area and provide special educational programs for both adults and children. One of the finest exhibits is the Submarine Force Museum and historical ship Nautilus tour, highlighted on Page 40 of this guide.
Other historic attractions highlight early Native American history in the area, colonial and maritime living along the New England coast, the American struggle for independence, and steam locomotive and riverboat travel. Since nearly all of the attractions offer special events, rotating exhibits and educational programs throughout the year, you are encouraged to call or visit their websites to find out the latest information.
Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center
110 Pequot Trail (Route 214),
The world’s largest and most comprehensive Native American museum and research center offers an array of engaging experiences for young and old, from life-size, walk-through dioramas that transport visitors into the past, to changing exhibits and live performances of contemporary arts and cultures.
The 308,000-square-foot complex has permanent exhibits depicting 18,000 years of native and natural history in thoroughly researched detail, while two libraries, including one for children, offer a diverse selection of materials on the histories and cultures of all native people of the United States and Canada.
Exhibits let you experience life as it was for Native Americans before and after arrival of early colonialists. By the early 17th century, just prior to European contact, the Pequots had approximately 8,000 members who inhabited 250 square miles around what is now New London County. However, the Pequot War (1636-1638) — the first major conflict between colonists and an indigenous New England people — had a devastating impact on the tribe.
When the Pequot War formally ended, many tribal members had been killed while others were placed in slavery or under the control of other tribes. Those placed under the rule of the Mohegans eventually became known as the Mashantucket (Western) Pequots. By the early 1800s, there were only 30 to 40 Pequots remaining on the ever-shrinking Mashantucket reservation, but by the 1970s, tribal members began moving back, hoping to restore their land base and community, develop economic self-sufficiency and revitalize tribal culture.
The ceremonial groundbreaking for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center took place in 1993 in a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of federal recognition of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal National. The new facility opened in 1998 and is on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation — one of the oldest, continuously occupied Indian reservations in North America — where many tribal members continue to live.
The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Last admission is at 4 p.m. The museum is closed on Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Call 800-411-9671 for additional information, or visit the museum’s website at www.pequotmuseum.org.
Mystic (Exit 90 off Interstate 95)
Founded in 1929, Mystic Seaport is our nation’s leading maritime museum, housing the world’s largest collection of historic ships, including the Charles W. Morgan — the last surviving wooden whaler in the world. Wander a recreated 19th-century seafaring village which is alive with the sights, sounds and smells of maritime America.
You’ll be able to see Sailors working aloft on a square rigger, hear tales of fishing the North Atlantic, enjoy a performance featuring the African heritage of maritime music and watch a whaleboat demonstration.
At the preservation shipyard, skilled crews use traditional tools and techniques to preserve the museum’s unparalleled collection of historic wooden vessels.
Village exhibits, representing the 1800s and early 1900s, include a general store, print shop, cooperage, drugstore, school house, church and many other shops found along the Atlantic coast. Signal flags outside many of these exhibits indicate they are staffed by professional educators of Mystic Seaport who will be able to answer any questions you may have.
Other exhibits take you on a remarkable journey through seafaring lives, past and present; provide a spectacular scale model of the Mystic harbor between 1850 and 1870; and allow you to explore a shipsmith shop — the only manufactory of whaling industry ironwork known to have survived from the 19th century.
Mystic Seaport is open most of the year, with varying hours depending on the season. Demonstrations and exhibits change with the season, so it’s worthwhile to scan their website for details at www.mysticseaport.org.
55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic
(Exit 90 off Interstate 95)
Mystic Aquarium provides a wonderful variety of sea life, ranging from New England’s only Beluga whales to African penguins and California sea lions. However, what really makes this aquarium unique is the documentation of undersea exploration being performed by the Sea Research Foundation’s Dr. Robert Ballard and his team. The “Titanic — 12,450 Feet Below” exhibit showcases Ballard’s discovery and exploration of the Titanic. Hands-on activities, stunning re-creations and captivating imagery make the exhibit a must-see.
