A small residential suburb in Greater Hartford, Newington still has plenty of things to recommend it.
Amateur radio operators will already know it as the home town of the American Radio Relay League and the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station.
Newington is also the proud owner of America’s littlest waterfall, embedded in a lush park in the centre of the town.
At Newington Junction there’s tons of beautiful New England architecture going back as far as 300 years, and two spellbinding houses are opened to the public by the Newington Historical Society.
The town is wedged tight between neighbouring suburbs, where museums, craft breweries and one of the best public golf courses in the state all sit a few minutes away.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Newington:
1. Mill Pond Park
Between Newington’s prime thoroughfares, Willard Avenue and Main Street, lies a park with a waterfall at its heart.
Mill Pond Falls isn’t just any natural landmark, as it is officially the smallest natural waterfall in the United States.
Water from park’s pond, named for a sawmill that was raised in 1860, drains from the south end and drops five metres over a flight of rocks at a maximum rate of 16 litres per second.
There’s a path around the pond, traversing the falls via a little wooden footbridge.
In the remainder of the park there’s a baseball field, a basketball court, tennis courts, two soccer fields, a public pool, children’s playground and a concession stand.
2. Cedar Hill Cemetery
Open to the public 365 days a year, Cedar Hill Cemetery is in the American rural cemetery style and opened in 1866. Over 270 landscaped acres laced with ponds and a brook there’s an array of beautiful historic buildings, imposing monuments and graves to some influential and famous people.
In terms of architecture, check out the Northam Memorial Chapel from 1882 and the Gallup Memorial Gateway with wrought iron carriage gate from 1888. Architects and sculptors like Carl Conrads, George Keller and Randolph Rogers have produced monuments here, while the list of burials is distinguished.
You can find the rather modest grave of Katharine Hepburn and her feminist and suffragette mother, Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn.
also look for Keller’s striking monument for the banker John Pierpoint Morgan and his family, and the resting place of the inventor of the Colt Revolver, Samuel Colt.
3. Lucy Robbins Welles Library
The local library is a prized amenity for Newington Residents, with more than 167,000 items in its catalogue.
Little wonder that the book borrowing rate in this town is almost double the national average.
The Lucy Robbins Welles Library was established in 1939 after a donation of money and land by two important local sisters, Fanny A. Welles and Mary Welles Eddy.
In keeping with its location, it was constructed in a quaint Georgian Revival style and along with that enormous book collection, the library offers free Wi-Fi, public computers, newspapers and busy activity programmes for infants, children, teens and adults.
There are exhibitions by local artists, movie screenings, storytimes, craft workshops, talks and yoga classes.
4. Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station
Newington lays claim to the flagship station for amateur radio operation in the United States.
W1AW by its call sign, the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station has hardly changed since it was built in 1938 and stands beside the Amateur Radio Relay League(ARRL) headquarters, which arrived in 1963. The station was such a big deal than its dedication ceremony in 1938 was broadcast live nationwide on the CBS network.
It was named after Hiram Percy Maxim, the ARRL’s co-founder and first president, and adopted his personal call-sign, (W1AW).The station is still internationally renowned for its news bulletins and Morse code practice sessions.
Starting at the ARRL building, tours are given in the morning and afternoon, Monday to Friday, and of course W1AW is a highlight.
You’ll see Hiram Percy Maxim’s roll-top desk, a post-WWII-era transmitter and a rotary spark gap transmitter, “Old Betsy” once installed at Maxim’s Hartford home.
You’ll also be shown the current transmitters, the three studios and the digital station.
There are three guest operating positions at W1AW that you can use if you’re a licensed amateur, and depending on your class.
5. Newington Junction
In the north east of the town at the intersection of Willard Avenue and West Hill Road is a leafy area with a rich past, composed of three different historic districts: Newington Junction South, North and West.
The oldest building in Newington Junction dates from 1650, and among the 30-odd contributing buildings are sprawling houses in the Colonial, Gothic Revival, Late Victorian, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles.
Another monument on the National Register of Historic Places is the Newington Junction Railroad Depot and Freight House, erected in the 1890s and now occupied by a garden centre and landscaping business.
6. Gen. Martin Kellogg House
One of the finest houses in Newington is also on Willard Avenue at No. 679 and preserved as a historic house museum.
The substantial Gen. Martin Kellogg House is in an outstanding piece of Federal-period architecture, dating to 1808 and also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The original and foremost wing of the building has five bays, a wooden frame and an original Doric portico at the main entrance.
The wing to the right is an extension from the late-1920s.
Inside there’s some masterful woodwork to admire, as well as Meissen porcelain, a collection of farm tools and lots of period appropriate decor in the parlours and chambers.
For details of tours, enquire at the Newington Historical Society.
7. Kelsey House
Also in the care of the Newington Historical Society is the Enoch Kelsey House, which was built by the namesake farmer/tinsmith and his son David in 1799. The house was slated for demolition until members of the historical society discovered four rare, freehand trompe-l’œil paintings on the walls inside, imitating wallpaper.
