Feb 24, 2012
01:04 PMDiscover Connecticut
Connecticut From A to Woodstock: Barkhamsted
A visit to Barkhamsted is a reminder that there are some places in Connecticut where life moves a little more leisurely. It's a town where you can happily spend a lazy summer day, either enjoying an unspoiled lake or hiking through a quiet forest, and the experience isn't usually ruined by hordes of other pleasure seekers—you know, until we write about how great it is. Then the crowds will arrive and wreck everything—whoops! Now that I think about it, forget you're about to read any of this ... let's keep some of the gems to ourselves.
Where is it? Barkhamsted is about 22 miles northwest of Hartford, on the fringe of the Litchfield Hills.
What's it like? At about 38 square miles, Barkhamsted is a large yet lightly populated bergh (about 3,700) with two small villages—Riverton and Pleasant Valley—and an abundance of rural space, including sections of the American Legion, Enders, Tunxis and People's state forests. The Barkhamsted Reservoir and Lake McDonough add to scenic charm, as does the Farmington River, which runs through town. As you might expect, this destination is more dedicated to residences and recreation, although there are a few small business in town.
Brief history Barkhamsted was one of the last wild places in the state, only being settled starting in the mid 1700s. It incorporated as a town in 1779, and since then has experienced a bit of a roller coaster in terms of growth—in 1774, there were 250 residents, which rapidly swelled to better than 1,400 by 1800; in 1830, the population rose to over 1,700, but the next century brought shrinkage, as the number of residents dwindled all the way down to about 700. Since then, it's climbed dramatically again, reaching its current level (about 3,700). The town's name is taken from an English town of the same name. For the full history of Barkhamsted, visit the Barkhamsted Historical Society's website.
Small town, big screen One of the very few of its kind left, the Pleasant Valley Drive In offers "cinema under the stars" during the warmer months. Each night, rain or shine, after the sun sets, patrons can enjoy a bit of popcorn history: a double feature (of more recent releases) from the front seat of their own car.
Hungry? Let's be honest: If you're coming to Barkhamsted, it's not because it's a dining mecca. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a few excellent places to eat in town. In addition to the Old Riverton Inn (see below), The Log House is a family-style restaurant that has an extensive breakfast menu (served all day) in addition to offering diner-like fare: lots of sandwiches, a few entrees (steak, pot roast, etc.), Italian specialties and more.
Take a seat For the better part of two centuries, the renowned Hitchcock chairs were produced in the Riverton factory that Lambert Hitchcock originally built on the banks of the Farmington River. The company churned out hand-crafted furniture until the factory was closed in 2006, but in 2010, a new group purchased the property, Hitchcock name and original designs, and as of September 2011, has once again made Riverton the place to find authentic Hitchcock furniture.
Get a room The Old Riverton Inn has been housing wayfaring strangers since 1796, when it was a stagecoach stop on the old Albany-Hartford Turpike. It has 12 guest rooms—each with TV and private bath, something not available to stagecoach passengers—as well as a full fine-dining restaurant that has been named "Most Romantic" by the readers of the Register Citizen.
Land-locked lighthouse The story goes that in 1740, after the headstrong Molly Barber was denied her father’s permission to marry the man of her choice, she declared that she would marry the next suitor, who turned out to be James Chaugham, a Native American. Ostracized, the couple eventually took up along the Farmington River, where they would have eight children and be joined by other outcasts to form a settlement that would become known as “The Lighthouse.” It gained the name after stagecoach drivers used the lights from the cabins as a marker to know it was only five miles to New Hartford, where they could stop for food and water.
I visited The Lighthouse in August 2009 with Dr. Kenny Feder and his archaeological team, who have spent years excavating and researching the site. Dr. Feder has written a short book about the settlement, available through the Barkhamsted Historical Society.
Fair to say, it's "enlightening."