As a research institute, the aquarium offers a wide range of age-specific educational programs and tours for students of all ages. For college-level students, it offers a one-of-a-kind, hands-on internship program and a renowned veterinary program.
Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration is open daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. For hours of operation and exhibit information, visit www.mysticaquarium.org.
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
Railroad Avenue, Essex
(Exit 69 off Interstate 95 to Essex)
Return to the glory days of steam from the comfort of a restored vintage railcar and get an unobstructed view of the unspoiled beauty of the Connecticut River Valley from aboard a three-deck riverboat.
Operated by the Valley Railroad Co., visitors have an opportunity to view the New England countryside by steam locomotive and riverboat. Special events include fall foliage trips; Santa Specials with Mr. and Mrs. Claus direct from the North Pole; and the North Pole Express — nighttime steam train rides with live readings of Christmas stories, sing-alongs and holiday surprises.
Other events sponsored by the Valley Railroad Co. include a guest engineer program, where you get an opportunity to get your hand on the throttle of a steam engine for an hourlong excursion along the Valley Railroad; Caboose Weekends, when Friends of the Valley Railroad bring out their bright red caboose for a special fundraiser; and the three-day Hot Steamed Jazz Festival. The three-deck riverboat Becky Thatcher is also available for evening charters from May through October.
Details and a schedule of activities can be obtained by calling 860-767-0103 or by visiting their website at http://essexsteamtrain.com.
Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut
409 Main St., Niantic
(Exit 72 off Interstate 95, 2.5 miles)
The Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut is an interactive, hands-on, educational opportunity for children up through fifth grade. It is designed to engage, encourage and challenge children in the arts, sciences, safety, health, culture and history.
Kids can pilot a fishing boat or become an architect with giant foam blocks. Don’t miss Toddler Land for younger visitors and the global village, a celebration of diverse cultural heritage. The museum has a tree house, a climbing wall, a kid-sized zip line, a real two-person research submarine and many exhibits that change regularly for your enjoyment.
The Children’s Museum offers a variety of hands-on, educational programs for children and families. Both on-site and off-site programs are available. On-site programs are scheduled year-round and are created for specific age groups. Off-site programs are held at schools, child care centers and libraries.
Hours vary by season. For more information on hours, specific program topics and admission fees, call the museum at 860-691-1111 or visit their website at www.childrensmuseumsect.org.
State Parks and State Forests
More than a dozen state parks and state forests in New London County provide outdoorsmen and women a wide range of activities. Enjoy hiking, camping, picnicking, saltwater and freshwater fishing, swimming, boating, horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Two of the parks also have historic forts and one offers tours of a historic mansion.
The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection website provides extensive information on every park site to include activities available, facilities, history, directions and fees. For a full list of state parks and state forests in the county and state, visit their website at www.ct.gov/deep.
Bluff Point State Park in Groton is the last remaining significant piece of undeveloped land along the Connecticut coastline. Jutting out into the waters of Long Island Sound, this wooded peninsula that measures 1.5 miles long by 1 mile wide encompasses more than 800 acres. It offers hiking, saltwater fishing, shell fishing and mountain biking and has a boat launching facility. Parking at the park is free, but because of its Coastal Reserve designation, access to the bluff is by foot or nonmotorized vehicle only.
Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park in Groton adds a touch of reality to your Revolutionary War history lesson. This is the historic site where, on Sept. 6, 1781, British forces, commanded by the infamous Benedict Arnold, captured the fort and massacred 88 of the165 defenders stationed there. The Ebenezer Avery House, which sheltered the wounded after the battle, has been restored. A Revolutionary War museum also depicts the era. There is no parking fee at the park.
