North America

Autumn in New England

Part I: The Inns of Connecticut at Thanksgiving Time

By Mary Ashcraft

Autumn in New England is a colorful and energetic time of year. Hundreds of orange pumpkins still on the vine dot the fields. Chrysanthemums Golden Rod, and Autumn Joy in the garden echo the first turning of oranges, reds and yellows of the Maple leaves. Winter clothing is taken out of the mothballs and readied for the arrival of cool crisp mornings and children begin to think of ghosts, goblins and skeletons, and wonder which spooky character they want to be for trick or treating on Halloween. In other countries, this day is All Saints Day. After Halloween, the days grow shorter, wood is stacked for the fireplace, bird feeders are full of seeds, and New Englanders begin to plan for the traditional harvest holiday feast of Thanksgiving.

Every state in the United States celebrates Thanksgiving, but there is no better place to enjoy this happy tradition of Thanksgiving than in New England where it all began. The colonial Inns in the state of Connecticut nestled in forested hills or by running rivers or quiet ponds, keep the tradition of this feast alive each year with groaning boards of native foods. Picturesque Connecticut, with covered bridges, ancient rock wall fences and historic houses, abounds in colorful inns that take one back to its historic beginning. Here are a few of the Connecticut inns that are well worth a visit at Thanksgiving or any other time of year. Each inn has its own special personality and interesting story to tell, and guests are welcomed year round.

Silvermine Tavern:

Silvermine Tavern, dating back to the 17th century, sits in a quiet wooded section of pre-Revolutionary Norwalk, where the Silvermine River once was the source for a dozen mills located along the river bank. The old original building of the Silvermine Tavern was a woodturning mill, producing knobs and machine parts from mahogany shipped from Cuba. The tavern building was a general store, then a place where workers gathered in the evening and talked of finding silver in the river and striking it rich. No one ever found any silver, but the name Silvermine stuck.

The tavern served many purposes through the years. Beginning as a country store, later a church hall, a dance hall, speakeasy, temperance hall, blacksmith shop, antiques store, a gathering place for artists, and a place for overnight travelers. It still welcomes overnight travelers with sunny, cozy rooms upstairs in the inn. Downstairs, the dining rooms--one of which is the original old mill--are decorated with interesting antique farm tools. Kitchen utensils, and charming primitive paintings that are left over from one of its lives as an antique shop. A later addition is the splendid open-air deck for warm weather dining overlooking the river and waterfall that once powered the mill.

The tavern doors are open on Thanksgiving Day for the traditional dinner. Francis Whitman, owner and innkeeper, says, "Thanksgiving is the one time our kitchen does not experiment or get too innovative because everyone wants the good old fashioned traditional menu; Turkey, chestnut dressing, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, and all the trimmings." Other choices are hickory baked ham, Connecticut-smoked ham, broiled filet mignon and fresh salmon. All meals include appetizer, pressed apple cider, relish tray, a choice of desserts, and Silvermine Tavern's famous honey buns.

Roger Sherman Inn:

Just a short stroll from the center of the town of New Canaan on Oenoke Ridge is the Roger Sherman Inn and restaurant. A sweep of lawn separates the inn a comfortable distance from the road, and venerable old Maple trees offer shade and tranquility. This graceful structure, circa 1760, once was the home of the family of Roger Sherman, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and until 1925, it was a private residence. The architecture is a very early type found in Connecticut with a central chimney and a double floor of finely hewn oak boards--some as wide as 26 inches--held together by hand-wrought nails.

There are several dining rooms, each with its own definition. One filled with potted palms and flowers opens onto its own half circle terrace enhanced with more dining tables and potted flowers, plus a view of green lawn and trees. Another sparkles with the glint of wine bottles in a walled wine cabinet with subtle stained glass doors, and a banquet table that seats up to 50 people. Colorful mounted pheasants, a large floral painting, and an antique buffet adorn the sunny breakfast room, where a complementary continental breakfast is served to overnight guests. A graceful stairway leads up to the guestrooms that are decorated in an antique colonial manner. Most have restful views of the gardens below and all have private up-to-date bathrooms. The intimate bar has the look and feel of an old English library, with dark mellowed hardwood paneling, high back leather seats and hunting scene prints on the wall. When a chill is in the air, there is always a crackling fire in the fireplace.

