This past year, when the editors of Smithsonian Magazine called for submissions for their annual roundup of “The 15 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2021,” as secretary of the Executive Committee for the Western Connecticut Tourism District (WCTD) and proud Easton resident, I thought the odds were in our town’s favor to nominate “The Christmas Tree Capital of Connecticut” as a strong contender.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Our town’s legacy is linked with three recent milestones. First, last year marked the 175th anniversary of Easton that today totals a population of roughly 7,500. (Visit the official site of the 175 th Anniversary of Easton at https://www.easton175.com)
Second, also in 2020, Silverman’s Farm turned 100 years old. Third, the Easton Volunteer Fire Company #1 celebrates its 100-year anniversary as an organization this year.
Our town’s staying power is fueled with the same passion, collaboration and loyalty that motivated and guided our earliest residents. For instance, town support and enthusiasm for the annual Fireman’s Carnival, which helps benefit the volunteer organization’s yearly operating costs and other expenses, has fueled the event for 80 seasons, apart from last year in 2020 when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Comfort derives from tradition, at least this is the case for me when the town center bursts with energy, rolling out games, rides, festival booths, delicious food and delectable small-town appeal.
With so much to boast about, I teamed up with my colleague, also an Easton resident, Connecticut guidebook author Stacy Lytwyn Maxwell, and we began the process by answering the essential question, “Why travel here?”
The pivotal theme of our final submission was: Easton has nothing, but has everything! In other words, we have “nothing” in the sense of competing with big city attractions. On the other hand, Easton’s fundamental role in environmental stewardship, protecting and preserving our natural resources for generations to come creates a small town flavor of “everything” imaginable to entice day-trippers who seek to explore a charming area full of colorful history, open countryside, farms, sporting venues, including the private members-only Connecticut Golf Club, gastronomic and shopping pleasures for all ages, and so much more.
Months after we submitted our nomination, it turns out that our theme fits the “perseverance and preservation” angle of the magazine’s 2021 final roundup. Stacked with stiff competition, however, the magazine selected Litchfield over us to showcase this year. I congratulate the tiny hamlet of approximately 1,300 residents that are part of our 63-town family in the western district.
Although we were not selected for the 15-town roundup, I am happy to report that two of our town’s farms were awarded designations on another impressive list, Yankee Magazine’s 2021 Best of New England Summer Travel Guide. Silverman’s Farm made the “best attractions” category and Sport Hill Farm won a place in the “best dining” list.
Spanning 28.6 square miles, this helps prove that Easton really has nothing, but has everything! In fact, I hope after reading the following excerpt that was part of our nomination for Smithsonian Magazine’s “best small town” list, you will agree that we are winners all-around:
Actor Paul Newman made the town’s particular penchant for rural preservation clear during the widely publicized battle to acquire the 730-acre Trout Brook Valley Preserve maintained by the Aspetuck Land Trust. In 1999, he was one of the key philanthropists who, along with the State of Connecticut, and many others, assisted the Aspetuck Land Trust to save the preserve and nix the development of more luxury homes and a second golf course in Easton.
Today, hikers can enjoy 14 miles of trails in the area ranging from easy to difficult. Two of the trails are designated for equestrians. Scenic overlooks, lush apple and blueberry orchards and four-season quintessential charm compel visitors from all over the state and beyond to take a closer look.
The Aspetuck Land Trust maintains eight other preserves in Easton where hikers, nature enthusiasts and historians have an array of four-season attractions to enjoy. Open meadows, stonewalls, miles of groomed trails, one of the last great old farm fields and the area’s few remaining historic long lots are only some of the things to explore at the preserves.
All around town, fishing opportunities also abound. Have you heard of “Trout: An Illustrated History?” The town’s streams inspired Easton native James Prosek to write the book that was published in 1996. From the beginning, reviewers applauded it, describing it as an aquatic Audubon.
Visitors from all corners of the world come to embrace and embody the increased levels of calm that Prosek often speaks about. No streetlights. One full traffic light. One flashing red stop light. One flashing yellow caution light. Spotty cell service.
You’d never suspect that the quaint town goes down in not only the history books, but the science books too. The area was hit with a meteorite in 1807. In fact, the largest known chunk that was recovered is about the size of a basketball and is exhibited on the third floor of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven!
What also has another “impact” on visitors is how many of the residents wave at them. Indeed, in all of the town’s rural “nothingness,” it has everything — family fun, romantic jaunts and accommodating farmers and staff who make day-trippers feel at home. Drop by and browse specialty markets filled with locally made favorites, such as garments, woodwork and toys. And, of course, fresh produce and other goodies, not to mention pick-your-own in-season fruits and vegetables. Silverman’s Farm, Sherwood Farm, Shaggy Coos Farm, Sport Hill Farm are a few of the small signature businesses that brighten any day with homegrown goodness.
Easton is also home to Gilbertie’s Farm, the largest certified organic greenhouse operation in the Northeast. The decades-old farm sells fresh produce, eggs and other interesting staples at a country farm stand. Some of the farmers employ the honor system. Locals sometimes get into the business of selling eggs, honey and maple syrup outside their residences.
Local honey, Italian prune plums and, of course, apples, are only a few of the delicious fares at the Aspetuck Apple Barn. Nearby, there are photo opportunities aplenty at the scenic reservoir.
Then there’s Ganim Tree Farm, Maple Row Farm, Slady’s Tree Farm and more — little wonder Easton is called “The Christmas Tree Capital of Connecticut.”
Not in the mood for trees? What about a breathtaking orchid from J&L Orchids, a nursery that started nearly 50 years ago in Easton.
Everyone is always in the mood for a “famous” breakfast at Olde Blue Bird Inn where on a busy day cooks flip over 300 flapjacks!
Foodies also love Easton Village Store and Greiser’s Coffee & Market. Aside from the delicious meals, you can also shop for local food, merchandise and gifts as well as catch the latest exhibition in Greiser’s art gallery or scout for antiques in the 220- year-old building.
Probably one of the most famous historical residents in Easton, other than Helen Keller, is the White Lady. She is the infamous ghost that has garnered worldwide publicity. People swear they see the woman dressed in a long, white dress, roaming Union Cemetery, dating back to the 1600s.
Speaking of history, it abounds between Easton’s borders. For example, the Adams Schoolhouse, circa 1850, is only one of the historical properties for curiosity seekers to schedule a tour and discover a bygone era. As a matter of fact, no matter what you do in town, one thing certain is that you will be motivated to kick back and feel like you’re living in simpler, easier times.
All in all, Easton really does offer everything for visitors wanting nothing less than a memorable small town experience.
Note: for those who seek overnight accommodations, the award-winning Hi-Ho “Hi- Tech” Hotel in Fairfield is a stone’s throw away!
We hope, after reading the above excerpt that was part of our nomination for Smithsonian Magazine’s “best small town” list, it excites you enough to join the fun at the second annual Easton Town Party on Saturday, Sept. 18, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Come and enjoy community spirit, live music, local food, craft beer and beverages, family activities and more! Presented by Ashlar-Aspetuck Masonic Lodge No. 142, for full event information, including tickets, lineup, directions, parking, FAQ’s and more, visit eastontownparty.com or follow @eastontownparty on social media.