Mar 9, 2012
09:01 AMDiscover Connecticut
Connecticut From A to Woodstock: Berlin
When I think of Berlin, my thoughts immediately turn to the Berlin Turnpike, for better or worse. It's a stretch of roadway that reminds me of a bygone era, with numerous gas stations, drive-in motels and other roadside stops. (Here's a great history of the road formerly known as "Gasoline Alley.") Of course, the town is more than Route 5/15, and it's got an interesting history.
Where is it? Berlin has been determined to be at the geographic center of the state—I think even a 2 year-old can point out where that is on the map ... you know, right in the very middle.
What's it like? Berlin is a mid-sized Connecticut city, its population of nearly 20,000 spread over 27 square miles. It's generally divided into three sections: Kensington (in the north), Berlin center and East Berlin. The western edge of town features the Metacomet Ridge, a high section of traprock that includes peaks such as Ragged Mountain and the Hanging Hills. The majority of commerce is concentrated along the turnpike and Route 372. The median house price is only $206,000, making the city a place attractive to those just starting out and looking for reasonably priced housing.
Brief history In 1659, Sergeant Richard Beckley obtained 300 acres from Tarramuggus, sachem of the Mattabassett, and settled there with his family. The settlement, which was near a great swamp, grew slowly, taking on parts of surrounding towns, until the middle of the 18th century, when it became a hub for manufacturing a variety of products. Berlin was officially incorporated in 1785, and was named for the city in Germany in honor of Frederick the Great, who had been an ally of England and the Colonies during the Seven Year War. A more detailed history is available on the town's official website.
Come hungry Let's put it this way: If you have cash to spend, you won't go hungry in Berlin. Considering the size of the town, it's amazing how many places there are to eat. The spectrum of dining options range from all the popular fast food joints to mid-level family restaurants to finer dining establishments, and the diversity of cuisines is equally as impressive.
Birthplace of the Traveling Salesman? In 1740, Edward Pattison and his brother William immigrated to Berlin from Ireland and brought with them sheet tin from England, which they used to create kitchenware. To help sell their tin items, the Pattisons used to pack up their wares and go about the countryside, and soon became known as "Yankee Pedlars." The tin items—lighter and shinier than the more common pewter products—quickly became all the Colonial rage, and before long, Berlin became the tin-making capital of the New World, and Yankee pedlars were known far and wide.
The Berlin Turnpike: The Book? In March 2011, Raymond Bechard released the book The Berlin Turnpike, but it's hardly a whimsical, nostalgic look at the history of the roadway. From the website: "This is a true story of human trafficking in America as told through the testimony of a landmark federal trial which took place at the heart of one of the country’s wealthiest states, Connecticut, over the course of eight days in 2007. The trial of United States vs. Dennis Paris provides a rare and detailed account of how a specific type of trafficking - commercial sexual exploitation - is thriving because it has left the street corners and entered our homes. This one case contains every element of a crime so reliant on secrecy; shrouded behind a scintillating veil of growing legitimacy. Yet it is buried just below the surface of our culture’s mainstream perception."
Get Lost As mentioned previously, Berlin is bordered by a long traprock ridge, and that includes Lamentation Mountain State Park. An odd name for a mountain, right? According to Joe Leary's highly recommended A Shared Landscape, the story goes that in middle of the 17th century, Leonard Chester, a settler from Wethersfield, was looking for a place to build a mill when he wandered up Lamentation Mountain and got lost as night fell. Whether it was because he had come close to stepping off a cliff in the dark or that he spent three days wandering around before a search party rescued him, he lost his mind a bit and was tortured by "horrible visions of serpents, howling creatures and dragons." Because Chester often expressed his unhappy feelings about the unfortunate experience, the place took on the name of Lamentation Mountain.
Fortunately, a visit to modern-day Berlin does not affect visitors the same way.