The small town of Ansonia is in the lower Naugatuck valley, close to the confluence with the Housatonic River.
The Revolutionary War Colonel and friend of George Washington, David Humphreys (1752-1818) was born in Ansonia, and his birthplace, dating back to the 1690s, has been kept as a museum.
From the 19th century until not long ago, the lower Naugatuck Valley was an industrial hotbed, producing textiles, plastics, copper, brass, sheet metal, clocks, iron castings and more.
You can hear about this heavy manufacturing past at the Osborne Homestead Museum, home of industrialist Frances Osborne Kellogg, while some magnificent buildings recall the industrial heyday, like the Ansonia Opera House (1870) and the Church of the Assumption (1907).
Let’s explore the best things to do in and around Ansonia, Connecticut:
1. Ansonia Nature & Recreation Center
What used to be a dairy farm is now a place to get in touch with the nature of the lower Naugatuck Valley.
There are three miles of trails here, coursing through typical southern New England habitats.
The Visitor Center is a striking building composed of Connecticut stone, dating to 1977 and housing static and live exhibits in terrariums, as well as classrooms, offices, a natural history library and a nature store.
Among the resident animals are a ball python, three owls, a slider turtle, three box turtles, a guinea pig, two small brown bats, two anoles, a tarantula and a hive of bees.
On Saturdays at noon you can bring children for the free Creature Feature to handle one or two of the residents and hear fun facts them.
There are also guided walks into the grounds on Sundays at 13:00 to spot songbirds, turtles and frogs.
2. Bad Sons Beer Company
This craft brewery might have a badass name, but it’s also an acronym taking the first letters from towns in the lower Naugatuck Valley: Beacon Falls/Ansonia /Derby/Seymour/Oxford /Naugatuck/Shelton.
As a business, Bad Sons couldn’t be in better shape, and unlike many craft breweries in Connecticut the taproom with its whopping bar, fire pit and massive outdoor yard, is open every day of the week.
There’s live music here on Sundays, and two local restaurants take turns to deliver on Wednesdays (Drop Inn) and Thursdays (Roseland Pizza). Friday to Sunday there will be a new food truck outside for grub like hot dogs, BBQ and crepes.
And as for the beer, there were eight on tap in September 2019: Five IPAs, a stout, a pale ale and a lager, as well as two local guest ciders.
3. General David Humphreys House
The American Revolutionary War colonel David Humphreys was born in this clapboard, five-bay house in 1752. Humphreys was a close friend and aide de camp to George Washington and was later nominated by Washington to be the United States’ first ambassador to a foreign country (Portugal). Later Humphreys introduced merino sheep to Connecticut for the first time during his time as ambassador to Spain.
The house went up in the 1690s and today serves as the headquarters for the Derby Historical Society, opening for tours on weekdays from 10:30 to 14:30. The interior looks much as it might have done when Humphreys was a boy, with displays of period items like spinning wheels, clothing, furniture, kitchenware, weapons and paintings.
A host of early original fittings have been restored, like hand-carved wooden paneling and a massive fireplace in the chamber at the back.
4. Church of the Assumption
A monument impossible to ignore in Ansonia is the neo-Gothic Church of the Assumption, constructed for Ansonia’s Catholic Assumption Parish between 1889 and 1907. The church, built primarily from local granite, was designed by the Irish-American architect Patrick Charles Keely (1816-1896) of Brooklyn.
It’s worth noting that the builders had to contend with a pronounced slope; there’s a height difference of three floors between the vestibule at the front and the vestries 55 metres to the rear.
Don’t pass on the chance to go inside to appreciate the five-sided apse in the sanctuary, as well as the ornate high altar backed by three radiant stained glass windows showing the death and resurrection of Jesus and the Assumption of Mary.
5. Osbornedale State Park
This expanse of woodland next to the Housatonic River spills into Ansonia and has a large network of hiking trails in its 417 acres.
Before it was bequeathed to the state in the 1950s the land belonged to the Osborne family, who owned a number of textile and metalworking factories in the Naugatuck Valley.
Frances Osborne was a shrewd investor and a prolific land-buyer, and in the early 20th century bought up the many separate farms that now form the state park.
Long before, the land was the verdant wooded hunting ground of the Paugussett Indians before being mined for silver for a brief time after the Revolutionary War.
Nowadays much of the woodland has returned, concealing some remarkable glacial erratics.
You can go fishing on Picketts Pond and ice skating when it freezes in the winter, and take picnics in this blissful environment at tables and rentable shelters.
6. Osborne Homestead Museum
Next to Osbornedale’s rambling hills and meadows sits the former house and grounds of the prominent businesswoman Frances Osborne Kellogg.
The house was first built in the 1840s but was completely reworked in the Colonial Revival style in the 1820s.
The architect behind this second project was Frances Osborne’s spouse, Waldo Stewart Kellogg.
The dainty formal gardens wreathed around the house would be worth the visit alone, and are a blaze of color from spring to autumn.
Hour-long tours of the house take place Thursday to Sunday between May and October, during which you’ll find out more about Frances and the impact she made on agriculture, industry and the arts in Connecticut in the early 20th century.
7. Kellogg Environmental Center
This attraction is right beside the Osborne Homestead Museum and part of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The Kellogg Environmental Center puts on lots of workshops, lectures, exhibitions and nature activities for the public.
