The New England Town Green; why you should add one or two to your bucket list.

Last weekend, Dave and I ate lunch on the town green in Winsted. We were out shopping for farm supplies and we’d skipped a real breakfast. By noon, my stomach was grumbling so we popped into a grocery store, bought a lunch of cold-fried chicken, potato chips, and iced teas.

“I don’t care where we pull over,” I said, “the back of the parking lot will do. I’m so hungry!”

Dave had a better suggestion; the town green in Winsted. “It’s just a mile or so down the road.”

A one way street took us on a loop around the long, narrow strip of grass. Dave parked and we ducked under a low fence made of masonry posts and iron rails. We carried our lunch past a tall fountain that was tiered like a wedding cake. An old man sat on a bench watching the water cascade over the layers of stone. We spotted a park bench not far away and sat down with our feast.

As we ate, I looked around the park to people watch. A tall, grey-haired man stood behind a long table of religious figurines he was offering for sale. He stood straight, attentive, as if he had a line of eager customers to attend to, but there was no one in sight. I wondered if he came to the green every weekend, seeking to supplement a meagre retirement income.

A young woman walked her brown spaniel down a path that meandered through the green, pausing to look at his figurines. She let the leash go long and the dog wandered behind the table, sniffing the man’s trouser legs. The man didn’t seem to notice and the woman moved on without buying anything. It was a light day for people watching, wanderers mostly, strolling through like bit-actors in a stage play, passing through on their way to somewhere else.

The Winsted Green is small, but they pack a lot in. There’s a bandstand for musical events and speeches and a Civil War monument honoring three local boys who lost their lives in the war between the states. The east side of the green is bordered by 19th century homes; one of them very gothic looking with sleepy gabled windows. Within a short walk, you can eat lunch in one of the local restaurants or go shopping. Winsted is home to Connecticut’s oldest hardware store and a short drive will take you to a farrier supply shop where you can still buy a blacksmith forge, horse shoe nails, and drawing salve for an infected hoof.

I know a woman whose bucket list is to visit all the national parks in America. There are 423 of them, spanning across more than 84 million acres. It’s a pretty ambitious bucket list and somewhat costly. She’s had to put her plans on hold for now because of the pandemic, but I might suggest a smaller, more manageable bucket list, to visit all of New England’s town greens.

The town or village green uniquely New England, practically an icon of the early colonists. They were places, mostly in the center of town, that were set aside for grazing sheep and cattle or holding military exercises. Prior to the Civil War, most town greens were rutty, rock-strewn patches that weren’t much fun to visit, but after the war, town greens enjoyed a renaissance. Villagers saw the potential to create beautiful park-like places where residents could gather. Citizens planted trees, installed railings like the one in Winsted, added monuments, and a bandshell for musical events or political rallies.

Although most town greens share similar characteristics, each green boasts a unique history and personality. The New Haven town green holds the honor of being the oldest green in Connecticut and is one of the largest. It’s within walking distance of the old Yale University buildings and was at one time a busy market place for the active fishing and sailing trades in the New Haven Harbor. Visitors have the option of two self-guided walking tours that bring history to life and showcase the majestic trees that the New Haven green is known for. The green is also host to Connecticut’s own Festival of the Arts, an amazing celebration of theatre, music, visual art, truffle-making, paddleboard yoga, Shakespeare, and all the diversity that is so uniquely New Haven.

Other greens in Connecticut include the Lebanon Town Green, the largest in the state. The Lebanon green is distinctive; a good portion of its land is still used for agriculture to this day. Then there’s the P.T. Barnum Square in Bethel, Connecticut, which honors the town’s most famous resident, Phineus Taylor Barnum, founder of the famous Barnum and Baily Circus. Born in 1810. Barnum started his circus right there in Bethel, putting his menagerie on a train and doing one-night circus acts across the country.

New England town greens are living cultural histories of our colonial past. Connecticut boasts more than 170 town greens. Visits are always free and they’re close to home. The next time you’re out shopping, buy yourself a little lunch and spend a half hour ‘traveling’ through the history of the local town green. To find out more about Connecticut’s Town Greens, visit http://www.towngreens.com/.

2 thoughts on “The New England Town Green; why you should add one or two to your bucket list.

  1. What a great story. I felt myself wandering with you as you noted other greens. I soon saw greens in a different light than I had before. Where they were just a quick way to cut through town. Thank you for stopping and smelling the roses ( greens) for us all.

    Like

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