Locations: Norwalk, Rowayton, Weston, Wilton
Directions: This tour begins in Norwalk. Take exit 15 off of I-95 south, take a right off the exit onto West Ave., the entrance to Matthews Park to see Lockwood Matthews Mansion, The Center for Contemporary Print Making, Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Pine Island Cemetery and Devon's Place. To reach the Maritime Aquarium, take a left on West Ave., at the split in the road of West Ave. and North Main St., bear left on to North Main Street, take your first left on Ann St., at the junction of Ann St. and North Water St., take a right onto North Water St. The Maritime Aquarium is on the left and a parking garage is on the right. For alternative parking at the IMAX Theater and for the Sheffield Island Lighthouse Dock continue on North Water St. for .8 mi to the parking area on your left. To reach the SONO Switch Tower, continue to walk along North Water St., take your first right on Washington St. To get to the Norwalk Museum, continue to walk up Washington St., at the junction of Washington St. and North Main St., take a right on North Main St., the Museum is a short walk along North Main St. To pick up your car, continue your walk on North Main St., take a right on Ann St., and a left on North Water St. to the parking areas. To get to Rowayton, take North Water St. (left out of parking areas), at the junction of Washington St., North Water St. and Water St./Rte. 136 North, proceed straight on Water St./Rte. 136 North to Rowayton. Please note that Rte. 136 has many name changes along the way including: Meadow St., Wilson Ave., Highland Ave., McKinley St., and Rowayton Ave. To continue your tour, retrace your steps along Rte. 136 South. At the junction of Washington Street, Water St. and North Water St., take a left on Washington St., a right on North Main St., at the junction of North Main St. and West Ave., go straight on West Ave. toward the Lockwood Matthews Mansion. To reach the Mill Hill Historic Park, pass the Lockwood Matthews Mansion, continuing on West Ave., take a right on Wall St., Mill Hill Historic Site is on your right. To see the WPA Murals at the Norwalk City Hall, continue on Wall St., at the junction of Wall St. and East Ave., take a right on East Ave. Retrace your steps along East Ave,, at the junction of East Ave., Rte. 53 and Rte. 1 continue Straight on Rte. 53 North (Newtown Rd.). At the fork of Chestnut Hill Rd. and Newtown Rd., bear left on Rte. 53 North/Chestnut Hill Rd. After the junction of Rte. 106 and Rte. 53 N, bear right to continue on Rte. 53 North (Cedar Rd.). At the junction of Rte. 57/Rte. 53, continue on Rte. 57/Rte. 53 North, at the split of Rte. 57 and Rte. 53, bear right on Rte. 53 North. At the junction of Rte. 53, and Godfrey Rd., take a left on Godfrey Rd. West, and a right on Pent Rd. to the parking area of Devil's Den. To continue your tour, at the junction of Pent Rd. and Godfrey Rd., take a right on Godfrey Rd. At the junction of Rte. 57 (Georgetown Rd.) and Godfrey Rd., take a right on Rte. 57 north. At the junction of Rte. 57/ Rte. 107, take a left to continue on Rte. 57/107. To reach Weir Farm at the junction of Rte. 57 and Rte. 7, take Rte. 7 north. Turn left onto Route 102 west, take 2nd left onto Old Branchville Rd., turn left at first stop sign onto Nod Hill Road, follow Nod Hill Road one mile to the parking area on the left. To continue your tour, retrace your steps to Rte. 7 and head south through Wilton. Continue on Rte. 7 south to the Merritt Pkwy orr I-95 where this loop began In Norwalk.
Driving Time: One or Two Day Excursion
This tour begins in Norwalk, a city that is famed for its traditional oyster industry and is considered to be among the largest oyster producing ports in the country. The name Norwalk is thought to originate from the Algonquin word “noyank” meaning “point of land”, or its Native American name, Naramauke that refers to a Native American chief. The city was officially founded on September 11, 1651 and throughout its long history Norwalk has remained economically, culturally and ethnically diverse.
Take exit 15 off of I-95 south, take a right off the exit onto West Ave., the entrance to Matthews Park is between two stone pillars. Here you will find free parking and an enclave of attractions, all within walking distance.
Mathews Park, once known as Elm Park, was originally a 30-acre estate that served as the summer home of two wealthy New York families, the Lockwoods, and later, the Mathews. The estate including its former buildings that date from late 1860's were purchased by the City of Norwalk in 1941 and today the area is listed as a State Heritage Park.
