A working town between New Haven and Hartford, Meriden was an important manufacturing center in the 19th and early 20th century.
The city was most famous for its silver and cutlery, but also produced glassware, guns, musical instruments and kitchen appliances.
Many worldwide icons of industrial design from this time were conceived right here. There’s architectural evidence of Meriden’s boom days in its grand downtown architecture and the stately residences on Broad Street.
Now, the city deserves your attention for the natural beauty all around.
Cutting through Meriden is the narrow and steep Metacomet Ridge, an epic basalt fault that extends from Long Island Sound as far as Massachusetts-Vermont, 100 miles to the north.
The ridge creates some awe-inspiring scenery at majestic walls of rock with unique microclimates and rare plant species. To my mind it’s an awesome natural playground, with sensational views from the cliff tops.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Meriden:
1. Hubbard Park
Walter Hubbard, the president of Meriden’s Bradley & Hubbard Manufacturing Company, donated most of the land for this glorious park at the turn of the 20th century. This was all on the proviso that it would remain free to the public.
Hubbard Park occupies more than 1,800 acres of the Hanging Hills, a basalt sub-range of the linear Metacomet Ridge.
Frederick Law Olmsted, most famous for Central Park, was called in to help landscape Hubbard Park. Man-made and natural features mingle at flower gardens, streams, woodland and lofty cliff-faces.
The Metacomet Trail, which I’ll talk about below, passes through Hubbard Park. Elsewhere, bandshell and flower gardens host a string of summer concerts and festivals, which I’ll also come to later.
2. Castle Craig
Walter Hubbard, who plowed hundreds of thousands of dollars into beautifying Hubbard Park also donated this romantic observation tower. It’s posted high atop East Peak, 970+ feet above sea level.
Castle Craig (1900) is built from the local basalt, and there are differing theories about the style of fortification it was designed to resemble.
Walter Hubbard was widely traveled, so Castle Craig may be inspired by all kinds of different structures. Theories range from a Norman Tower to an Ottoman defense on the Danube. Or, as the name suggests, it might be based on a tower in the village of Craigellachie in Moray, Scotland.
There’s a dedication plaque from 1900 at the foot of the tower, and in good weather you can see as far as Long Island and the Berkshires. Closer to home, look out for the Sleeping Giant Mountain Range outside New Haven to the south.
3. Metacomet Trail
Adventure is always on the cards in Meriden, where you can get onto two celebrated Blue-Blazed walking trails.
The town is near the southern trailhead of the 62.7-mile Metacomet Trail, shooting north to Suffield via Hubbard Park and traversing a big portion of the narrow fault-block, Metacomet Ridge.
This 100-mile formation is composed of volcanic basalt and was formed in the Triassic/Jurassic Period some 200 million years ago.
Something I appreciate about the Metacomet Trail is that it passes close to many built-up areas. I mean, you’re rarely more than a couple of miles from a public road for accommodation or provisions.
Despite this the walk remains wild and scenic and you may be exposed to raking winds on the exposed ledges.
4. Mattabesett Trail
If one long-distance trail isn’t enough, the 62-mile Mattabesett Trail runs through Meriden. On its horseshoe-shaped route through New Haven County, the trail takes in state forest, municipal parks and land trust preserves.
This Blue-Blazed path connects a few of the most scenic spots on our list, like the Powder Ridge Ski Area, Higby Mountain, Chauncey Peak and Lamentation Mountain.
You’ll journey along precipitous ledges, over brooks and bogs and into haunting hardwood forest bedded with mountain laurel.
I’m intrigued by all the history along the route. For example, there’s a succession of colonial-era stagecoach roads, like the Wadsworth Farm Road, thought to have been used by George Washington in 1775 and 1789.
The Mattabesett Trail links with the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail to create the 215-mile New England National Scenic Trail.
5. Historic Downtown Meriden
In the center of Meriden I got the impression of a downtown about to burst into life. When I was here there was a smattering of local stores and services.
This is the kind of place where you can grab a Jamaican patty or a cup of fresh-roasted coffee, or view an impromptu art exhibition at a bar.
The city’s historical society has drawn up a detailed self-guided walking tour around downtown. This has 18 stops, mostly along East Main Street, and takes in a lot of imposing sights.
I was taken with the impressive Masonic Temple (1927), the Meriden Armory (1908), and the Colonial Revival City Hall (1907), replacing a previous building that burned in 1904.
6. Higby Mountain
Another of the stirring landforms on the Metacomet Ridge, Higby Mountain reaches a total height of 890+ feet, with cliffs soaring 590 feet over the Quinnipiac River valley.
As I mentioned above, this mountain ridge is on the Mattabesett Trail. Here the path continues unbroken along a two mile ledge with views of Meriden to savor.
The preserve around Higby Mountain encompasses 158 acres and is open from dawn to dusk. If you’re traveling from downtown Meriden there’s a trailhead and parking area just off Connecticut Route 66, about 1.5 miles out of town.
Fishing and boating are permitted on Black Pond State Wildlife Area, on the south side of Route 66.
7. Quinnipiac River Gorge Trail
Long-abandoned rail beds around Meriden are being turned into linear trails, all part of a campaign to rebrand this place as an active, nature rich town.
When I wrote this article there were six trails in all. The most scenic of which is on a 1.3-mile stretch of the Meriden & Waterbury Railroad, which was laid down in 1888 along the Quinnipiac River Gorge.
The line was never heavily trafficked, and closed down in 1966. You can pick up the trail on the west bank of Hanover Pond, and spend an easy hour or two walking or riding on the flat, paved terrain through this scenic gorge.
