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GLASTONBURY

Glastonbury Statistics

Numbers You Need

Town Site - Public Schools - Welles-Turner Memorial Library
South Glastonbury Public Library - East Glastonbury Public Library


Glastonbury’s founding took place in 1636 — long before it was ever called Glastonbury. The original settlement was known as Naubuc Farms, and the land proved agreeable indeed — and not just to those first settlers but to the steady stream of homesteaders that followed.

The River’s local tributaries — the Salmon, Hubbard, and Roaring Brooks — provided fertile bottomland and highlands conducive to farming, along with the waterpower necessary for the mass production of gun-powder during the Revolutionary War, shipbuilding throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and a host of manufacturing and other commercial enterprises from the mid-1800s on. And that’s to say nothing of its frontage on The Connecticut River, which made Glastonbury a vital artery to the world as a whole. Even the town’s recent growth surge is owed, at least in part, to the uncommon beauty, rich history, and enduring prosperity that derive from The Connecticut.

Glastonbury’s Newest Incarnation
Over the past decade, upscale dining spots from Hartford west took notice of Glastonbury’s increasing popularity and swiftly began expanding to east-of-the-river locations, where they were welcomed by crowds pleased to have new choices so close at hand. That, in turn, prompted high-end retail operations to follow suit — with new homebuilders close on their heels.

Schools flourished academically, while their athletes began winning their way to the top statewide in one sport after another. And soon, confident that Glastonbury had truly become a prime destination for businesses, restaurants, and families alike, the town began planning for a very bright future.

Well, that future has arrived.

This past spring, Riverfront Park, an expansive development along the eastern bank of the Connecticut, was finally completed. Its new boathouse — including a public boat/crew/canoe/kayak launch and a dock for the Fire Department’s rescue boat — a picnic pavilion, a banquet facility, playground facilities for the youngsters and a lighted basketball court for kids of all ages, an outdoor ice-skating area, and multi-use trails with scenic overlooks has quickly become a favorite spot for all sorts of family activities, as well as corporate meetings, non-profit events, and private parties, such as weddings, birthdays and reunions.

Now, all eyes are on town’s center, where additional development is not only taking place but being managed both creatively — and wisely. Indeed, under construction are some 400 apartments and townhomes, as well as roundabouts intended to ease the flow of increased traffic, along with streetscape enhancements designed to make Glastonbury’s thriving commercial areas both attractive and less harried for those on foot or riding bikes.

Not that Glastonbury’s popularity is entirely new.

Comprising 52 square miles of diversely scenic countryside, Glastonbury is, quite simply, a wonderful place to come home to. Factor in a fine educational system and all the necessities of life, and it’s no wonder Glastonbury has always been a popular choice for families — young and growing, older and settled.

Likewise, Glastonbury has long appealed to business people, thanks to its location between Boston and New York — and directly across the river from Connecticut’s capitol city, as well as its closeness to important interstate highways and Bradley International Airport. But never more so than now.

And Glastonbury’s historic past — both distinguished and colorful — adds a special charm to even the most ordinary of the town’s byways and buildings. During the American Revolution, Yale University held classes here. Noah Webster once taught in a one-room schoolhouse here. Lincoln’s secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, was born here. Aqua Velva and Electric Shave were created and produced here at the J.B. Williams Company — now the Soap Factory Condominiums. Arbor Acres was one of the world’s largest poultry producers. John Howard Hale, Glastonbury’s Peach King, developed the Hale Peach — an incredibly delicious peach hardy enough to tolerate New England’s harsh winters. And then there’s the town’s long history of tobacco farming, highlighted recently as the Glastonbury Historical Society undertook the preservation of an 1870s tobacco shed for use as the Society’s museum.

Glastonbury also has the distinction of having its own weekly newspaper, The Glastonbury Citizen, which has not only been covering local happenings for more than 50 years, but is currently the only family-owned weekly in Connecticut.

Originally consisting of Glastonbury Center, South Glastonbury, and East Glastonbury, Glastonbury has been home to both agriculture and industry, with the Connecticut River’s local tributaries — supporting farming and the waterpower for early manufacturing, while the river itself ensured that the town was a key artery to the rest of the region, state, nation, and world. And today, Glastonbury’s hubs of activity continue to reflect those historic roots.

Glastonbury Center
Entering Glastonbury from Wethersfield on Route 3, The Shops at Somerset Square on Glastonbury Boulevard serve as a gateway that is both sophisticated and contemporary at once. Featuring classically inspired architecture designed in the 1980s by Robert A. M. Stern, who is now Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, Somerset Square comprises nearly half a million square feet of upscale retail space in a traditional town-square setting for easier access to its trendy shops, boutiques, and restaurants. And adjacent to “The Square” is the Hilton Garden Inn — opened in 2004 and the town’s first hotel, and next door to that is the Hilton’s 135-unit Homewood Suites, a residential-style hotel for extended-stay travelers.

Heading east on Main Street takes you along a mixed commercial thoroughfare, highlighted by Katz’s Ace Hardware, a veritable town landmark founded in 1920 and now on its third generation of family ownership — then on into Glastonbury Center itself. Anchored by the stately Welles-Turner Library, with a tree-shaded park and fountain, the Center has mushroomed and literally bustles with dozens of businesses, retail shops, and restaurants all located in four plazas along Hebron Avenue and Welles Street. Indeed, there’s a restaurant for everyone, from white-linen haute-cuisine spots to more casual, home-style fare — including the pizza, deli, and take-out spots that make dinner as easy as it is tasty. (For complete listings, check out our Dining department.)

