Gourmet cuisine, upscale shopping, yachty pubs, historic sites, Dodson Boat Yard — who knows what draws boaters to Stonington Borough, the town’s narrow, mile-long peninsula.
But they come from all over to this historic community, which touts itself as the “most beautiful seaside village in New England,” so reserve space early.
Two breakwaters allow two entrances from Fishers Island Sound into the protected, spacious harbor with 400 moorings. The village lines the eastern shore and the full-service Dodson Boat Yard is near the head of the harbor. Dodson provides launch service to the anchorage and all harbor moorings (for a fee), rents moorings and dockage, and offers on-site fuel, pumpout, full repairs, a chandlery, boaters’ amenities and camaraderie at the internationally renowned Dog Watch Cafe.
You can also rent dockage and moorings from the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club in the Stonington Commons complex or Don’s Dock in Lambert’s Cove just above the railroad bridge, which has a 5.5-foot clearance at mean low water. The cove is wonderful for dinghy excursions.
Fine dining, sophisticated bistros and cozy coffee shops abound, such as Milagro Cafe, Noah’s (scenes from a Meryl Streep movie will be filmed here in October), Skipper’s Dock (dock-and-dine, Sunday jazz), Water Street Cafe and the Yellow House Coffee and Tea Room. Each has a specialty and, often, a convivial bar.
Do tear yourself away from the fellowship on the docks or in the pubs and restaurants to stroll this fascinating village founded in 1649. A walking tour map, available from most businesses, describes historical and architectural highlights. Plaques on many buildings note their original owners, who usually had maritime connections.
In the early days, Stonington men sailed the seven seas seeking whales, seals and commerce, bringing back wealth and sophistication. Orient-bound in 1797, Edmund Fanning sailed around the world, discovering several Pacific islands en route. Legendary naval architect and steam engineer Nathanael Greene Herreshoff’s 1852 Palmer Street home is a museum; his Water Street birthplace is private.
Near the tip of the Point you can climb the granite lighthouse that guided ships from 1840 until 1889 for a vista of three states. Family-friendly DuBois Beach is next door. Day passes are available from the Stonington Community Association.
For 60 years, passengers transferred between New York City steamers and Boston trains on the Stonington docks. When the railroad between the two cities was completed in the 1890s, steamship travel ceased. Connecticut’s only commercial fishing fleet now ties up at the town dock. The draggers, crewed by Portuguese descendants of 19th century Azorean whalers, seek scallops and groundfish. The adjacent dock serves local lobster boats.
Pummeled by the Great Depression, the New England Hurricane of 1938 and the decline of local industries, Stonington rebounded as newcomers renovated the houses and empty factory buildings. The borough is a National Historic District, a showplace of preservation. Strolling the streets past the homes and gardens is a treat, especially in the evening. Stonington opened its first shopping arcade in 1837, and it remains an art center. There are studios, galleries, antique shops and tony boutiques. Local color includes sailing classes and races, a Saturday Farmers Markets, the annual Village Fair (Aug. 5), and the Portuguese Holy Ghost Festival (Sept. 1-2).
Stonington is a mile from Route 1 and is near a major supermarket, the Mystic Amtrak station and Interstate 95. It’s also a perfect departure port for points near or far.
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This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.