Martin Podskoch wants to get us out of our habit of visiting the same old places in our state and instead “take the road less traveled.”
In his new book Connecticut 169 Club: Your Passport and Guide to Exploring Connecticut (Podskoch Press), he is challenging us to visit every municipality in the state, from Andover to Woodstock.
“Let’s have a great adventure!” Podskoch tells a group of fellow travelers during a recent talk and slideshow at the Meriden Public Library. He recalls, “One day I was driving near Hartford when I saw a sign for Old Wethersfield. I decided to take a look. What a town! Gorgeous! I’ve lived in Connecticut since 2005 and I’d missed it.”
“That’s why this book was made,” Podskoch says. “You zoom past these places and you miss a lot of stuff.” (Podskoch’s book is not to be confused with the Run 169 Towns Society, whose members strive to run races in all 169 state municipalities.)
Podskoch, 74, a retired teacher originally from Delhi, in New York’s Catskills region, got the idea for writing this kind of travel guide when he looked up a back issue of American Profile magazine and saw a story about the Vermont 251 Club. It got started in 1954 when writer, professor and historian Arthur Peach suggested the group be formed so its members could veer off the beaten path to “discover the secret and lovely places that main roads do not reveal.”
Inspired by their determination to visit every municipality in Vermont, Podskoch in 2014 wrote Adirondack 102 Club, a guide book to the towns in New York’s Adirondacks. He included a “passport” space in the book where readers could get each town’s page stamped at the local post office, stickered by the town clerk or signed by a business owner or other resident to certify the traveler had really been there. It’s not good enough to just drive through the place.
Podskoch says after he moved to the Nutmeg State, “I thought: ‘Jeepers! Let’s do the same thing for Connecticut!’ ”
The reward for visiting all 169 sites: Podskoch will present you with a Leatherman patch in honor of the legendary vagabond, who, during the mid-to-late 1800s, walked a 365-mile circuit through Connecticut and adjacent sections of New York.
Podskoch also will help organize a dinner in the fall of next year to honor those determined souls who have made it to every municipality. During that event they will get their Leatherman keepsakes. “Anyone can attend,” Podskoch says. “Members will share their stories and adventures.”
The Connecticut guide book, Podskoch’s ninth book, entailed nearly two years of collaborative effort. “I got 183 writers and co-writers to write about their towns, in 550-600 words. It could’ve been the town clerk, it could’ve been the librarian, it could’ve been the town supervisor.”
“It was a little challenging,” he admits. “You get people who can write really well and get it fast. But there were others I had to follow up with. Can you imagine dealing with 183 different writers?”
Some of the writers (all volunteered rather than be paid) are professional freelancers. Many of them are town officials and sometimes it shows in a public relations-like delivery. But the entries are packed with information, including a basic history, lists of places of interest and notable people from the town.
Nevertheless, there are some glaring omissions; the New Haven pages pay plenty of attention to the city’s renowned pizza and other food choices, but the writer failed to mention the world-renowned Yale University Art Gallery. We do learn in those pages that Harkness Tower, completed in 1921, was donated to Yale by Anna Harkness in honor of her deceased son, Charles William Harkness, from Yale’s Class of 1883.
The hardbound book, which sells for $25, contains 359 pages, so you probably won’t feel short-changed. It includes many photos and a short forward by Connecticut’s state historian, Walter Woodward, who tells us: “You owe it to yourself and your family” to see every municipality. “See the sights. Hear the stories. Eat the foods. Meet the people. You’ll be glad you did.”
Podskoch says, “People ask me, ‘Why did you leave the Catskills to come to Connecticut?’ I tell them, ‘Because I’ve got my granddaughters here and it’s gorgeous. You’ve got mountains, you’ve got beaches.”
One of his granddaughters, Kira Roloff, helped her grandpa write the pages for Podskoch’s town, East Hampton. They tell us it’s called “Belltown USA” because it once had 40 companies producing millions of bells sold worldwide. Plus: East Hampton is the home of the Fat Orange Cat Brew Co.
Podskoch’s book has the addresses of other breweries, including Salem’s Fox Farm Brewery, in a transformed dairy barn, the Willimantic Brewing Co., housed in an old post office, and Stonington’s Beer’d Brewing Co., where you can sample Hobbit Juice and Frank & Berry double IPAs.
Sure, Stonington also has its Old Lighthouse Museum, with the original seven-room keeper’s home. Portland has its Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park, an old quarry offering ziplining, rock climbing, hiking and cliff jumping. In Groton, the Nautilus, the first U.S. atomic submarine, is the star attraction of the adjacent Submarine Force Library and Museum. Both can be toured for free.
But you might already know about those. Podskoch wants to get you to new places previously unknown to you. In Franklin, Ayer’s Gap is 80 acres of rugged landscape containing Bailey’s Ravine and, as described in the book, “views of waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, and fine panoramas of the adjacent countryside.” Plymouth has the Dorence Atwater Memorial, a Civil War cannon dedicated to the 19-year-old Union soldier who, during his imprisonment at the notorious Andersonville prison camp in Georgia, kept records of prisoner deaths that led to the conviction of the camp’s commander for war crimes.
“Remember, you have to meet somebody!” Podskoch says. “If town hall and the library are closed, go into a doughnut place and get somebody to sign your book.”
Podskoch has some more adventures ahead of him if he wants to earn his Leatherman patch. He confesses, “I’ve been through every town in Connecticut, but I’ve only certified 26 of them [in my book].”