If you choose to dine here on Thanksgiving in a home that shared many such holidays in early New Canaan history, there will be, of course, traditional fresh Vermont turkey, plus a choice of Nova Scotia salmon, and filet of beef Wellington served with appetizer, soup or salad, and dessert

Spinning Wheel Inn on Redding Ridge:

Located between Danbury and Bridgeport, the Spinning Wheel Inn was a stop for British Governor Tryon's troops marching from Norwalk to burn rebel supplies in Danbury. The general did not realize that right under his nose the owners of the house had secret rooms chock full of contraband supplies for the rebels. Eventually, because of its location, the site became a regular stop for the stagecoaches traveling from the coast to Danbury, and with the passage of time, and with modifications and additions to the original home, it became the Spinning Wheel Inn.

Portions of the original Salt Box structure are still there--most notably, the magnificent fireplace with its typical bricked bread oven that uses the heat of the fireplace for baking. What is now an attractive sitting room including the fireplace, was once the kitchen of the Sanford family home. A high-ceiling dining area beautifully decorated for each season flanks it on one side, and a much larger addition in back is used for the inn?s noted holiday dinner-theater productions and for large groups and weddings.

This may be one of the only places in the area where George Washington did not sleep. Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, a resident of Redding in his later years, is believed to have held his roundtable here. However, one of the most famous personages--at least locally--to have walked its halls is the ghost of Mrs. Tottle, one of the former owners who in 1924 turned the coach stop into the Spinning Wheel Inn. This benevolent spirit still keeps an eye on things and occasionally lets her presence known by allowing her footsteps to be heard at odd hours, or by removing from the wall paintings not to her liking. She has never been known to frighten guests or horses, but more than one employee has felt her presence on more than one occasion.

Decorated in the colors of autumn, the inn will be serving Thanksgiving dinner from noon to 6:30 p.m. The dinner is fixed price with four courses and a choice of entrees.

Cobbs Mill Inn:

One of the more picturesque dining places in Connecticut is the rustic Cobbs Mill Inn in Weston. It is a pre-revolutionary building constructed around 1760. It hugs the banks of a large pond that is home to families of ducks and swan. The inn is almost as much a part of the water as it is the land where the main dining room with large fireplace and post and beam construction is actually built over a portion of the pond.

Downstairs, a cozy lounge faces the waterfall that once was the energy source for grinding rye and wheat into grist and cutting lumber for the local farmers. Many of the fine old historic houses in Weston were built from the lumber cut at the mill. This busy mill was forced to shut down in the early 1900's because of a blight that killed the hardwood Chestnut trees in Connecticut. In 1913, Frank Cobb, who was editor-in-chief of the newspaper New York World, purchased the mill and pond as a place for his children to swim in summer and ice skate in winter, and it was ever after known as Cobbs Mill.

The bar and lounge downstairs has a wall of windows overlooking the waterfall, as seen in the old 1945 postcard. The bar possess the largest piece of pewter ever made which is the interesting counter top for the bar. It was rescued from the bar of the French luxury liner Normandie when it sank in New York harbor in 1948. There is a special event that takes place at the mill at the end of the Thanksgiving Day when residents and guests at the inn look forward to the lighting of the Christmas tree that floats on a small raft in the center of the pond.

The mill provides an a la carte dinner and serves from 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with a choice of six to ten entrees with a special selection for children. There are appetizers, soups and salads, and a dessert tray with a variety of sweets. Dominic Cocchia, owner and manager, says, ":it is a vigorous day for the staff at the mill who serve over a thousand meals on that day."