Tour a Second Empire Property
Your first stop is the Lockwood Matthews Mansion, on the National Register of Historic Places and often described as “one of the earliest and finest surviving Second Empire style country houses ever built in the United States”. This 62- room mansion predates Newport’s mansions by more than twenty years. Built in 1864 by LeGrand Lockwood, who made his fortune in banking and the railroad industry and designed by European-trained, New York-based architect Detlef Lienau, the house was completed in just four years. Many American and immigrant artisans put the finishing interior design touches on this opulent house. The estate was foreclosed in 1874 due to Lockwood’s untimely death and financial reversals.
The property was sold to the Mathews in 1876 and the family resided in it until 1938. In 1941 the estate was sold to the City of Norwalk and designated a public park.
This beautiful property was almost demolished in the 1950’s because it had fallen into disrepair but was saved by local preservationists. Today as you tour this Victorian gem with its exquisite details in exotic woods, grand rotunda, newly restored library, stylish dining room and the many sitting rooms replete with extraordinary paintings you experience a sense of Victorian romanticism and sophistication that pervades this elegant property.
The Art of Printmaking and Prints
The Center for Contemporary Print Making is located in the estate’s original stone carriage house. It is the only nonprofit organization between New York City and Boston dedicated to the art of the print, including printmaking, papermaking, book arts, digital processes, and related disciplines. A light and airy gallery offers changing exhibitions of contemporary prints representing the various methods used in printmaking. A unique Artist-In- Residence program is offered as well as a series of workshops that span a wide variety of printing disciplines from encaustic and intaglio to lithography and silk-screening and many more.
Time for Family Fun!
The Stepping Stones Museum for Children is a perfect stop for kids. This engaging museum immerses kids in a myriad number of interactive learning experiences. Favorites include “Healthyville” that teaches children about the importance of nutrition, “Build It” is where children learn about construction and the “Rainforest Adventure” reviews the elements of tropical rainforests around the world and talks about the importance of conservation. The Toddler Terrain is designed for the youngest museum adventurers with many nooks and crannies for youngsters to explore; while Waterscape with its pools, cascades, stream, and fog machine introduces children to the dynamics of water and weather. In November 2010 look for a 22,000 sq. ft. expansion that will provide more learning and more interactive family fun.
300 Years of History
Tucked in the corner of Mathews Park is Pine Island Cemetery, a State Historical Landmark that has a 300 -year history. For the most part the people interred here built the foundation of South Norwalk. The cemetery contains important gravestones from the 18th- 20th centuries. There are many excellent examples of gravestones including Death’s Head, Winged Cherub and the Willow and Urn designs.
A Playground for All
Devon's Place, to the right of the Stepping Stones Children’s Museum is a playground where children of all abilities can play together. Although it looks like an ordinary playground, it has wheelchair-height sandboxes, swings with high backs for support, braille signs, and musical stimulation for the visually impaired.
Experience the Sound at the Maritime Aquarium
Note: for this part of your tour, it is best to Park and walk to the Maritime Aquarium, IMAX Theater, Dock for Sheffield Lighthouse, SONO Switch Tower and Norwalk Museum while exploring scenic SONO, Norwalk’s version of NYC’s SOHO.
Parking & Directions:
To reach the Maritime Aquarium, take a left on West Ave., at the split in the road of West Ave. and North Main St., bear left on to North Main Street, take your first left on Ann St., at the junction of Ann St. and North Water St., take a right onto North Water St. The Maritime Aquarium is on the left and a parking garage is on the right. For alternative parking at the IMAX Theater and for the Sheffield Island Lighthouse Dock continue on North Water St. for .8 mi to the parking area on your left.
A visit to the Nationally recognized Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk will put you nose to nose with sharks, within inches of seals, river otters, loggerhead sea turtles, jellyfish and over 10,000 other marine animals. Interactive displays such as the stingray touch pool, touch tanks with crabs, sea stars and shells and a marine lab that shows how the Aquarium raises baby jellyfish and sea horses are just some of the displays found here. Many exhibits tell the story of Long Island Sound’s eco-system and how the Maritime Aquarium is working to study and preserve it. A year round highlight is the opportunity to sail the waters of Norwalk Harbor and Long Island Sound, with the Aquarium’s scientists on their research vessel to learn about the rich aquatic life that makes its home in this officially designated Estuary of National Significance.
More Than An Eyeful
The Maritime Aquarium has an IMAX Theater that has a six story high screen and a 10,000- watt digital surround audio system that provides a total immersion experience for moviegoers. Educational documentaries are the focus of the films shown here. A recent decision to show Hollywood films at the IMAX is an added bonus for visitors.
Island With A View
The boat to Sheffield Island is located at the corner of North Water & Washington Streets in South Norwalk. There is ample parking at the Maritime IMAX parking lot. It is best to arrive at the Gazebo Dock 15 minutes before departure.
