Connecticut may be a small state geographically, but it is a big one in terms of what lies within its borders. There are great homes of great men, magnificent museums and grand parks – not to mention a castle or two – to see and explore. Fortunately for travelers from in and out of state, knowledgable, enthusiastic and in some cases even costumed guides are available to shepherd visitors about these and other wonders that can be found in the Nutmeg State.
Connecticut State Capitol and Bushnell Park
210 Capitol Ave.
Hartford, CT 06106
Those who work in, pass through or take in a play or musical in Hartford cannot help but notice the great big golden dome of the state Capitol building. What many do not realize is that inside that shining edifice are not only great treasures of historical and educational value, but also guides waiting to give visitors a thorough and entertaining tour of the art and artifacts. And the tour is free of charge. The galleries of the Capitol are lined with portraits and paintings of people, places and events of note in the state’s long history, as well as the powder-burned and flame-singed flags borne by Connecticut regiments in the Revolution and in the Civil War. A great arch monument to those soldiers stands just below the heights upon which the Capitol stands, and that arch forms the gateway to Bushnell Park, an arboretum which was designed as Connecticut’s answer to New York City’s Central Park. There is even a carousel (and ice skating rink), weather permitting.
Gillette Castle State Park and Mansion
67 River Road
East Haddam, CT 06423
One of Connecticut’s most famous citizens of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the renowned stage actor William Gillette. A wealthy and eccentric romantic who won fame portraying Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes, he built a faux castle at his estate in the Seven Sisters Mountain Range in East Haddam. Guided tours of the castle and grounds, which are now part of a state park, allow visitors to see how the great man lived – and offer an insight into his many passions. Gillette Castle has more than two dozen elegant and spacious rooms which are decorated with furniture and furnishings of the period, as well as many of the great works of art that Gillette acquired. Gillette also had a fascination for trains, and there is railroad memorabilia aplenty inside. The view from the crenelated battlements of the other six hills in the range and the valley which they overlook is breathtaking, and there are nature trails and a riverwalk for those who want to recreate themselves about the castle grounds.
The Mark Twain House and Museum
351 Farmington Ave.
Hartford, CT 06105
Mark Twain was an American treasure – and one of the most famous people to ever live in the Nutmeg State. The noted humorist and author of such beloved classics as “Huckleberry Finn,” “Tom Sawyer” and, of course, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” among so many others, commissioned another famous artist, architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, to build a stately home for his family on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. There the author, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, and his wife Olivia lived for nearly 20 years, until 1891. Their home is now a museum, and guides usher visitors around seven days a week, holidays excluded. Visitors are not allowed inside on their own, and must participate in one of the tours, of which there are several (including a Holiday Tour in the Christmas season and a Graveyard Shift Ghost Tour on select evenings). The basic tour itself is limited to 10 people at a time, which allows the guides to give each visitor some personal attention as they explore the life and times of the celebrated writer.
211 Main St.
Wethersfield, CT 06109
When the costumed tour guides at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield say “George Washington slept here,” they are not making it up. The guide can even point to the very room in the Joseph Webb house that served as the general’s quarters while he planned his epic march to Yorktown in 1781. That house is one of three in the complex, each of which is steeped in Colonial, Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary history. Guides tells stories of how the homes were built and of the famous people who lived in them, including Silas Deane, a great friend of Ben Franklin who together with the famed Father of His Country convinced the king of France to send money, arms, ships and soldiers to help a fledgling nation win its independence from Great Britain. Isaac Stevens was a contemporary of the Revolutionary heroes, and his home, like the other two, has been preserved to give modern-day visitors a glimpse of how people lived in Connecticut back when the nation was being born.
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
170 Whitney Ave.
New Haven, CT 06511
From dinosaurs and mummies to exhibits on how ants work and build communities, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is packed with far too much to see in a day. Thankfully, there are volunteer docents who regularly shepherd visitors through the great halls and point out the highlights of the museum’s massive collection. Special tours for senior citizens, school groups and organizations with more focused interests or whose members have limited mobility are also available by appointment. Visitors may wander about on their own if they wish, but first-time museum-goers will appreciate the insights offered by the guides, who are also happy to point visitors to areas of the collection that appeal to their particular interests.
Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.