Did you know that Connecticut was one of the original 13 colonies and the fifth to become a state in 1788?
It played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War and hosted such famous authors as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.
The Nutmeg State is steeped in history.
And if you’re up for some exploration, read on for some of the best sites to explore in historic Connecticut.
Fairfield County and the Gold Coast of Historic Connecticut
Southwest Connecticut was the border between New York and New England during the Revolutionary War.
This mattered at the time, because the British held New York for much of the war, while rebels held the latter.
Afterward, it long served as a nearby rural escape for the thriving artist community of New York City.
Putnam Cottage | Greenwich
Putnam Cottage used to be called Knapp’s Tavern. Tim Knapp, Martha Weeks, and their kids lived there in the late 1600s. Freemasons later held meetings here. Putnam Cottage gained fame during the Revolutionary War. General Putnam stayed here and made his famous escape from the British to save Stamford from burning. George Washington visited during his tour of the Eastern seaboard. A plaque at the nearby Second Congregational Church marks where he remarked on the view of Long Island Sound.
Bush Holley House | Greenwich
The Bush-Holley House is a historic house from around 1730. It was the home of David and Sarah Bush and their children, plus their slaves. From 1890 to 1920, it became a home for artists, writers, and editors, better known as the Cos Cob Artist Colony. This spot is so special that the Federal government had to shift I-95 during construction to preserve it. It is now recognized as a National Landmark Historic Site.
Fort Stamford | Stamford
Fort Stamford was built in the 1700s as a defensive fortification during the American Revolutionary War. It was used to spot loyalist raids and British ships passing through Long Island Sound. In the early months of 1779, General Putnam of Putnam Cottage managed to flee the British and ride to Fort Stamford to warn the troops. Fort Stamford successfully defended Stamford, Connecticut, near Palmer’s Hill and the Mianus River. The General Putnam ride saved Stamford from being burned to the ground, like Greenwich.
Fort Stamford is one of the few remaining Revolutionary forts in Connecticut.
Philip Johnson Glass House | New Canaan
The Philip Johnson Glass House is a famous modernist building. It represents the development of 20th-century American architecture. It embodies mid-century modern design on its rocky plateau in New Canaan. Johnson’s intention was for the estate to resemble a landscape park rather than just a building. In his eyes, the scenic countryside is the main attraction. It’s a must-visit for followers of the visionaries that shaped modern American architecture.
Sheffield Island Lighthouse | Norwalk
Sheffield Island Lighthouse is an iconic beacon of history in Norwalk, Connecticut. It is a National Historic Landmark, the only lighthouse in Connecticut open to the public. The structure was first built in 1868 to guide sailors through Long Island Sound. It’s worth a visit if you want to experience its stunning views, learn about its history, and take in the beauty of what may be a haunted site.
Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum | Norwalk
The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion is a spectacular example of Second Empire-style architecture. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in exploring the history of Connecticut. Built in 1864, acclaimed architect Detlef Lienau designed it. The mansion offers tours throughout the year showcasing its Gilded Age artistry.
Weir Farm National Historic Site | Wilton
If you’re interested in American painting, check out the Weir Farm National Historic Site. It’s the only National Park devoted solely to the subject. You can join ranger-led tours for free to learn more about American painting. Many artists, such as Julian Alden Weir, Albert Pinkham Ryder, and John Singer Sargent, have found inspiration at this site. Don’t miss the chance to explore the beautiful grounds, historic studios, and rotating art and history exhibits. This location is one of the best free attractions in Connecticut.
Putnam Memorial State Park | Redding
In 1779, General Israel Putnam commanded the Continental Army’s winter encampment here. Putnam Memorial State Park features:
- Reconstructed log buildings
- Remnants of the encampment
- Historical hiking trails
- And a small museum
The park is well-known for its re-enactments and winter walks. Supporters organize the re-enactments every two years. It’s a unique way to gain an insight into the living and fighting conditions of the soldiers during the 1778-1779 winter. On the first Saturday of December every year, visitors can join a guided winter walk that focuses on the park’s history and archaeology.
Founded by English Puritans in 1666, New Haven was the first planned city in America. The city served as the co-capital of Connecticut with Hartford until 1873. The famous Yale University started here in 1701, making it one of the oldest universities in the United States.
Yale University | New Haven
You can take a walking tour of this Ivy League University, founded in the 18th century and with a rich history. Notable figures like Nathan Hale, President William Howard Taft, and Noah Webster studied here. Yale also counts modern-day Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton among its alumni.