Take a relaxing cruise on the Sheffield Island Ferry to Sheffield Island where you will have exceptional views of the Manhattan Skyline, Greens Ledge Lighthouse, a spark plug styled lighthouse, the necklace of islands that surrounds Norwalk and the seaside town of Rowayton. Every Thursday night from mid.-May through mid.-Sept. there is a clambake on the island as well as other special events hosted by the Norwalk Seaport Association.
In 1804 a Revolutionary War veteran named Capt. Robert Sheffield purchased what became known as Sheffield Island and became the first keeper of the Sheffield Island Lighthouse. The first lighthouse was built in 1827 to mark the dangerous ledges at the entrance to the Norwalk’s busy harbor. The stone mid.-Victorian styled lighthouse that you can explore today was built in 1868. A highlight of exploring the lighthouse is the climb to the tower that has exceptional views in all four directions.
Sheffield Lighthouse was in use until 1902 when it was replaced by the newly erected Greens Ledge Light farther west. Legend has it that Greens Ledge was named after a pirate named Green, who sailed with the infamous Captain Kidd. When Green was captured by authorities of the day, he was reportedly executed and his body hung from the ledge in chains as a warning to others thinking of entering the buccaneering trade.
A Coastal Walk
The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge on Sheffield Island provides important resting, feeding, and nesting habitat for many species of wading birds, shorebirds, songbirds and terns. A hike along the trail leads you to an observation platform where you will have a bird’s eye view of wildlife that makes the island their home. There are also ruins of a mansion once located on the island to explore.
Pull the Lever!
To reach the SONO Switch Tower, continue to walk along North Water St., take your first right on Washington St. The Switch Tower is a 5 -minute walk along Washington St., which is the heart of a trendy dining, shopping and entertainment area. The Switch Tower is located next to the bridge. Here you will learn how railroads used towers, such as this fully restored 1896 Switch Tower to house complicated interlocking mechanisms used to switch trains from one track to another by operators throwing levers to prevent trains from colliding. The levers here were used on the Main Line for 88 years! Visitors can pull the levers and watch the Acela and Amtrak trains roar by.
Home of History & Lively Traditions
A five- minute walk along North Main Street will bring you to the Norwalk Museum. To get to the Museum, continue to walk up Washington St., at the junction of Washington St. and North Main St., take a right on North Main St., the Museum is a short walk along North Main St. that is lined with shops and restaurants that reflect Norwalk’s diverse ethnic make –up. The Museum is located in a stately brick building on the right.
The Norwalk Museum houses the Lockwood Collection of Norwalk Americana including furniture, fine china, and other family artifacts that were part of the rich history of one of the founding families of Norwalk. Dunne’s Hardware Store Collection is a museum highlight along with the colorful Merchant’s Court of storefront display windows that showcase many products manufactured in Norwalk over the years including Raggedy Ann Dolls, redware clay Norwalk pottery and hats.
To pick up your car, continue your walk on North Main St., take a right on Ann St., and a left on North Water St. to the parking areas.
Art on the River
The charming riverside village of Rowayton is a 3.5-mile drive from SONO. To get there take North Water St. (left out of parking areas), at the junction of Washington St., North Water St. and Water St./Rte. 136 North, proceed straight on Water St./Rte. 136 North to Rowayton. Please note that Rte. 136 has many name changes along the way including: Meadow St., Wilson Ave., Highland Ave., McKinley St., and Rowayton Ave.
The Rowayton Art Center located on the banks of the Five Mile River, is a non-profit organization with 600 members. The Center organizes ten shows a year that spotlights works in all media. A seasonal favorite is the Holiday Gift Show in December. The Center also offers lectures, workshops and demonstrations by outstanding professional artists.
Shakespeare on the Sound
Located in Pinkney Park this summer theater offers outdoor performances that begin at 7:30 p.m and end around 10:15 pm. Bring a blanket or low chair, a sweater and a picnic dinner and enjoy a two-hour professional performance under the stars. The grounds open at 4 p.m. and space is available on a first come first serve basis.
To learn the fascinating history of a small maritime village on the Long Island Sound stop in at the Seeley-Dibble-Pinkney House located in the Pinkney Park. The Rowayton Historical Society furnished the house in keeping with a prosperous farm home of the period 1850-1890. The focus is the period when oystering was the main industry, boats were powered by sail, and visitors came by train, trolley and steamer to Rowayton’s Roton Point Park. Exhibits include archives, memorabilia and artwork.
