In sparsely populated Windham County, the small town of Plainfield is made up of the four villages of Plainfield, Moosup, Wauregan and Central Village.
Safe to say that activities in this quiet part of Connecticut are rural and outdoors, like woodland hikes in rare swamp habitats, visits to farms with corn mazes and fishing at the many ponds.
These water bodies pepper the land and were created to turn the waterwheels of factories in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today only faint vestiges survive in a landscape that has returned to nature.
Your priority in Plainfield has to be the nearby Prudence Crandall Museum where a marker for tolerance and race relations was laid down in the 1830s.
1. Prudence Crandall Museum
The abolitionist and educator Prudence Crandall (1803-1890) is Connecticut’s state heroine, celebrated for establishing the first school for black girls in the United States.
This academy, a fine Greek Revival house from 1805, can be found just five minutes from Plainfield Village at Canterbury Town Green.
Crandall opened the school in 1832, which at first had all white students.
A single black woman, Sarah Harris, was admitted around this time, turning this into the first integrated school in the country.
When the white students were withdrawn in protest the academy was reopened specifically for black girls, with 24 students at its peak.
This eventually led to mob violence, and Crandall even spent a night in prison in August 1833. The school closed in 1834. The house and grounds are a National Historic Landmark and a State Archaeological Preserve.
You can uncover the story and the wider significance of the site at period rooms and exhibit galleries (upstairs), before strolling the landscaped grounds.
2. Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm
Effortlessly close in Sterling is a family-owned poultry farm keeping around 3,000 pasture-raised turkeys, at the largest operation of its kind in Connecticut.
And as a humane enterprise with happy, healthy livestock, the farm welcomes the public from spring to fall.
The Brown Cow Café here prepares a choice of turkey sandwiches, including a Thanksgiving variety with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mayo.
The creamery has more than 30 ice cream flavours, with creative concoctions like cake batter or cucumber, as well as tried and tested options from strawberry to peanut butter cup.
You can choose cups, waffle cones, shakes , sundaes, or even an apple cider donut topped with vanilla ice cream, caramel, whipped cream and a cherry.
Then, in September and October families can come to get lost in the corn maze, take a hay ride and visit animals like goats, chickens and of course turkeys in the barnyard.
3. Old Furnace State Park
Like much of the countryside in Windham County, Old Furnace State Park has industrial origins as the site of an iron furnace that operated from well before the Revolutionary War.
During the war horseshoes were forged here for the Continental Army.
The raw materials for this iron was all found locally, with ore mined from swamps and bogs and charcoals produced from the old growth woodland that was razed in the space of a few decades.
By the 20th century that industry had disappeared save for a pair of ponds, and the land was sold first to the town of Killingly and then to the state of Connecticut.
Within the park is one of the state’s best short walking trails, curling past the ponds and up to a rocky ledge 60 meters above the valley for panoramic views over eastern Killingly and past the state line into Rhode Island.
4. Hopeville Pond State Park
Mills were also huddled around this pond in Griswold where the Pachaug River was first dammed by Europeans in the early 18th century and took on its present form in 1828. Even before that time the Mohegan people had constructed weirs to fish on this stretch of the Pachaug.
The mill and little residential community on the pond’s shores all went up in flames at the turn of the 20th century, and also lost a gristmill that had stood here from 1711 to 1908. The pond and the woodland on its shores became a state park in 1938, and you can come to swim, camp, hike and go fishing.
Among the species recorded in these waters are chain pickerel, channel catfish, largemouth bass, yellow perch and northern pike.
The Hopeville Pond Campground has 80 sites in a restful wooded environment.
5. Logee’s Greenhouses
Logee’s has been in the plant business since 1892, and their commercial greenhouses in Danielson are a thrill for amateur botanists and horticulturalists.
The oldest of the six greenhouses, the Fern House, has been here as long as the busniess itself.
In the Big House are collections of camellias, geraniums, cactuses, as well as an orange tree that has been growing for 150 years and has 10 different grafts.
Another historic tree awaits you among the orchids in the Lemon Tree House, where the Ponderosa lemon tree dates back to 1900 and produces lemons as large as grapefruits.
The Herb House abounds with medicinal and culinary plants, while the Potting House is a little world of bonsais, spice plants and passion flowers.
6. Buttonwood Farm
Family run since 1975, this dairy farm in Griswold is known for two things: Sunflowers and indulgent ice cream.
Each season the farm plants 14 acres of sunflowers, harvesting some 300,000 blooms.
You can have a bouquet of five sunflowers provided you make a $10 donation to the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Connecticut.
March through late-October you can call in for a scoop or three of Buttonwood Farm’s delicious ice cream, produced in small batches right here on the farm.
Even the waffle cones are made fresh on the day, and the whipped cream is the real deal.
There are more than 50 flavours to pick from, as well as a clutch of limited editions.
In fall 2019, Elephant Trunk was vanilla with a peanut butter swirl, chocolate covered pretzels and chocolate covered peanuts.
In autumn there’s lots of fun for wee ones at Buttonwood Farm, at the seven-acre corn maze, on hayrides, meeting farm animals or scaling the Straw Bale Mountain.
7. Pachaug State Forest
The largest forest in the Connecticut state forest system encompasses more than 27,000 acres at various parcels on the east side of New London County, near the boundary with Rhode Island.
These cover six towns, in two large chunks that sit roughly parallel and are known as the Chapman Area (to the west) and the Green Falls Area (to the east). In Plainfield the Chapman Area is practically in your backyard, and you can plot adventures on no fewer than three long-distance Blue-Blazed Trails: The Pachaug Trail, the Nehantic Trail and the Quinnebaug Trail.
You can pick up the latter just east in Sterling, traversing rare patches of Atlantic white cedar swamp on an 8.1 mile route south.
Something thrilling about this landscape is that there used to a lot of farmland here, and every now and again you’ll come across stone foundations and cellar holes from long-lost farmhouses.
8. Tikkanen’s Berry Farm
Maybe the most rewarding way to spend a sunny day in rural Connecticut is picking your own produce at an idyllic farm.
You can do just that at Tikkanen’s Berry Farm by the Rhode Island boundary in Sterling.
The farm is open Thursday to Monday, roughly between early-July and the start of September.
The season begins with gooseberries, currants and blueberries, with late blueberries ready throughout July.
Then around the end of August you’ve got beach plums, and if you’re lucky these will be delicious the day you pick them.
Tikkanen’s Berry Farm is a real rural business, so it might be a good idea to call in advance to make sure it’s open.
9. Black Pond Brews
You’ll never have to travel far for a craft brewery in Connecticut and the nearest is just over the town line to the north in Danielson.
Open Thursday to Monday, the taproom at Black Pond Brews is a lively spot, with lots of outdoor space, trivia on select Mondays, open songwriter sessions on the third Saturday of the month, comedy nights and video game tournaments.
As for the brews, these are rotated every couple of weeks, but an ever-present is D-Burg, the flagship IPA, and in September 2019 this was joined by Israel Putnam Brown Ale, Bare Branches Oktoberfest with local maple syrup, Sun Gate Porter with Peruvian coffee and Machu Picchu, a Jalapeño Saison.
10. Glen Falls Bridge
Make your way along Brunswick Avenue, off N Main Street in Moosup and before long you’ll come to an abrupt stop at the closed Glen Falls Bridge.
Crossing the Moosup River, this historic structure was built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company in 1886 and is one of just a handful of survivors from the hundreds of lenticular truss bridges constructed at the end of the 19th century.
Long since closed to road traffic, Glen Falls Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, and is set close to a 19th-century mill complex on the river’s north bank.