[ In the Press ]
Winsted, Norfolk Lure With Charm, History
Winsted and Norfolk (the locals pronounce it Nor-Fork), adjoining towns in the northern Litchfield Hills, aren’t often spoken of in the same breath, but together provide for an outstanding Connecticut day trip adventure.
Renowned as a music center since the nineteenth century, with the debut of Infinity Hall in 2008, Norfolk has become more so. In 2010, Yankee Magazine declared it the “Best Music Hall in New England.” I’d pay to hear someone scratch a chalk board in that space — with its stained glass, Japanesque ornament, and voluptuous balcony and night club atmosphere. Dining al fresco at Infinity’s award-winning bistro on a summer evening as the occasional stretch limos come and go is sublime. Located on the edge of Norfolk’s historic district, this spectacular building, attributed to New York architect J. Cleveland Cady, was designed in 1883 as the Norfolk Village Hall, and is a brilliant example of Japanese-influenced, Shingle Style design. The building spent much of the 1990s bordered up and at risk — so its transformation by Maura Cavanaugh and successively by Dan Hincks, represent one of the great preservation success stories of recent years.
The center of Norfolk (Green Woods Road and Village Green) is an architectural jewel box — with masterpiece landmarks by Hartford architect George Keller (The Norfolk Library, 1888), New York Architect Alfredo Taylor (Royal Arcanum Building, 1904), New Haven architect, David Hoadley, (Congregational Church, 1813), Ehrick Rossiter (The Norfolk Festival’s Music Shed, 1906), and a public fountain on the green by Stanford White and Augustus St. Gaudens — all big names in the pantheon of American architecture. There isn’t a handsomer village center its size in New England.
Historical Society known for state of the art exhibitions that explore aspects of the town’s history, with stylish, collection-rich displays. This year’s show “A Farmer, a Sportsman, and a Diplomat: The Romance of Collecting ” — features three local collectors of stature — including the eminent collector of Connecticut furniture. Frederick Barbour.
Norfolk’s sparkle and flare owe much to the patronage of a single family, the children and grandchildren of Joseph Battell, whose mansion (1799) overlooking the green, after several expansions, is today a sprawling landmark — home base for the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, directed by the Yale School of Music since 1939. There isn’t a more enchanting classical performance venue in New England. The Music Shed is an acoustically divine shingle-style landmark that fits snugly into a rugged landscape.
Norfolk is home to three State Parks (Dennis Hill, Campbell Falls and Haystack Mountain). The summit of Haystack is crowned with the Stoeckel Memorial Tower (1929), a National Register landmark designed by architect Rossiter. Built from granite quarried at the site, the views from the summit cover three states and as far south as Long Island Sound.
Nine miles east on Route 44 is downtown Winsted, the commercial and industrial district of the town of Winchester. Winsted was one of the first boom towns of Connecticut’s industrial age with mills manufacturing scythes, leather goods, pins, pocket knives, clocks, casket hardware, hosiery and more. Most of the mills closed long ago, the industrial economy already in decline when, in September 1955, the town was devastated by two back-to-back hurricanes. Half the Main Street was destroyed.
Winsted is rebounding. Visitors will discover one of the most fascinating local history museums in Connecticut, three Civil War monuments, including one of the most picturesque in the state, a lovely village green, a museum (opening in late September) about local legend Ralph Nader’s legacy in consumer affairs and wrongful injury plus a 120-foot mural/shrine to the history of American work and labor, known as the American Mural Project.
The Solomon Rockwell House (1813) of the Winchester Historical Society is a masterpiece of American neoclassical design, by William Swift, an early Connecticut architect with a client willing to pull out all the stops — up to and including an ornate neoclassical outhouse. Inside, the collections are astonishing. In the 1920s, the Society acquired the local veterans’ post collection of Civil War artifacts and memorabilia. The collection of folk portraits — all of local individuals — is extraordinary and there’s not a better collection of local industrial products anywhere. Dolls, needlework, clocks, photography, memorabilia related to John Brown and more make this a little local Smithsonian in miniature.
Winsted sent more sons off to the Civil War than most Connecticut towns. As a booming industrial center it was a young population. In 1887, having acquired two acres on a prominent hillside overlooking the valley, the veterans and Winchester Soldiers’ Memorial Park Association commissioned sculptor George Bissell to design a towering monument inspired by an old world feudal watch tower. At the dedication ceremony, in 1890, Gov. Morgan G. Bulkeley spoke to a crowd of 20,000 people, a celebration the Hartford Courant called, “Winsted’s Glorious Day.” It is still a jaw-dropping experience to stand there, take in the view and reflect on our nation’s epic Civil War.
Since 1931, The Winsted Diner, perhaps the smallest public dining space in Connecticut, has served up diner fare with style. I took my future wife there on one of our first dates. With several antiques shops, artists and craft studios at Whiting Mills, lakes and landmarks — Winsted is a place worth discovering.