Of special interest is Remington Rand’s early computer research. James Rand, chairman of the board of the Remington Rand Corporation, known for its office furniture, machines and systems ran his business on a rambling estate in Rowayton. A select group of engineers were situated in the stable area on the estate from 1947 - 1951, working on the Remington Rand 409 – now recognized as the first working business computer. Today the house and stable area serves as Rowayton’s community center and library.
To continue your tour, retrace your steps along Rte. 136 South. At the junction of Washington Street, Water St. and North Water St., take a left on Washington St., a right on North Main St., at the junction of North Main St. and West Ave., go straight on West Ave. toward the Lockwood Matthews Mansion.
A Historic Complex
To reach the Mill Hill Historic Park, pass the Lockwood Matthews Mansion, continuing on West Ave., take a right on Wall St., Mill Hill Historic Site is on your right.
This fascinating complex consists of three historical buildings and a cemetery.
The red brick building known as the Town House served as Norwalk’s Town Hall from 1835 – 1913. Captain Lewis Raymond who had brought brick to Norwalk as ship ballast built it in 1835. In 1913 when Norwalk and the city of South Norwalk consolidated the government moved to South Norwalk’s City Hall and the Town House was abandoned. Today the Town House is used for meetings, social occasions and educational programs and is maintained by the Norwalk Historical Society and the DAR.
The next historic building is the Governor Fitch Law Office. Thomas Fitch was the Governor of Connecticut from 1754-1756. This building circa 1740 was originally the kitchen wing of his house, and the only portion of the house that survived the British attack in July 1779. The house is restored to resemble a law office such as the governor might have used at this time. Several of the pieces including a Chippendale-style slant top desk, a small cherry table, and a nine spindle Windsor chair came from the Fitch family.
Col. Thomas Fitch, Governor Fitch’s son, was the leader of the Norwalk Volunteers during the French and Indian War (1755-1762) and was responsible for inspiring the writing of “Yankee Doodle” the State Song of Connecticut. At the time the song became popular because it made fun of the rag-tag appearance and ill-equipped state of colonial troops as they left for battle.
Also on the property is the Downtown District Schoolhouse that was built in 1826 and used as a school until 1871.
The Mill Hill Burying Ground is the third oldest in Norwalk. It is interesting to note that in Colonial times less than a third of burials were marked with a headstone. Often, a simple rock was used. Many of Norwalk’s early families are interred here.
Driving along East Ave. you will note a Monument that stands at the corner of East Ave. and Adams Ave. in honor of the brave Norwalk residents that fought the British during a raid on Norwalk during the Revolutionary War. In 1779 General Tryon sought to disrupt American naval activity in Long Island Sound by crippling the seaports of New Haven, Fairfield, and Norwalk. On July 10, 1779, the General raided Norwalk with a combined force of over 2,600 Hessian and British soldiers and burned Norwalk down, leaving only six homes untouched. The General and his forces landed at Calf Pasture and marched up Sunset Hill, to East Ave. and began what became known as the Battle of the Rocks. Skirmishes ensued along Washington St., West Ave., Wall St., and Flax Hill. The British burned 135 houses, 2 churches, 89 barns, 25 shops, 5 vessels, 4 mills, and all the grain in Norwalk.
After the war, the citizens of Norwalk rebuilt the town, adding coastal trade, manufacturing and shipbuilding to their farm businesses. Norwalk citizens manufactured clocks, watches, paper, pottery, nails, and hats. Oystering peaked between 1885 and 1910, going from public oyster beds to oyster farms.
Myriads of Murals
To see the WPA Murals at the Norwalk City Hall, continue on Wall St., at the junction of Wall St. and East Ave., take a right on East Ave. City Hall is on your left. Norwalk has one of the largest and most important collections of Depression-era WPA art in America today. Initiated by President Roosevelt in the 1930’s, the WPA paid artists to create art in public spaces and today these works represent a unique window to America’s past. Most of Norwalk’s WPA collection resides in City Hall.
A Classic Green
From City Hall, Retrace your steps on East Ave. Along the way you will pass Norwalk’s classic 18th century New England Green. The First Congregational Church, on the green was organized in 1652 as a separate society from the town of Norwalk in 1726. The present day church is the fifth on this site and is a classic example of Federal architecture.
Nearby, the Episcopal Church of St. Paul's Parish built their first church in 1743. In 1779, the church was burned down by General Tryon during the raid of Norwalk and was rebuilt in 1785. The church you see today was built in 1840.
