Sip a cup of tea with me and I'll tell you about the best small
town in America. The first thing one notices upon entering the
township of Essex, Connecticut are the homes lining the road
that curves its way into the main street of the village.
by Linda Brughelli
They are mostly two-story wood structures that evoke the 18th
century and typify the image most Americans have of colonial
New England homes. Each is unique though they belong to a similar
architectural past that is altogether pleasing and familiar.
They are well cared for and beckon the visitor to discover what
village reveals itself around a bend where a small white pillar
surrounded with seasonal flowers marks the entrance to Main
Street. The street of shops, restaurants, homes, and the historic
Griswold Inn culminate at the end of Main Street at the Connecticut
River and the River Museum.
in Essex, USA
is a simple white building overlooking the river and it houses
artifacts of the historic river and exhibits about the communities
that settled along its banks almost four hundred years ago.
this vantage point, one can see the Connecticut River flow
by, its 660 kilometer journey from its source at the Canadian
border nearly at its end.
Just eight km to the east, the river's mouth meets Long Island
Sound between the colonial era settlements of Old Saybrook
and Old Lyme at the shoreline. The impression is of a village
that sits snugly by the river, a tea cozy of a town.
has a population of 6,500. More than half have roots in England,
Scotland, and Ireland. It was first settled in 1637 as part
of the Saybrook Colony, referred to then as Potapoug Quarter.
By the time of the Revolutionary War, it was a shipbuilding
center and played a role in the American Revolution when the
colony's first battleship, the Oliver Cromwell, was constructed
there in 1775. The history of the village is a suitable reference
for students of colonial and early American history.
Essex is a popular tourist attraction, although it manages
to maintain an air of undisturbed decorum. American author
of "The 100 Best Small Towns in America," Norman
Cramptom, declared Essex the best of all based on statistical
To my mind, he is correct; in all my travels I have never
visited a town that outshines it, but for other reasons that
statistics do not reveal. Nevertheless, I owe Mr. Crampton
a debt of gratitude, for his finding is what drew me to visit
Essex in the first place. That visit marks the origin of my
infatuation and why I have a home there now.
the summer of 2001, my daughter wanted to tour the campuses
of several colleges on the east coast. It is a time-honored
tradition in the U.S. for high school students to visit colleges
before they make their decision to apply for admission.
With a map and a list in hand, we flew from California to
Boston, Massachusetts and began a driving tour of east coast
colleges in New England. Accompanying us was my cousin from
Switzerland, where my family is from.
Our trip was intended to be a holiday as well, and we spent
several days along the Connecticut shoreline between visits
to the schools. I have traveled many times over the years
to New England and have family members in Rhode Island and
Yet I am devoted to the latest guidebooks and dutifully take
note of new information and historical sights to see in areas
I will be visiting. And so I came across the reference to
Essex, Connecticut in a guidebook and its claim to fame.
How could I not visit the best small town in America? It lies
just a few kilometers off Route 1, the Boston Post Road. This
historic road was mapped out by order of King Charles II to
promote communication among his colonial governors from Boston
to New York.
And there we were, minutes away from Essex on our map, but
with only a half hour to spare to get to the airport on time
for our flight. In the face of my daughter's exasperation--knowing
all too well her mother was not capable of making any visits
to famous sites in under an hour's time-- I determinedly turned
the car in the direction of Essex. Little did I know I was
about to fall in love.
out why Linda fell in love with Essex, in part two of her