Osborne Homestead Museum | Derby
The Osborne Homestead is a National Historic Site that used to belong to Frances Osborne Kellogg. Ms Kellogg was a businesswoman and conservationist who lived in the early 1900s. The site includes a home from the 1850s with original antiques and art, as well as a lovely rose garden and an English rock garden. Museum tours provide insights into life and women’s history during the early 1900s.
The home of insurance has more to it than just that, in a historical sense. The state’s capital has hosted such famed 19th-century writers as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center | Hartford
Harriet Beecher Stowe was an activist author known for her anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” She was as famous as her neighbor, Mark Twain, at the time. The house where she lived from 1873 until her death in 1896 has been restored and is open for tours. The house displays Stowe’s belongings, including furniture, books, manuscripts, fine art, and letters. Tours begin at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Visitor Center, in the old carriage house. The center sees it as its duty to elicit discussion about how the issues of the 19th century still have an impact today.
Mark Twain House | Hartford
Mark Twain lived and worked in this Hartford home from 1874 until 1891. Nowadays, it has been converted into the Mark Twain House Museum where visitors can take a tour and see the original furniture.
Old State House | Hartford
The Old State House in Connecticut is the oldest statehouse in the United States and was Connecticut’s first. Many important historic Connecticut events happened there, including:
- The signing of the first Constitution
- The Amistad trail
- And Prudence Crandall trial
Charles Bulfinch designed it in the late 1700s.
Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine | East Granby
This historic site has a history of failure. Originally built as a copper mine in 1705, it was unsuccessful and later converted into a prison. The prison had a poor reputation due to its unsafe living conditions and gained the nicknamed “Hell”. Despite attempts to restart the mine after the prison closed in 1827, they all proved unsuccessful. The Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine has now become a National Historic Landmark. The site offers tours, including a self-guided tour of the prison yard.
Nathan Hale Homestead | Coventry, CT
Patriot and teacher Nathan Hale called the eponymous homestead home. Constructed in 1776, genuine Hale family belongings and antique items from the era adorn the house. During the summer months, the Coventry Farmers’ Market meets here, making it a historic and delectable destination. To visit the Nathan Hale Homestead and learn more through a guided tour, check their website for opening times. They differ throughout the year.
Historic Connecticut River Valley
The quiet riverside towns of the lower Connecticut River Valley attracted plenty of artists.
Same as today.
Gillette Castle State Park | East Haddam
What looks like a castle is just another mansion of an eccentric with more money than sanity. Built in 1919, the mansion sits on a 184-acre estate that overlooks the Connecticut River. William Hooker Gillette, famous for his stage portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, designed the 24-room house. It has unique features such as wooden light switches and intricate carvings. Visitors can explore exhibits about Gillette’s career and passion for trains inside Gillette’s Castle. The estate also has hiking trails with distinctive structures such as wooden trestles and arched bridges.
Florence Griswold Museum | Old Lyme
The Florence Griswold Museum perches above the Lieutenant River. It hosts the legacy of the Lyme Art Colony on the site where it all happened. The museum includes:
- The Georgian architecture of Florence Griswold’s home
- The modern Krieble Gallery
- And a 12-acre site with natural surroundings
This museum is an extraordinary place where appreciation for American Impressionism still thrives.
Historic Connecticut Sites in the Mystic Area
Mystic Seaport put this area on the map for historic attractions. That said, it’s not the only historic site to explore in the area.
USS Nautilus and Submarine Force Library and Museum | Groton
The USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, was launched in 1954 by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. In 1958, it made a historic journey crossing the North Pole on “Operation Sunshine.” The Navy decommissioned the submarine in 1980 and it now serves as the official museum of the US Navy’s submarines. The museum features artifacts, documents, photographs, a research library, films, exhibits, and a gift shop. Visitors can tour the USS Nautilus, which is the highlight of the museum.
Fort Griswold | Groton
Fort Griswold was the location of the biggest Revolutionary War battle in Connecticut. It occurred on September 6, 1781, and was led by Colonel William Ledyard who commanded the fort. Despite being greatly outnumbered, Colonel Ledyard refused to surrender to the British troops. Yet, during a fierce battle, he and his soldiers perished.
Fort Trumbull | New London
Fort Trumbull, located across the Thames River from Fort Griswold, is an essential site from the Revolutionary War era. General Benedict Arnold led an assault on Fort Trumbull, which resulted in most of New London being burned down. Today, the current fort was built during 1839-1852 and has served as a research site, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and Coast Guard base in the past.
Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center | Ledyard
This museum is owned and run by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in southern New England. They established it in 1998. It has a total area of 85,000 sqft for indoor exhibits. Visitors can explore a total area of 85,000 square feet of indoor exhibits:
- Experience a simulated glacial crevasse
- Explore the life-size Pequot Village and observe their daily life and habitats
- And watch a 30-minute film called “The Witness”, which tells the story of the Pequot War
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center also features:
- Two libraries
- A stone-and-glass observation tower
- Special exhibits
- A gift shop that features made in Connecticut gifts
- And a cafe serving Native American cuisine
Nathan Hale’s Schoolhouse | New London and East Haddam
Before joining the Revolutionary War, Nathan Hale worked as a teacher at the New London schoolhouse from 1774 to 1775. He had also taught for five months at the East Haddam Schoolhouse. Nathan Hale is recognized as Connecticut’s State Hero, and this writer’s great-great-(et cetera) uncle.
Which is likely the case for many Connecticutians.
Mystic Seaport | Mystic
All this is to say, Mystic Seaport is still an impressive historic Connecticut attraction. It’s a 19th-century village that includes original homes and stores from all over the East Coast. The main attraction is the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship, which is the last remaining wooden whaling ship in the country, built in 1841.
Harkness Mansion and Park | Waterford
During the early 1900s, the Harkness family owned a summer mansion named Eolia, also known as the Harkness Mansion. Beatrix Jones Farrand designed the gorgeous gardens surrounding the property. If you’d like to see the inside of the mansion, guides offer tours on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend until Labor Day.
Monte Cristo Cottage | New London
Eugene O’Neill was born in 1888 and lived in the Monte Cristo Cottage until 1917. It was his only permanent home and the setting for two of his famous plays, Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Ah, Wilderness! The 1840s cottage is a museum and Registered National Landmark dedicated to Eugene O’Neill. O’Neill was the only Nobel Prize-winning playwright in America. He named the house after his father’s most famous character, Edmund Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo. The museum boasts a gallery of portraits and posters of Eugene O’Neill as well as a permanent exhibition showcasing his life and works.
The last area settled in Connecticut, Litchfield County is still full of historic sites and firsts for the country.
Glebe House and Gertrude Jekyll Garden | Woodbury
The Glebe House is a great representation of the state during the Revolutionary War era. It’s a historic farmhouse built in 1740 in the Litchfield Hills. The house used to belong to Reverend John Rutgers Marshall and his family. The Glebe House was also a significant place for Connecticut clergy members. They met here after the country gained independence to discuss the future of religious beliefs in America.
The Gertrude Jekyll Garden complements the house as the only American garden that Gertrude Jekyll designed. Ms Jekyll was a renowned garden designer from England. And no relation to a certain doctor of the same name.
The more you know.
Lake Compounce | Bristol
Lake Compounce, which opened in 1846, is the oldest continously operated amusement park in North America. It features several classic rides like an 1898 carousel and a wooden roller coaster from 1927. It also has new and exciting rides such as the award-winning Boulder Dash roller coaster. Visitors can also enjoy the largest water park in Connecticut, Crocodile Cove, with its water slides and wave pools. Lake Compounce holds various annual events. Highlights include the Haunted Graveyard during Halloween and Holiday Lights at Christmas.
Scoville Memorial Library | Salisbury
The Scoville Memorial Library, established in 1771, was the first publicly funded library in the United States. It all started when a resident offered to bring 200 books from London. The library’s collection received a boost in 1805 when Caleb Bingham added still more books. Later, a local bequeathed money for the construction of a building to house the library’s growing collection. The collection finally moved to the Scoville Library. The library has continues to expand and now holds over 30,000 books.
Topsmead State Forest | Litchfield
The historic Connecticut state property includes a house built in 1925 by Edith Morton Chase in the English Tudor style with the help of architect Richard Henry Dana, Jr . The house still stands, and boasts exquisite craftsmanship and luxurious materials like:
- Terracotta tiles
- And stucco
The house is tastefully furnished with 17th- and 18th-century English country antiques. Bring a picnic and walk around the lush grounds of Topsmead State Forest, though be ready to photobomb engagement and baby pictures galore.
Discover the Charm of Historic Bed and Breakfasts in Connecticut
Silas W. Robbins House
The Griswold Inn
Stanton House Inn
Westbrook Inn Bed and Breakfast
Keep exploring more of Historic Connecticut
This article doesn’t include every historic detail of our state, with almost 400 years of history.
After all, this guide is long enough as it is!
So, keep reading some of our other guides that touch upon the history of a town or folklore of historic Connecticut:
- The most haunted places across Connecticut include some of the entrants on this list
- Many of the best free things to do in CT are also quite historic, including the first public rose garden, Elizabeth Park
- Many more Connecticut museums are historic in and of themselves, like the Wadsworth Atheneum