Haley Farm State Park, also in Groton, provides hiking, biking and jogging trails through a scenic old shoreline farm. The Haley Farm Bike Trail, which is wheelchair accessible, is part of a 7.5-mile, town-owned bikeway routed from Mystic to Groton on local roadways. There is no parking fee at the park.
Fort Trumbull State Park, in New London, offers tours of an 1800s fort, a walking trail and spectacular fishing opportunities from a one-of-a-kind fishing pier boasting over500 feet of shore-based access to the major game fish of Long Island Sound. Saltwater anglers will find a unique combination of sport fish, including striped bass, bluefish and weakfish as they feed on a variety of baitfish found at the mouth of the Thames River. In addition to 24-hour access, the pier offers bright lighting and individual pole holders for angler comfort. Fort Trumbull and the visitor center are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday from May 21 through Columbus Day. There are no fees for parking or visiting the park grounds. A per-person charge applies for the visitor center exhibit and fort tour.
Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme offers 160 camping sites in both open and wooded settings, saltwater fishing and swimming, picnicking and hiking. The camping season runs from May 1 to Sept. 30. Clear waters and stone-free beaches with expanses of white sand make it ideal for swimming. Bounded on the west by a tidal river and the east by a broad salt marsh, Rocky Neck was known to both Native Americans and colonists as a place with abundant fish and wildlife. Today, the osprey is a frequent early summer visitor. In the fall, cranes, herons and mute swans wade among cattails and rose mallow. Seasonal changes provide opportunities to fish for mackerel, striped bass, blackfish and flounder. There are fees for weekend, holiday and weekday parking, as well as camping fees, at the park.
Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford offers tours of an early 1900s mansion, set on 230 seaside acres along Long Island Sound. The Roman Renaissance Classical Revival-style mansion has 42 rooms along with carriage house. Lush gardens flank the mansion on both the east and west lawns, and an Alpine rock garden adds to the beauty and splendor of the seaside panorama. The mansion is open for tours weekends and holidays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. The first tour of the day starts at 10 a.m., and the last begins at 2 p.m. There are separate weekend, holiday and weekday parking fees at the park.
Hopeville Pond State Park in Griswold provides 80 campsites along with freshwater pond fishing, swimming, hiking and bicycling. The camping season begins in mid-April and ends Sept. 30. Facilities include boat launch, picnic tables and bathrooms. The park is located along the Pachaug River that was once a major fishing ground for the Mohegan Indians. Later colonialists built a sawmill, gristmill and woolen mill at the site. There is a weekend and holiday parking fee and a campsite fee at the park.
Day Pond State Park in Colchester offers trout fishing in a stocked pond, swimming, hiking and picnicking. The pond, which is the central feature of the park, was originally constructed by a pioneering family to turn a large waterwheel that powered the family sawmill. Park visitors today will find only stone foundations as reminders of those colonial times. There are no parking fees at the park.
Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown is the largest state forest in Connecticut, encompassing 24,000 acres that are open for camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, boating and winter sports such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The Pachaug River, running from Beach Pond to the Quinebaug River, runs through the center of the forest. Old cellar holes and miles of stone fence winding through the woods give evidence of the once farmed and pastured forest.
There are two main recreational areas in the Pachaug State Forest. The Chapman Area offers year-round activities and includes off-road, backpack and horse campsites, all available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Three separate trail sections pass through this area. Beachdale Pond, located in this area, is stocked with trout and has natural bass, pickerel and bullhead fishing. The Green Falls Area has 18 wooded campsites that are available from the third Friday of April until Sept. 30. Four hiking trails pass through this area that also offers freshwater fishing, picnicking and hunting. Picnic areas and boat launch sites are available at both areas. Campsite fees are charged at both locations. Nehantic State Forest in Lyme is the first state forest in New London County. Purchased in 1925, the land is mostly covered with a second growth of hardwoods with a number of good trout streams in the forest. The state forest offers hiking, swimming and picnicking. A boat launch is available. There are no fees at Nehantic State Forest.