Thimble Islands, Conn.
Posted on 10 November 2008
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Governor’s Island has more than a dozen Victorian homes, as well as an octagonal lighthouse-shaped building. The three-story Thimble Island House on Pot Island encouraged tourism by offering hotel rooms in the mid-1800s, though today it is a private residence. Potato Island was nothing more than five rock bumps that bore a resemblance to baked potatoes. Builders filled in around the largest of them and created a man-made island with a home and gardens. The house has a pagoda-style roof rather than the Victorian style of its day.
Davis Island is almost 5 acres and is home to a beautiful Victorian mansion. For two summers, it served as the “Summer White House” for President William Taft, who discovered the Thimbles as a Yale undergraduate. Gazebo Island has nothing but a boat dock and a small gazebo for picnicking.
Two of the islands are nature preserves. Horse Island, the largest island in the chain, is owned by Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. The museum is allowing the island to return to its natural state and is using it for marine and ecological research. Outer Island is the farthest from shore and is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. It was gifted to the federal government by Elizabeth Hird in 1954 to be used for research and education. Through a partnership with Southern Connecticut State University, students visit the island to learn about its unique ecology. It can be toured with advance reservations — (860) 399-2513 (www.fws.gov).
Nature took its toll on the Thimbles during the New England Hurricane of 1938. Many of the island’s buildings and boats were destroyed, and the wooden foot bridge joining Cut-In-Two East and Cut-In-Two West islands was wiped out. Seven people were killed on Money Island.
There are a number of legends about the Thimbles. Just prior to his capture by the British navy, the pirate Capt. Kidd is said to have buried treasure that’s never been found on Money Island (Pot Island, too) in a cave with an underwater entrance. High Island, with its view of Long Island Sound, provided a lookout and headquarters for Kidd. The protected cove between the two ends of High Island provided a lair to hide his sloop. Today, you may still see a Jolly Roger flying on High Island.
Cut-In-Two East Island is the former home of Little Miss Emily, who in the mid-1800s worked for P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus. Tom Thumb is said to have courted Miss Emily until Barnum allegedly ordered Thumb to marry Miss Lavinia, another performer. Tom and Emily’s names are purportedly etched on a rock on the island.
Village of Stony Creek
Stony Creek remains a quiet village, as there is no deep-water channel to the town. Depths are only about 3 feet. You can tie your dinghy at the town dock, where you’ll find a few spaces marked with a 4-hour limit. Thimble Marine Service — (203) 481-0590 — is near the boat ramp and offers outboard engine repair and service.
A half-mile-or-so stroll along the waterfront takes you the length of the village. There are two deli-style restaurants in town: Stony Creek Marine and Cuisine, also known as Creekers, and Stony Creek Market and Catering. Both offer breakfast and lunch. During the summer season, Stony Creek Market and Catering also offers pizza and salads Thursday through Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. Shopping and provisions in town are limited, so come prepared for your stay. Next door to Creekers is Stony Creek Marine and Tackle for your fishing and other nautical needs.
The Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library (www.wwml.org) has a helpful, friendly staff that can provide information on Stony Creek and the surrounding area. Throughout August the library hosts the Stony Creek Art Show, which includes art with a Thimble Islands theme in any medium. If art is your obsession, the town also has a few galleries. Stony Creek Antiques offers antique artwork, furniture and jewelry.
The Stony Creek Fife and Drum Corps, founded in 1886, performs both locally and internationally, each year participating in several events within Stony Creek as well as marching in Branford’s Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day parades. For information, visit www.stonycreekdrumcorps.org. The Puppet House Theater has rare 4- to 5-foot-tall, 80-pound hand-made Sicilian puppets. They are part of a collection of 300 crafted in the early 1900s by Sebastiano Zappala, considered the greatest craftsman in his field. The puppets have starred in productions here since the 1960s. For information about possible shows or seeing the puppet collection, call (203) 488-5752 or visit www.puppethouse.org.