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Like Waterfalls and Fairy Doors, Putnam is All Natural With a Bit of Magic

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The Providence & Worcester Railroad line passes through downtown Putnam and operates freight trains and passenger excursions in eastern Connecticut.

It’s human nature to complain about a lack of options, especially in a town you call home. I remember growing up in Bristol where all of us teenagers decided there was absolutely nothing to do. Didn’t matter that we had Lake Compounce, a 300-acre amusement park filled with rides and roller coasters. There was just nothing to do.

This brings me to Putnam. The first two locals I bumped into downtown laughed when I asked what there was to do in Putnam. Later in the day, after waiting out a passing shower inside The Crossings Restaurant and Brew Pub, I hoped the third time would be the charm.

Local: “You get caught in the rain?”

Me: “No, we just ordered an extra round of drinks at The Crossings. So, what’s there to do in Putnam?”

Local: “You just did it.”

Funny line, but not exactly accurate. Putnam may not have an amusement park, but you can still fill the day in other ways, without the risk of motion sickness.

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The Quinebaug River tumbles over Cargill Falls in the center of Putnam, long the site of a historic textile mill.

11 a.m. Take me to the river

Our first stop after a long drive into the Quiet Corner is at the Putnam Saturday Farmers Market, which, you guessed it, is open only on Saturdays. Set up under a pavilion along the Quinebaug River at the south end of the Putnam River Trail, the market features baked goods, fresh produce from local farms, and creations from area artisans.

After perusing the offerings, we head north on the two-mile walking trail that hugs the Quinebaug. Through the lush trees that line the riverbanks we spot two people fishing from large rocks jutting out into the river. But instead of waiting to see what they catch for lunch, we decide to hop back into the car and take matters into our own hands.

12:30 p.m. How do you brew?

We make the short drive to Main Street and park at the railroad station-turned-restaurant and brew pub aptly named The Crossings. It’s a mix of modern and classic with exposed brick, flat-screen TVs, old railroad memorabilia, and works from local artists on the walls. The menu is thorough and covers all the bases from shareable apps to burgers to entrées and features numerous specials.

Many restaurants claim to have award-winning chowder. At The Crossings, they put it in the name. The bar is set high when you order “award winning chowda,” yet here it’s surprisingly reached — not too thin, not unnecessarily thickened, with big chunks of potatoes, clams and bacon and an excellent flavor. I don’t know who bestowed the award, but I’m not arguing.

A delicious bacon jam flatbread (served like street tacos on soft, warm naan bread) is followed up by unique-but-well-executed corned beef nachos, with house-fried Station Chips serving as the base beneath corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss and Thousand Island dressing. And since it’s a brew pub, we had to try the specialty of the house. The Twin Brook Farm Saison was quite tasty and went well with the meal. A Nutmeg Brown Ale, also very good, was ordered when the aforementioned rains came.

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Promoters of Putnam's downtown shopping district like to say it has an "arts al fresco" feel, with eateries, art galleries, boutiques, theaters and more.

2:15 p.m. Fairies and grouches

It’s always advisable to be alert and keep your eyes open when you’re walking in a downtown area. In Putnam, you may want to look even closer. Fairy Fest takes place every April, but their tiny doors are scattered throughout the streets all year long. Faded stamps on the sidewalk read “Putnam: A Most Enchanting Place.”

Colorful bicycles are painted, adorned with flowers and displayed along the streets, often leaning against poles. A blue tricycle with flowers in its basket is suspended from a tree outside The Shoppes at Montgomery Ward.

We do some window shopping at Wonderland, an expansive comic book store, before doing some actual shopping at Arts & Framing. A pair of socks depicts a cat hacking up a hairball, and it’s close to my wife’s birthday, so …

A section of the shop is dedicated to the artwork of Caroll Spinney, a Quiet Corner resident better known the world over as the voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. A painting of Oscar playing golf catches my eye. I don’t buy it, but weeks later find myself still thinking about it, possibly regretting my decision. And I now golf wearing a trash can instead of plaid shorts.

4 p.m. Choc walk

We browse around a few more downtown shops like August & March Home, The Flying Carpet Studio and Twigs & Pearls before being drawn by an unseen force (the fairies?) to K’s Sweet Spot. Affable owner Charlie Kozey hands over the caramel turtle and red velvet truffle we choose from a vast selection of quality chocolates and candies.

Sugar cravings satiated, we walk down Route 44 to riverside Rotary Park. Putnam holds River Fire events each summer, which includes a concert in the park, and the braziers are clearly visible in the water, waiting to be lit on Sept. 7 for the final Fire of the season. After a walk in the park, and a few minutes spent staring silently at Cargill Falls from the Pomfret Street bridge, we’re ready to fuel up for the long ride home.

5:30 p.m. Tuesday’s gone

Before hitting the road, we hit up Jessica Tuesday’s, a charming little spot right next door to The Crossings. There’s a large patio by the train tracks, but the interior is so cozy and inviting we decide on inside. Loyal to the Putnam theme, a bicycle draped in Christmas lights is perched in the rafters.

Succulent bacon-wrapped scallops and a fresh, flavorful wedge salad hit the spot nicely before we recap our day over a generous charcuterie board with cured meats, artisanal cheeses, jams, pickles and grilled bread.

So, what’s there to do in Putnam? Quite a bit, actually. And we just did it.

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Putnam's Main Street features an array of artistic touches, like this red bicycle with flower pots in front of a storefront.

Five Facts About Putnam

The town is one of many namesakes honoring Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam. Numerous counties, streets and parks bear his name.

Hamidou Diallo of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder attended Putnam Science Academy. Two other PSA basketball players, Mamadou Diarra and Akok Akok, went on to play for UConn.

In 1975, Putnam won the premiere episode of ABC’s Almost Anything Goes, a summer game show pitting small town versus small town.

Henry Breault, born in Putnam in 1900, is the only enlisted submariner to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions aboard a U.S. submarine. His heroism took place during a collision in 1923 near the Panama Canal when he went back for a crewmember rather than save himself.

The population estimate by the U.S. Census shows that from 1950 to 2018 the number of residents in Putnam increased by only 91 (9,304 to 9,395).

Real Estate

Lynn Converse, a real estate agent with The Loomis Team of RE/MAX Bell Park Realty, says buyers are attracted to Putnam because of the vibrant downtown nestled along the banks of the Quinebaug River, well-organized events year round and an array of restaurants, cafes, galleries, boutiques and theaters.

“Downtown living is affordable and attractive to buyers who want to be within walking distance,” Converse says. “Just a few miles into East Putnam, you have the country-living feel of being away from it all. With the proximity to Boston, Providence, Hartford, New York and the shoreline, our quaint town is perfect for those who want to live in this hub of New England.”

For $167,000: A three-bedroom, one-bathroom, 960-square-foot ranch on a 0.23-acre lot on Nichols Street.

For $265,000: A three-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,406-square-foot Colonial on 2.23 acres on Five Mile River Road.

For $325,000: A five-bedroom, five-bathroom, 3,196-square-foot contemporary on 13.79 acres on Liberty Highway.

Mill rate: 20.84

This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.

Mike Wollschlager, editor and writer for Connecticut Magazine, was born and raised in Bristol and has lived in Farmington, Milford, Shelton and Wallingford. He was previously an assistant sports editor at the New Haven Register.