Unlike "The Windy City," which some maintain is so named because of Chicago's politicians and not for the gusts off Lake Michigan, no clever pun lurks behind the meaning of Connecticut's Quiet Corner. The far northeastern section of the state, just over the Massachusetts and Rhode Island borders and less than a half hour from Worcester, is called the Quiet Corner because it is just that.
Henry Chandler Bowen, whose ancestors had been among Woodstock's settlers in 1686, was a successful publisher and merchant in New York and an outspoken abolitionist when he built his summer retreat here in his hometown in 1846. Amid the rolling hills, farmlands, and lakes were tranquillity and respite.
Visitors still stop by Bowen's magnificent Gothic Revival home, a raspberry-red jumble of peaks and turrets called Roseland Cottage, now a National Historic Site, its rooms filled with antiques. Just as interesting as the opulent 19th-century furnishings are the grounds and outbuildings, which include a topiary maze, an ice house, and a vintage bowling alley.
A short drive from there is Roseland Park, donated by the Bowen family. Like the cottage, the park connotes all the ambience of 19th-century aristocracy. Though its modern playground complies with state-of-the-art safety standards, its boathouse suggests a Renoir painting. One can easily imagine women in full skirts with wicker picnic baskets, plying the gentle waters of Roseland Lake, parasols in hand. Children can fish from the wooden dock for rainbow trout, large-mouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, and sunfish. Across the street from the park is a public golf course.
The town of Woodstock clusters alongside a part of Route 169, the nation's longest designated stretch of scenic highway. The historic district, which forms a square around Woodstock Academy, includes beautiful examples of well-preserved Colonial and Federal architecture, and the campus boasts an interesting example of Italianate design in its main classroom building.
Antiquing is a popular activity in this part of New England. Both Woodstock and nearby Putnam have their share of intriguingly cluttered shops full of treasures. Craft boutiques and shops selling hand-knit sweaters dot the countryside as well.
According to Linda Surozenski, who followed a long-held dream when she opened Java Jive in town five years ago, the area draws day trippers from Hartford, Worcester, and Rhode Island, and visiting parents of students at two nearby boarding schools, Pomfret School and Woodstock Academy. "It's a destination for people who want to go for a drive in the country," Surozenski said recently as she brewed a pot of Colombian roast. "The long winter was actually very good for business, because once spring came along, everyone just wanted to go somewhere. People in the mood for a day trip and some browsing tend to head this way."
With its perfect balance of quaint and funky, Java Jive has a lot in common with the town itself. The round wooden tables and red-and-white gingham curtains, along with the inexpensive turkey sandwiches and omelets, evoke a traditional small-town coffee shop. But the crimson walls, mosaic mirrors, and most of all the stainless steel beverage station that offers everything from caramel latte to spiced chai suggests something artsy going on here.
Behind the Historical Society on Route 169 lies Palmer Arboretum, whose walking trail winds around well-labeled exotic trees including white oaks, a tulip tree, and a ginkgo biloba. If you're in the mood for a longer walk than the arboretum trail offers, head to the Connecticut Audubon Center or Mashamoquet Brook State Park, both just a few miles south on 169 in Pomfret. The five miles of hiking trails at the Audubon Center are an excellent place to spot grassland birds. At the state park, you can follow the trail to a spot called Israel Putnam's Wolf Den, where legend has it that local military hero Israel Putnam, a veteran of the French and Indian War and later the Battle of Bunker Hill, once wrestled with a wolf. Horseback riding is available at the Woodstock Acres Riding Stable.
The Inn at Woodstock Hill, built in 1816 for Bowen's grandfather, makes an impressive overnight destination, with its regal Federal lines and Victorian flowered wallpaper. If coziness matters to you more than luxury, stay instead at one of the area's many B&Bs - but plan to stop by the inn for Sunday brunch, a decadent spread of pastries, carved meats, smoked salmon, and more served in front of a crackling fire and accompanied by a grand piano.
If you cannot be in town for the Woodstock Fair, a gala agricultural celebration that has run every Labor Day weekend for 147 years, many local farms are open to the public and offer traditional farmstand goodies. In summer and fall, take advantage of the "pick-your-own" option at Woodstock Orchards or High Spring Orchard. Stop by nearly any time for year-round goods like free-range eggs, honey, and maple syrup. For more adult palates, consider a visit to Taylor Brooke Winery, which produces a premium line of high-quality wines from its locally grown grapes and offers vineyard tours and tastings.
If the Quiet Corner gets too quiet for you, it's only a short drive to Storrs, a university town whose museums, galleries, and theaters serve more cultural tastes. Or like Henry Bowen, you might find here just the quiet you need.
Nancy Shohet West, a freelance writer in Carlisle, can be reached at NancySWest@msn.com.