These works, as well as the fine restored wooden panelling and original beehive oven and fireplaces are all worthy of closer inspection.
Also compelling is a barn loom, dating back to 1822 and used by four generations of women in the same family.
8. Newington Waterfall Festival
The smallest waterfall in the United States is celebrated every September with a one-day festival on Market Square.
The Newington Waterfall Festival was launched in 2000 and now pulls in people from well beyond the town for live music, children’s activities, a farmers’ market and some 70 arts and craft stalls and food vendors.
The main event on the day is the Artist’s Chalk Walk, in which the surface of Market Square is turned into a big, colourful art gallery.
9. Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum
The largest historic district in the state is next door in Wethersfield, and in under ten minutes you can be at this museum preserving a row of three 18th-century houses, each with an intriguing history to uncover.
The Joseph Webb House (1752) is where George Washington spent five nights in 1781 and met the Comte de Rochambeau to plot the final push in the Revolutionary War.
The Silas Deane House (1769) was the purpose-built home of another important figure in American Independence, and Deane would later represent the Continental Congress as the first American diplomat to France.
At the Isaac Stevens House (1788) you can take a peek into the lifestyle of a middle class leatherworker in the first decades of the 19th century, viewing period furniture, wallpaper and the new technologies brought by the Industrial Revolution.
Upstairs is a fabulous collection of toys, dolls and dollhouses.
Another property, the Bottolph-Williams House (1711) is set close by and is enriched with decorative arts from the 17th century.
10. Montana Nights Axe Throwing
The largest axe-throwing attraction in New England is right here in Newington, and it’s an activity you never knew you wanted to try.
Think darts, but a little heavier.
Montana Nights, Newington has seven pits, and the best way to take part is to gather a group of eight, otherwise you may end up making up a random group of 12 on busier nights.
Naturally axe-throwing isn’t without its dangers, so you’ll need orientation from your “axespert” at first before you can compete in a variety of throwing games for the next hour or so.
After all this action there’s a bar stocked with craft beer, as well as pool, chess tables and arcade games.
11. Alvarium Beer Company
A brief cab ride will bring you to this craft brewery in New Britain, managed by a multi-talented three-man team.
In industrial surroundings, the taproom has been put together by hand and is a thing of beauty, with wood panelling and a 10-ton bar made from steel I-beams.
There’s shuffleboard, foosball, board games, hand-crafted wooden tables and digital menus over the bar tell you what’s on tap.
For food, you’ve got kielbasa and soft pretzels at the bar, and a food truck comes by most days.
When we wrote this article in July 2019 there were 13 brews on tap, including a contingent of hoppy and fruity New England IPAs and DIPAs, as well as a coffee stout, Mexican lager brewed with lime peel, a Japanese rice lager and German wheat beer.
12. Dinosaur State Park
It won’t take you more than 15 minutes to reach one of North America’s largest dinosaur track sites, dating back 200 million years.
This stunning find was made in a sandstone quarry in 1966, and the park opened two years later.
The main building at Dinosaur State Park is a geodesic dome, protecting around 500 tracks left on what was once the sandy shore of a lake by a carnivore resembling a dilophosaurus.
These are up to 41cm long and as much as 1.4 metres apart.
For reference you can see life-sized dilophosaurus models in the dome in dioramas, as well as live exhibits with lizards and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
Outside is an arboretum growing 250 different species and cultivars of coniferous trees to resemble Mesozoic woodland, all criss-crossed by two miles of trails.
13. Stanley Golf Course
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better public golf facility than the nearby Stanley Golf Course, which compares well to a high-end private club.
There are 27 holes of golf here, across three nine-hole courses, known for their testing greens and tee positions that require a soft touch.
You can shake off the rust at the floodlit driving range and the practice greens.
In fact a lot of people just come to hit a few balls and you can just pop your credit card into the ball dispenser (99 balls for $12). Green fees are $37 on weekdays and $40 on weekends for 18 holes, while the Back Nine Tavern Restaurant has a hunger-busting menu of American classics, pizza and sandwiches.
14. Iwo Jima Survivors’ Memorial Park
One hundred men from Connecticut were among the 6,821 US servicemen who died at the brutal Battle of Iwo Jima in February and March of 1945. The name alone calls to mind the famous image of six marines raising the flag atop Mound Suribachi, taken on February 23.
The National Iwo Jima Memorial in Newington reproduces that photograph in bronze, and was dedicated on February 23, 1995. There’s an eternal flame close by and black granite panels below record the names of the one hundred Connecticut men who gave their lives.
15. Copernican Observatory and Planetarium
Central Connecticut State University’s Physics & Engineering Department maintains a planetarium and set of telescopes for its astronomy programme, and these are made available to the public roughly every other Saturday.
Free planetarium shows, put on by enthusiastic teachers and students, begin at 20:00 and cover a rotating list of topics (different types of stars and the Sun in August 2019). Afterwards, if the sky is clear you’ll be able to head to the roof to wonder the cosmos through the observatory’s telescopes.