And there’s no need to leave town for a stylish new outfit, gear for the kids, jewelry, shoes, books, gifts, eyeglasses, floral arrangements, home décor, gourmet cooking accouterments, and pet supplies. They’re all here, tucked in and around the restaurants guaranteed to prevent shopping starvation. And they all welcome browsers or buyers — though one often leads to the other. (A quick peek at our Shopping department will get you started.)

Reminders of the town’s agricultural history are everywhere, as farms abound. Most have stands and shops brimming with fresh veggies and fruits and flowers, but you’ll also find the CSA farms that make owning a tiny piece of their seasonal harvest possible. (We have a whole section for Glastonbury’s Farms on page 40. Take a look.)

Main Street south of the Center marks the start of the Historic District, where handsome 18th and 19th century homes built by some of the town’s most prominent early families line the streets. On the corner of Hubbard Street, in what was originally the Town Hall, is the Glastonbury Historical Society, which features exhibits designed to celebrate the town’s Native American, agricultural, and industrial heritage. Behind it, the original Town Green is home to the Art Guild’s annual art shows and the town’s Concerts on the Green. And adjacent to the Town Green is Green Cemetery with headstones dating back to the 1600s.

South Glastonbury
Two miles south, Main Street merges with Route 17 on its way to South Glastonbury village. Along the way is the Connecticut Audubon Society, which presents nature programs, lectures and music — and which is appropriately situated at the entrance of Earle Park, with its 48 acres of woods and trails along the Connecticut River, and The Old Cider Mill, one of the country’s oldest mills — and open only in the fall. Glastonbury residents and out-of-towners alike flock there as soon as there’s a hint of autumn in the air, and for good reason. They sell local fruits, vegetables, cider, and one of the tastiest apple fritters anywhere — and they aren’t alone.

Just before reaching Glastonbury’s village center, you’ll find the Welles-Shipman-Ward House. Built in 1755, it “possesses exceptional architecture,” according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Now owned by the Historical Society, the house, its 18th-century-style herb gardens and vintage barns are open to visitors. And once in the village, you’ll discover why South Glastonbury has been described as the perfect pedestrian village — a mix of historic and contemporary buildings with sidewalks that make any of its attractions easily accessible.

Among the popular spots are three historic churches; plenty of places to go if you get hungry; and Gardiner’s Market, an updated small-town grocery operation that’s brimming with fine products and a personal touch that stems from its long family tradition

Behind South Tavern, just above the village, is Cotton Hollow Preserve — a hiker’s delight, with paths winding along boisterous Roaring Brook to the impressive ruins of what was once a vibrant 18th and 19th century industrial community. Waterfalls with pools of cool, sparkling water often draw a skinny-dipper or two on a hot summer’s day.
And from Main Street, a right on Water Street leads west on a scenic road toward the Glastonbury Hill-Rocky Hill Ferry landing and the Seaboard Marina on the Connecticut River, home of the Glastonbury High School rowing team. Along the way, Glastonbury’s horsey set struts its stuff — and its stallions. The lovely meadowlands provide a perfect setting for expansive equestrian centers like The Pines on Dug Road. Horton’s tobacco farm, still a family operation, is another landmark.

East Glastonbury
Heading east out of the village, Hopewell Road wends it’s way upward through the hills to Chestnut Hill Road and on into East Glastonbury, where, several spots offer a breathtaking view of the Connecticut River. Upon reaching New London Turnpike, Chestnut Hill Commons appears. Featuring the Country Store, which happily advertises live bait, crawlers and worms among its other wares, and Lottie’s Country Kitchen, renowned for its robust breakfasts and lunches, the Common adds a nice touch of every-day convenience to this uniquely scenic area. And so does the plaza you’ll reach, if you take Quarry Road — then a left on Manchester Road to Hebron Avenue. Just a decade ago, that crossroads offered little more than a gas station and the historic Buckingham Congregational Church. Today, there’s a plaza anchored by Highland Park Market, the famous gourmet food emporium that originated in Manchester.

Perhaps Glastonbury’s popularity today stems from its ability to blend an abundant supply of country chic with an infusion of city-wise swagger — but the town is ever mindful of balancing the evolving needs of its growing community with the preservation of its natural assets. While continued development is inevitable, residents have never been shy about saying when enough is enough — and the powers that be appear to be listening. In 2004, for example, a grassroots citizens group successfully defeated plans for a strip mall in the town’s north end. The Town Center plan has been shaped by considerable citizen input. And South Glastonbury’s river meadows farmland has, thus far, resisted persistent attempts at housing development.

Good thing, too, because there’s an old tale about a goose prized for laying golden eggs. And if truth be told, Glastonbury’s beguiling riverbanks, quiet streams, shaded woodlands, vast farms and fields, hillsides dotted with orchards, and streets lined with a unique blend of historic homes, small businesses, sidewalk cafés, and chic little shops are golden eggs, one and all — and worthy of astute preservation.

Photograph by Al Ferreira