The Inn at Woodstock Hill:

The Inn at Woodstock Hill is in the northeast area of Connecticut in what is called the Quiet Corner. This area was designated a National Corridor in 1994, and is recognized by the National Park Service as "The Last Green Valley" in the coastal sprawl that reaches from Boston to Washington D.C. In this pastoral countryside is the elegant and serene Inn at Woodstock Hill.
The original structure of the Inn was built in 1816 by a descendent of Henry C. Bowen one of original settlers of Woodstock in 1686. Henry C. Bowen was a selectman, a tavern keeper, the town's first postman, and founder of the still active Woodstock Academy just down the street from the Inn. The Bowen family also built the historic Roseland Cottage a few doors from the Inn. In fact, most of the houses on Plaine Hill Road were built by the Bowen family, and Plaine Hill Road is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Inn at Woodstock Hill is a massive clapboard building with a steeply pitched roof and dormers on all faces. Through the years there have been many changes inside and out that have kept the colonial ambiance but incorporate the amenities today's travelers expect. There are three sitting rooms in the Inn to help one feel at home, furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs that are ideal for reading or napping in front of a crackling fire in the fireplace. Twenty-two overnight guest rooms and suites are furnished with colonial four-poster beds and fireplaces, and a there is a special honeymoon suite. Prices for accommodations include a continental breakfast, and children are welcome.

The Inn rests on a hill surrounded by an English-style garden, planted with Hemlock, Dogwood, Yew and ancient Oak trees. There is a gazebo in the side yard, flanked by a giant Quince bush, and overlooking the Inn's 19 acres of countryside and the rolling, forested hills in the background. Early rising guests will be rewarded by the sunrise as it throws its Abalone pink hue across the sky and sets the forested hill on fire with glowing reds.

The Inn at Woodstock Hill has acquired a reputation for outstanding cuisine, and Thanksgiving is one of the two busiest days in the year for the chef. The menu is a la carte with appetizer, salad, and dessert, the main course offering a choice of turkey, ham, venison, rack of lamb, trout stuffed with crabmeat, or salmon. If there is a family or party of six or eight, they may elect to dine in one of the three sitting rooms. In these rooms bookshelves line the walls, and potted plants, paintings, comfortable chairs and a glowing fire in the fireplace help to create a home-like atmosphere. Classical music played by a strolling guitarist adds to the pleasures of the Thanksgiving feast.

The Meaning of Thanksgiving

For our international readers, a little history of Thanksgiving is in order. In the month of November when New England begins to settle in for the coming winter, the traditional holiday of Thanksgiving is celebrated. This very American holiday began in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts after the first settlers arrived from the British Isles to make this new land their home. English farming didn't translate to the hard rocky soil of New England, and they would have starved if it had not been for Squanto, a Pautuxet Indian who taught them how to plant corn. Even then, they only had a meager diet and thought a few kernels of corn a blessing. Nevertheless, they put aside a day to give thanks for the little food they had. Here is a description of that first day of giving thanks as recounted in 1621 in a letter by Edward Winslow (pictured above), who was there:

"Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

Some may conclude that the generosity of these Native-Americans was not repaid properly until the twentieth century when Connecticut gave back much of their land to some of the tribes. Now, Connecticut's Native-American-built and Native-American-owned gambling casinos have become among the most successful in the world and have brought great prosperity to several of the tribes. It may have taken a long time, but most Americans have come to recognize that they have a debt of gratitude to the original inhabitants of this country on this very American of all holidays.

Some Useful Links:
Silvermine Tavern, Norwalk, CT: (203) 847-4558 / Fax (203) 847-9171
Roger Sherman Inn, New Canaan, CT: (203) 966-4541 / Fax (203) 966-0503
Spinning Wheel Inn at Redding Ridge, Redding, CT: (203) 938-2511 / Fax (203) 938-9815
Cobbs Mill Inn, Weston, CT: (203) 227-7221 / Fax (203) 226-1599
The Inn at Woodstock Hill, Woodstock, CT: (860) 928-0528 / Fax 860-928-3236

The words Thanksgiving and tradition are essentially synonymous in American culture, and nowhere more so than in New England. There's no other holiday filled with such warmth and nostalgic charm, and with New England timeshare rentals, you and your family can explore the true meaning of Thanksgiving in the region of its origin. Affordable Connecticut timeshare gives you the option either to cook your own Thanksgiving meal in a fully-equipped kitchen or to enjoy a delicious dinner at one of the many inns throughout the state. The choice is yours, but all that matters is that you're with family, giving thanks and savoring a little taste of tradition.