It's not really possible to wrap arms around all that Pomfret, Conn., offers in a single day, but by picking points on the spectrum from hard play to quiet indulgence you can build your own experience.
Biking or snacking, hiking or shopping - it all happens within this 40-square-mile jewel in a region promoted as the Last Green Valley.
Rivers power the area's marketing as they once did its industries. After the federal government designated the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor in the late 1980s, a visitor promotion effort evolved for the environs between Sturbridge, Mass., and Norwich, Conn.
There may be plenty of green in your town, but perhaps not the concentration of architecture, amenities, artisanship and recreational opportunities as in Pomfret, a 30-mile drive from Worcester off Interstate 395, west of Putnam.
"There aren't any box stores," said Michelle Bourgeois, the Last Green Valley tourism coordinator, discussing how Pomfret stands out in the region. "It's just very New England. It's unhurried. It's like stepping back in time."
Of course, you could just bicycle through on one of its four winding state routes or byways, or on the 50-mile Air Line Rail Trail running from East Hampton to Thompson.
Some paddle by Pomfret's eastern boundary on the generally flatwater Quinebaug River. But you can also launch or land a craft from the river in Pomfret, or dip your paddle in the smaller Mashamoquet Brook. The brook runs through a 900-acre state park that bears its name. Among Mashamoquet Brook State Park's walking destinations is the Wolf's Den, by legend the spot where the last wolf in New England was slain by Israel Putnam, a Revolutionary War general.
Another 700 acres are set aside by the Connecticut Audubon Society as the Bafflin Sanctuary for bird watching or just plain walks during the four seasons.
Year-round, some 3,900 residents call Pomfret home. Lisa Hart, a teacher, returned to raise her family after moving away following high school. "I knew when I lived here people watched out for each other," she said, "and I wanted to have that same feeling."
Others weave their livelihoods beneath the gabled roofs rising out of Pomfret's rolling hills. In fact, the town's very existence was a commercial transaction, beginning with a purchase from the Indians by a number of Colonial "proprietors," as investors were called.
Today's Pomfret Proprietors Association is a group of business owners who operate gift shops, eateries and crafts businesses. The Pomfret Proprietors Association has run local equivalents of "Antiques Road Show" to raise money for scholarships, and it promotes a townwide tag sale each spring, along with its own geographically scattered enterprises. With Pomfret's five small villages, "downtown" seems a foreign concept in this community that is also home to two private boarding schools.
"We are a small group, but we have energy," said Richard Paul, a Long Island native who founded Martha's Herbery with his late wife, for whom the business is named, in 1988. This diverse gift shop is inside a historic home (with an ancient pet burial ground outside) at Routes 44 and 169. It began elsewhere in town with the couple baking bread and giving lessons so others could do the same. "You paid $8 and you got two hours of instruction," said Paul, who migrated from southern Connecticut and the investment business.
Like him, Pomfret remains in quiet transition. When he arrived, there was an ashram, or spiritual retreat, running in what's referred to as the Pink House on Route 97, with a spiritual leader and 50 to 60 people living there. Today, it's a private home. But gabled homes and farm structures are the sites for many of the attractions in this town, allowing it to keep the flavor so many New England communities only echo.
"We're all in architecturally interesting buildings, I think," said fellow proprietor Martha Emilio of MAJiLLY, a Babbit Hill Road farmstead with its barn an outlet for imported and self-designed plates and ceramic ware.
And she's got a point about interesting architecture. Even a modern fiber-optics plant off in a metal building gets into the spirit - barn red, with a steep Arcadian-style roof over its entryway setting it apart from the basic box. Cow statues painted with the stars and stripes graze out front.
OK, so that's not the aficionado's must-see, but the Pomfret School's chapel has awakened the brakes on many a passing automobile along Route 169. The 1885 landmark's stone exterior is captivating even showing through an ivy cape. With subdued lighting inside, an American flag stands out as the only post-medieval decor. Tiffany stained glass is impressive, but the intimate scale and closeness of the stone carvings make their biblical tale easy for the eye to follow.
Down the road, local flavor runs through the collection in the gallery known as Celebrations. Formerly among the town's several bed and breakfasts (five lodging places remain), the hefty Victorian edifice is home to the works of 30 local and regional artists and crafters.
Local pride also runs through the offerings at the Vanilla Bean Cafe, folkish in its evening entertainment and folksy in its daylight deli dining. Entrees often named for Pomfret people and places, along with indoor and outdoor dining, keep the place abuzz with bicyclists, shoppers and passers-through on warmer weather weekends.
Pomfret may be reached from the interstate that also leads to Foxwoods, but it's a place to treat yourself well in a very different way - an alternative route, you might say, to the wonder of it all.
For a listing of events, go to www.visitpomfret.com
CUTLINE: (1) The Vanilla Bean Cafe, a local favorite, offers indoor and outdoor dining and live entertainment in the evening. (2) Barbara Lussier of the Connecticut Audubon Society Center paints a country scene in Pomfret, Conn. The town is in the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor, an area known as the Last Green Valley. (3) Michelle Bourgeois, the Last Green Valley tourism coordinator, says a trip to Pomfret "is like stepping back in time." Below, Jim Hennegan of Putnam sells dahlias at the Vanilla Bean Cafe.
PHOTOG: PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM RETTIG
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Aug 10, 2009|
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