Stonington, CT or the place in between!

When going on vacation by car, we have the tendency to aim for the final destination while dismissing all the places in between. This is equivalent to the quarterback throwing a Hail Mary pass to the end-zone every single play.

During my last travel to Cape Cod, the five hour car ride did not turn out that way and at 1.00 am, four hours into the venture, we had not even arrived halfway. An impromptu pit stop in CT ensued, along with breakfast at Indulge Café and the enlightening discovery of Stonington, CT.   

Town History

In 1647, European settlers established the first trading house along the Mistack River (Mystic River) on land that belonged to the Pequot Tribe. When first incorporated in 1658, the town was part of Massachusetts. It became part of Connecticut in 1665 and renamed Stonington in 1666.

Stonington first gained wealth in the 1790s when its harbor was home to a fleet engaged in the profitable seal trade on islands off the Chilean and Patagonian coasts. In August 1814, during the aftermath of the War of 1812, the villagers of Stonington successfully drove back a British Squadron intent on pillaging and burning down the town. In the mid-19th century, the village kept thriving: “Trains and Steamboats met at the Town Dock to exchange goods and passengers from 1837 to 1890. Thereafter, trains started to bypass the village as they hurried on to New York. Stonington again became a quiet fishing village.” - Historical Museum Signage.

Architecture - Building on the National Register of Historic Places

Stonington is remarkably well preserved and serves as a testament to the town’s pride while clearly showcasing is past success and wealth. The architectural styles on display are diverse, ranging from vernacular gabled rooms to grand Federal, Greek Revival, Beaux Arts, and Queen Anne style buildings. Today, the entire borough is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places with both public and private funding eagerly protecting the heritage. Some of the most unique buildings include: Elkanah Cobb House; Whistler House; Nathaniel Palmer House; James Merrill House, and many more. 

Old Lighthouse – Today’s Historical Society Museum

In 1840, The Stonington Harbor Lighthouse was the first federally funded lighthouse. When originally built, the ornate stone structure comprised of the lighthouse tower flanked to a flat roof, a battlement-like structure. Later a gabled roof was added. Guarding Connecticut’s only Atlantic harbor (as opposed to Long Island Sound), the lighthouse remained in operation till 1889 and was the home of all seven keepers' families. In 1925, it was sold to the Stonington Historical Society and still houses its museum. The artifacts on display are a testimony to the village’s rich history: farmers, sailors, explorers, sea captains, entrepreneurs, etc.

Old Stonington Harbor Lighthouse

Old Stonington Harbor Lighthouse

Custom House

In the early 19th century, Stonington supported a small fishing, whaling, and sealing fleet in direct trade with China, the West Indies, and Patagonia, South America. The village generated enough volume to be made a port of entry in 1842. Originally built for the Stonington Bank, the small granite Greek revival building was then used as the Custom House to support the federal government to collect taxes and store bonded or impounded cargo. Custom Houses were the federal government’s main source of income prior to the 1916 introduction of personal and corporate income tax.

Custom House

Custom House

Free Public Library

Designed by the New York firm of Clinton and Russell Architects and completed in 1900, the Stonington Public Library sits in Wadawanuck Park at the location of the recently demolished Wadawanuck Hotel. A large skylight floors the atrium space with an abundance of daylight. The mezzanine’s glass floor further allows the daylight to filter to the lower level, discretely illuminating the stack of books without artificial lighting. How's that for green!?

Over the years, the library has been renovated, expanded, and modernized while consistently maintaining the character of the original design.

Stone Walls

During the early 18th century, Stonington was one of the coastal areas where farming was introduced. Early European settlers used stone walls to divide property and define the area of land that could be plowed within one day. Later, the walls built became ever more complex and sophisticated, displaying the immigrant masons' exquisite craftsmanship. These walls were the landowners’ clear signal of ‘No Trespassing’, a statement made by wealth that became a sign of the area’s fortune and pride. 

Preparations for July 4th Celebrations

We visited the town on June 30th, just ahead of the July 4th celebrations. The town was gearing up to look its best, which included trimming the flowers, cleaning sidewalks, and, of course, repainting the yellow curb!

Michel Franck, AIA, Partner

Michel Franck, AIA, Partner