Explore Fairfield County’s Largest Nature Preserve in Weston
Retrace your steps on East Ave., passing Wall St. At the junction of East Ave., Rte. 53 and Rte. 1 continue Straight on Rte. 53 North (Newtown Rd.). It is a ten mile drive through scenic countryside, heavily wooded landscapes and classic Connecticut homes to reach Devil’s Den in Weston. At the fork of Chestnut Hill Rd. and Newtown Rd., bear left on Rte. 53 North/Chestnut Hill Rd. Please note that Rte. 53 North has name changes that includes: Newtown Ave., Chestnut Hill Rd., Cedar Rd., Norfield Rd., Weston Rd., and Newtown Tpk. At the Junction of Rte. 53 and Rte. 33, continue on Rte. 53 North. After the junction of Rte. 106 and Rte. 53 N, bear right to continue on Rte. 53 North (Cedar Rd.). At the junction of Rte. 57/Rte. 53, continue on Rte. 57/Rte. 53 North, at the split of Rte. 57 and Rte. 53, bear right on Rte. 53 North. At the junction of Rte. 53, and Godfrey Rd., take a left on Godfrey Rd. West, and a right on Pent Rd. to the parking area of Devil’s Den.
Devil's Den is the largest nature preserve in Fairfield County and the largest tract of privately held land in the region. Devil’s Den has a long and fascinating history that began with Native Americans that made this area their home over 5000 years ago by using the overhanging rock outcrops as shelter. During the Revolutionary War period David Adams built a sawmill here that provided lumber for many colonial homes. In the 1800’s colliers used Devil’s Den for charcoal production. In 1966 Katharin Ordway donated funds to the Nature Conservancy and 1400 acres were purchased. Today, there are over 1700 acres managed by the Nature Conservancy, the Aquarion Water Company, the DEP and local land trusts.
A walk through Devil’s Den provides many scenic overlooks of a continuous ring of green forest as far as the eye can see. The preserve is home to 145 species of birds, 23 species of mammals and 475 varieties of trees and wildflowers. There is hiking on 21 miles of trails that traverse the diverse habitats found in the preserve from woodlands and wetlands to rugged rocky ridges. Highlights of hiking here includes Great Ledge with it’s a spectacular view of the Saugatuck Reservoir and Ambler Gorge, a picturesque ravine with a rocky cascade. Cross Country skiing and snowshoeing is allowed on red blazed trails, making a visit here remarkable any time of year. Trails are open sunrise to sunset.
Weir Farm -Connecticut’s Only National Park
At the junction of Pent Rd. and Godfrey Rd., take a right on Godfrey Rd. At the junction of Rte. 57 (Georgetown Rd.) and Godfrey Rd., take a right on Rte. 57 north. At the junction of Rte. 57/ Rte. 107, take a left to continue on Rte. 57/107. At the junction of Rte. 57 and Rte. 7, take Rte. 7 north. Turn left onto Route 102 west, take 2nd left onto Old Branchville Rd., turn left at first stop sign onto Nod Hill Road, follow Nod Hill Road one mile to the parking area on the left. The visitor center is on the right.
Many art historians regard Weir Farm as the American equivalent of Monet's Giverny. It preserves the summer home and workplace of J. Alden Weir (1852-1919), a leading figure in the development of American impressionism and his friends who were inspired by this lovely landscape. It is Connecticut's only National Park and the only one in the US devoted to American painting.
For over 40 years this unspoiled rocky landscape punctuated by meadows, stonewalls and dense woods inspired over 250 works of art done by Weir in over sixty painting sites. Today, visitors can draw identical landscapes painted by Weir, tour the grounds and attend workshops and lectures. Retrace your steps to Rte. 7 and head south.
A Charming Enclave
Follow Rte 7 south for approximately 3.7 mi. from the junction of Rte. 102, take a left on Cannon Rd. to visit Cannondale Crossing. This section of Wilton, originally called Pimpewaug by local Native Americans, was named Cannondale after a prominent family that operated the Cannon Store in the 1790s. The historic heart of this village is Canondale Crossing made up of 19th-century buildings first restored by the actress June Havoc. Today these buildings house a variety of boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Retrace your steps to Rte. 7 and head south.
An Amazing Journey Through Time
The Wilton Heritage Center combines two18th c. classic center chimney homes showcasing 14 period rooms that represent a continuum from the colonial era through 1910. The rooms are meticulously furnished to show the changes in Connecticut home life, the economy, furniture and decorations from 1740 – 1910. Collections of special interest include textiles, costumes, Norwalk made redware and a permanent exhibition of more than 600 tools. A special feature of the Center is the Barn Loft that connects the two houses. The Loft showcases an amazing collection of dollhouses and toys. An art Gallery with changing exhibits is also a highlight of the museum. A fully outfitted blacksmith shop is located on the grounds and is open on Sun. when the museum is open.
Continue on Rte. 7 south to the Merritt Pkwy. Or I-95 where this loop began.