These are all centred on nature and the environment.
If you’re curious about the different species in the Naugatuck and Housatonic valleys then this is the place to come.
There are mounted birds, models, paintings of nature by local artists, and a turtle pond out in the grounds.
Weekend activities like bird-spotting or geological walks help bring the community closer to nature.
8. Derby Greenway
Division street in the south of Ansonia can be the starting point for a beautiful two-mile walk, jog or bike ride down the west side of Derby next to the Naugatuck and Housatonic Rivers.
On the route you’ll pass seven bridges and cross O’Sullivan Island, which is actually a peninsula at the confluence of the two rivers, with some lovely vistas by the water.
Earlier, the greenway follows the top of a dike, erected after the devastating Floods of 1955, which changed Ansonia and Derby forever.
The Derby Greenway is Connecticut’s most trafficked multipurpose trail and is on the Naugatuck River Greenway Trail System, which will eventually trace the Naugatuck River from Torrington to Derby for 44 miles.
9. Naugatuck State Forest, Quillinan Reservoir Block
The Naugatuck State Forest is a sizeable protected space, covering almost 4,200 acres, but broken up into five different blocks, one of which is directly on the north-east side of Ansonia.
There are four different trails threading this wooded landscape scattered with lots of rocky outcrops and woven with little streams.
Coming from downtown Ansonia, the most convenient path is the purple-blazed trail setting off the from the parking lot on Buswell Street and working its way north as far as Rimmon Road.
Quillinan Reservoir is big with mountain bikers too, and you can choose from nine trails adding up to over eight miles.
Wear orange during hunting season to stay safe.
10. Warsaw Park
A simple open space traced by trees, Warsaw Park is the go-to venue for all manner of outdoor events in Ansonia throughout the spring, summer and fall.
The highlight of the calendar is the Midsummer Fantasy Renaissance Faire, which spans three weekends between late-June and early-July.
During this event a municipal park is turned into a fantasy world inhabited by fairies, orcs, goblins, elves, dwarves and warlike men and women from different periods in history.
There’s comedy, live music, stunt shows, games, old-time food and drink, a host of craft vendors and activities for kids.
For a taster of the other events at Warsaw Park, there are outdoor parties, music festivals, car shows, cooking events and in October you’ve got the annual CT National Pit Bull Celebration Day, with contests, food trucks and adoptable dogs.
11. Savino Vineyards
This vineyard was planted in the bucolic countryside east of Ansonia in 2000 and produced its first wines in 2006. Savino’s wines are blends and single varietals, from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Frontenac, Saint-Croix, Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc.
The tasting room is open on weekend afternoons, May through late-November, and tastings cost $10 a head, with a souvenir glass to take home.
You can also order an antipasto platter, which comes with extra virgin olive oil from the winemaker’s own olive grove in Teggiano, Campania.
12. Ansonia Opera House
At 100 Main Street, backing onto the Naugatuck River, there’s a grand but half-forgotten piece of 19th-century history.
Now completely sealed up, and with shops and a bar/restaurant on its ground floor, the Ansonia Opera House was the first venue of its kind in Connecticut when it opened in 1870. For decades this building was the mainstay of the community and cultural life in the town, holding live performances, dances, basketball games and even boxing matches.
Public assemblies here were banned in 1971 by the Fire Marshal.
Although the building’s upper floors are in need of restoration it remains an impressive sight for its triangular and curved pediments, corbels, long round-arched windows on the third floor and the columns of white quoins that break up the storefronts.
13. The Tradition Golf Club at Oak Lane
Challenging but accessible, this daily fee course is rated as one of the best in the New Haven area.
The club dates from the early 60s but has undergone a few changes after being taken over by a new management team.
Most of the fairways are straightforward, save for a couple of testing doglegs, but you’ll need a lot of accuracy to stay clear of the lofty mature trees and craftily placed bunkers and water hazards beside the holes.
The Tradition Golf Club has full practice facilities, including putting and chipping greens and a grass driving range.
14. West Rock Ridge State Park
If you need a day away from civilization you could do worse than this state park containing a long piece of the Metacomet Ridge.
That 200-million-year-old basalt landform runs north to south through Connecticut and up to the Massachusetts-Vermont state line.
West Rock Ridge is composed of seven miles of open, west-facing cliffs between 120 and 210 metres high.
Along with East Rock it is one of the most prominent features on the New Haven landscape and grants you a view worth every second of the climb.
An estimated 200 square miles of land is visible from the ridge, including New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound.
On the Blue-Blazed Regicides Trail hikers can seek out the Judges’ Cave, supposed hideout for the 17th-century Roundhead judges Edward Whalley and William Goffe.
They signed the death warrant for King Charles I and fled to the colonies when his son Charles II ascended the throne after the Restoration.
15. Maltby Lakes
Across Route 15 from The Traditional Golf Club is land belonging to the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority.
Wrapped in deep woodland, the Maltby Lakes are a set of three reservoirs made available for activities like hiking, cycling, jogging, cross-country skiing and fishing.
You’ll need a permit to use the property ($50 for two years for a family), but it’s a price worth paying if you live locally.
Well-tended, colour-coded trails (Red, white, green and yellow) link the lakes, which have some of the best fishing in the area.
Largemouth bass, pickerel, humungous catfish and pike all bite here.