Hanover Pond dates to 1855 and was created when a dam was constructed to power a factory for the Meriden Cutlery Company.
The Hanover Pond Linear Trail is just under a mile, setting off along the Sodom Brook from the north bank of the pond as far as the Orville H. Platt High School.
8. Solomon Goffe House
The oldest building in Meriden is at 677 North Colony Street where it has stood since 1711. Eight bays long and with five dormers facing the street, the property has a wooden frame, with a gambrel roof and clapboard cladding.
Very little is known about its eponymous builder, Solomon Goffe, but the building has been restored as closely as possible to its early-18th century appearance. There’s also a charming herb garden from the period outside.
I’d take the chance to have a look inside on a tour. These take place on the second Sunday of the month between April and November, and are accompanied by special activities. For instance, June is Strawberry Day, while there’s an apple festival in October.
9. Giuffrida Park
This park to the northwest of Higby Mountain grants you access to the west side of the 690-feet Chauncey Peak, another basalt mountain (the east side is a working quarry).
Chauncey Peak, on the Mattabesett Trail, looms large on Meriden’s eastern horizon, and facing the town are vertiginous cliffs soaring 300 feet above the Bradley Hubbard Reservoir.
The soil at the foot of the cliffs is alkaline, giving rise to plants not commonly found in New England’s acidic soils.
People flock to the 600-acre Giuffrida Park for hiking, cycling, picnics and cross-country skiing after snowfall.
To the north is the long ridgeline of Lamentation Mountain, which also lies within the park and is linked by the Mattabesett Trail. This was named in 1636 when a member of the Wethersfield Colony was found here after being lost for three days.
10. Powder Ridge
The peak immediately south of Higby Mountain on the Metacomet Ridge is the 850-foot Besek Mountain, home to the Powder Ridge Mountain Park & Resort.
This opened in 2013 after its predecessor shut down six years before, and has a total skiable area of 80 acres, with 19 runs. Added to the pistes are facilities for snowboarding, freestyle skiing and snow-tubing.
Come summer. Powder Ridge is an active sports haven, equipped with a zip-line park. You can also rent all you need for mountain-biking, disc golf, tubing, synthetic skiing, and snowboarding.
There’s a whole calendar of events at the resort, including a beer and music festival at the end of July attended by up to 30 breweries.
11. Hunter Golf Club
Tipped as one of Connecticut’s top ten public golf courses, Hunter Golf Club is a relatively straightforward but immaculately tended 18-hole par 72. For my money, the front nine is trickier, for its very narrow fairways and dogleg third fairway.
Later, your approach will need to be accurate on the 11th, as the green is guarded on three sides by water hazards. I have to say, I found the entire track in great shape on my most recent round.
You can wrap up a day out with a sit-down Italian meal at the Violi’s Restaurant, based at the course.
12. Meriden Green
What was once 14 acres of contaminated commercial and industrial wasteland at the old “Hub” site has become Meriden Green, a verdant park right in the middle of Meriden beside the Amtrak station.
At a cost of $14m the park opened in 2016 after almost a decade of planning and construction.
There’s a pedestrian bridge crossing a stream and serpentine trails through lawns, fringed by newly planted trees. For me it’s all a wonderful public asset on the edge of a fast transforming downtown area.
On the east side is an amphitheater for public concerts, and there’s a patch of drivable turf hosting a weekly farmers’ market (June-October), and visits by a convoy of food trucks all year.
13. Farmer Joe’s Gardens
This local farm stand serves the Meriden community with baskets as part of a farmer harvest program (CSA). But if you’re just passing through there’s a great standalone store for ultra-fresh seasonal produce, treats and provisions.
When I came through there was honey, fine cuts of meat, pickles, preserves, herbs, flowers, home-baked pies, eggs and organic milk (including chocolate and strawberry).
The store also sells hand-crafted Adirondack chairs, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays a food truck comes by, preparing meals made from the farm’s own produce.
If you’re here with kids take a look around the back where there are some barnyard animals to meet.
14. Wadsworth Falls State Park
A simple 15-minute drive out of Meriden there’s natural splendor of a different kind, at a state park with two beautiful waterfalls in its boundaries.
Wadsworth Big Falls and Wadsworth Little Falls are both easily accessed via trails.
On the 50-foot-wide reach of the Coginchaug River, Wadsworth Big Falls tumbles over a 30-foot basalt shelf.
Smaller, but a little higher, Wadsworth Little Falls is on the Wadsworth Brook and drops 40 feet down a sandstone flight.
The falls are couched in thick forest, coursed with trails for hiking and mountain biking. In summer a pond here has a small sandy beach patrolled by lifeguards.
The park is on the former Long Hill Estate that belonged to the conservationist and New York National Guard member Colonel Clarence C. Wadsworth (1871-1941). I took a peek at Wadsworth’s Classical Revival mansion (1911), which sits just east of the park and is rented out for weddings.
15. Meriden Daffodil Festival
This wonderful family event has been a fixture on the calendar since 1978. Either in April or May, the Meriden Daffodil Festival coincides with the daffodil bloom at Hubbard Park.
Served by a shuttle bus service, there’s tons going on at the park across two days. You’ve got scores of arts & crafts vendors, children’s rides, a business expo, and a parade.
I was amazed by the quality and variety at the food tent, with everything from Philly steaks to Belgian waffles. Meanwhile the live entertainment does not stop from morning to evening, and is a showcase for CT’s music talent.