Colonial homes from the 18th and 19th centuries line Main Street alongside quaint boutiques in the charming and elegant river town of Essex, Connecticut. A small population of about 6,700 people between the three villages of Essex Village, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton enjoy everything the pastoral lifestyle and intimate community have to offer. If you’re coming to tour Essex Meadows senior living community and you’re wondering what to do in Essex, here are 10 pastimes popular with the locals.
- Enjoy a quaff in the tap room or stay for fine dining and a glimpse into history at the Griswold Inn. The inn opened its doors to the first independent Americans in 1776. Today it maintains its old-fashioned charm, yet is anything but dated in terms of culinary arts, wine offerings, comfortable accommodations and modern amenities. You’re sure to enjoy your stay in one of their unique rooms furnished with Americana antiques and fireplaces. Or if you’re just in for a visit, check out the tap room, where you can kick back with a draught beer and friends, hear live music, and have some fish ‘n chips or a burger. Their wine bar has an extensive selection paired with smaller bites, and their dining experience offers exquisitely prepared classic American fare.
- Ride the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat in Centerbrook. Operated by Valley Railroad Co., this 2.5-hour experience begins at the historic 1892 Essex Station. Your journey will be narrated as you travel via steam locomotive through the New England towns of Deep River and Chester, all the way to Deep River landing. There, you’ll board the Becky Thatcher riverboat and take in the serene beauty and natural wildlife of the river.
- See the majestic Bald Eagle on a cruise down the river. RiverQuest offers eagle-watching cruises that depart from the dock at the Connecticut River Museum. The route trails down the Connecticut River during a special time of year when the river is barren of vessels and the trees are void of leaves, for your optimal viewing experience.
- Catch a parade on just about any holiday. Small towns love parades, and Essex is no exception. If you happen to be visiting over a holiday, be sure to catch the parade and feel the civic pride in Essex. They’ll embrace any excuse to celebrate; fife-and-drum bands and choruses of singers are known to march up and down Main Street playing Christmas carols during the holidays.
- See the remnants of the dark but once booming ivory industry. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, ivory was a popular commodity, used to make piano keys, combs, knife handles and ornaments. An ivory processing company called Comstock, Cheney in Ivoryton dominated the ivory trade between Africa and America. They and other companies in Deep River processed 90% of the ivory imported to the United States. The industry declined in the early 1900s due to animal rights issues, abolition, and the onslaught of The Great Depression. Nowadays, you can see the echoes of the industry throughout the town, in the Ivoryton Playhouse, the Ivoryton Library, and the boarded-up but still standing Ivoryton Inn, which used to be a dormitory for the factory’s workers.
- See a production at the legendary Ivoryton Playhouse. This 250-seat theater dates back to 1911. It’s been maintained beautifully, and once starred Katharine Hepburn, Mae West, and many other famous actors and actresses. In 2020, you can see “The Great Gatsby,” “Ghost the Musical,” and “Ring of Fire – The Music of Johnny Cash,” to name a few.
- Embrace a simple and fulfilling lifestyle at the local farmers’ market. While you’re in Ivoryton, stroll over to the Ivoryton Green, where a local farmers’ market is held on summer Saturdays. Pick up some fresh produce, eggs and donuts, and make breakfast to enjoy during a slow morning near the riverbank.
- Have a casual night out at a pizza parlor in Centerbrook. There’s nothing quite like having a down-to-earth dining experience with your family and friends by savoring some cheesy, bready goodness. Centerbrook is the place to go for pizza parlors, shopping, and relishing the charming main strip. Centerbrook Pizza Restaurant makes a mean grinder, and if you’re really a cheese lover, The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook is the place for you. Once you’re cheesed out, check out The Spectrum Art Gallery and Artisan Store, featuring local and regional artists and artisans, and pick up a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
- Appreciate the historic architecture by going on a homes tour. Simply cruise the bucolic countryside and admire the homes in Essex. The charm and architecture are so valued by the townspeople they’ve actively preserved it, despite there not being an official historic district designation to protect it.
- Witness the hubbub of Burning of the Ships Day. If you happen to be around in early April, you can participate in the activities, reenactments, and parade commemorating an event that happened on April 7, 1814. During the War of 1812, British troops attacked Essex and destroyed 27 privately owned American warships that preyed upon British merchant ships. The event signified one of the greatest financial losses of the war.
Essex is an ideal place for older adults seeking a classic New England lifestyle in a place rich with history and boasting a strong sense of community. The median age is 53, and it’s mainly made up of residential areas full of beautiful homes. The community gets to enjoy all the beauty and recreation of a nautical lifestyle. Essex residents go boating in the summer. The still-thriving shipbuilding industry in and around Essex is a fun commotion and an economy booster for the region. Come tour Essex Meadows independent living community and see the town you could call home, and the community you could be a part of.