In the 19th and early-20th century Southington was a town of heavy industry edged by fruit farms.
During that time the town’s manufacturers were responsible for a few world-firsts, like the first cement that could harden under water and the first carriage bolt cutting machine.
Nearly all of this manufacturing has since departed, and over the last few decades Southington has set about revitalising itself, demolishing many factories and preserving some pieces of industrial architecture.
For visitors Southington’s main draws are the venerable amusement park, Lake Compounce, the rugged landforms on the Metacomet Ridge, as well as the old orchards that have long earned the town the nickname “Apple Valley”.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Southington:
1. Lake Compounce
The oldest continuously running amusement park in the United States is still in great health and has lots of modern thrills to go with its stately vintage attractions.
The wooden coaster Wild Cat dates to 1927 and is the 14th oldest rollercoaster in the world.
Many people travel to Lake Compounce with one intention: To ride Boulder Dash, which was built in 2000, and is often ranked as the best wooden rollercoaster in the world by the Golden Ticket Awards.
More genteel, the Lake Compounce Carousel, composed of 16 hand-crafted horses, a chariot and a goat, is on the National Register of Historic Places and dates to 1890. Fast forward a century or so, and one of the newest arrivals is the intimidating Phobia Phear Coaster, which has an inline twist and non-inverting loop.
There’s a raft of quaint rides and amusements for younger children, as well as the water park, Crocodile Cove, included in the admission price and considered the best in Connecticut.
2. Barnes Museum
The wealthy Bradley/Barnes family lived at this Greek Revival homestead from its construction in 1836 until it was bequeathed to the Town of Southington by Bradley Barnes in 1973. What he left was an incredible historical document, as the house retains its original furnishings, shining a light on changing lifestyles in New England over nearly 150 years.
Barnes Museum brims with fine furniture, early photographs, paintings, light fittings, ceramics and all sorts of vintage home appliances.
When you visit you can opt for an in-depth tour, going into detail on the house’s wealth of furniture, decorative arts, costume and even documents like Civil War correspondence and land records going back to 1740.
3. Hubbard Park
Over the Quinnipiac River valley, the Hanging Hills roll out across the south-east corner of Southington, as well as the neighbouring towns of Meriden and Berlin.
This sub-range of the linear Metacomet Ridge is composed of the same basalt from the late Triassic Period.
At Hubbard Park a 1,800-acre tract of the Hanging Hills was turned into a park at the turn of the 20th century by the Meriden industrialist Walter Hubbard.
He hired James Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) to create a pond, Mirror Lake, and pumped many thousands of dollars into a free place for the people of Meriden to enjoy.
Contrasting with the park’s wilder terrain there’s a dainty flower garden and bandshell, holding events in spring and summer like the Daffodil Festival at the end of April.
This event brings food trucks, a craft fair, carnival rides and a fireworks display.
4. Castle Craig
In 1900 this castle-like observation tower, another project funded by Walter Hubbard, opened atop the 297-metre East Peak on the very cusp of the ridge.
Walter was a widely travelled man, and the inspiration for Castle Craig has been the subject of debate, with suggested models ranging from Norman castle to Turkish watch-towers on the Danube.
The structure also bears a resemblance to a tower in the village of Craigellachie in Moray, Scotland.
There’s a dedication plaque at the foot of the tower, informing you of what you can see in clear weather.
To the south is Long Island Sound, and if you turn north you can identify the outline of the Berkshires in Massachusetts.
5. Kinsmen Brewing
Wherever you go in Connecticut there’s always a craft brewery around the corner, but Kinsmen Brewing stands out in a crowded market.
For starters the location is great, in a 100-year-old brick-built factory by the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (more on that below). The taproom has a patio reachable from the trail and is open unusually long hours, seven days a week and as late as 00:00 on Fridays and Saturday nights.
There are beers for every palate on tap (ten in July 2019). If you’re into hoppy brews there’s always a handful of IPAs and double IPAS, along with lagers and witbiers, some inventive fruit-infused creations and a contingent of dark and malty porters and stouts.
There’s regular live music on weekends, and Kinsmen has just opened an on-site kitchen, Sauced, for pizzas and Italian sandwiches.
6. Mount Southington
Ideal for casual and novice skiers, the season at Mount Southington runs from December to around mid-March.
Mount Southington is small but well-run, with a total skiable area of just over 50 acres, composed of 14 runs and a terrain park, all served by seven lifts with fast-moving lines.
Mount Southington offers night skiing on all runs, and has snowmaking facilities throughout, so there’s always solid coverage.
The rates are affordable too, especially if you come between 10:00 and 15:00 on a weekday, when you can hit the slopes for as little as $35. Naturally the resort runs classes, individual lessons and packages for kids and grown-ups.
7. Rogers Orchards
The largest apple-grower in Connecticut is in Southington, spread across 250 acres and cultivating 20 apple varieties, from Galas to Idareds.
Now in its 8th generation, Rogers Orchards was founded in 1807, and along with its many rows of apple trees also produces lots of other fruit and vegetables, particularly summer fruits like apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines, as well as pumpkins in fall.
At the farm’s store you can shop for cut flowers, honeys, sauces, cheeses, firewood, Christmas decorations, delicious home-baked pies (15 kinds) and apple cider donuts.
Pick-your-own apple season, from the beginning of September to late-October, is the best time to come, and there’s a helpful calendar on the farm’s website telling you when your favourite apples will be ready.
8. Southington Town Green
Now, just as more than 200 years ago, the little strip of grass and foliage in front of the town hall has a part to play in local life.
The green is the core of the Southington Center Historic District and July and October is the location for the town’s farmer’s market, trading every Friday afternoon.
For nearly 30 summers, Southington has also put on a “Music on the Green” programme here from June to September.
There’s a concert every Wednesday evening, suiting most tastes, whether you’re up for pop & rock, soul, country music, funk, jazz or polka.
9. Ragged Mountain Memorial Preserve
Southington’s east side is crossed by a 200-million-year-old basalt ridge on its way from Long Island Sound up to the Massachusetts-Vermont border.
All along this fault, the Metacomet Ridge forms peaks and high bluffs and gives rise to unusual ecosystems for its alkaline soils.
One such peak is Ragged Mountain, 232 metres tall and poised over the Wassel Reservoir to the west.
There are multiple trails in the Ragged Mountain Memorial Preserve (not always well-marked) and some sharp ascents if you’re heading to the summit, but the far-off vistas merit the effort, giving you unbroken views over Southington, Berlin and portions of New Britain.
Additionally, Ragged Mountain is traversed by the 52-mile Metacomet Trail, a Blue-Blazed trail following the ridge to the Massachusetts border.
10. Sunset Rock State Park
Another scenic landscape formed by the Metacomet Ridge lies just north of Ragged Mountain, where west-facing bluffs command romantic views over Crescent Lake.
You can hike to this lookout on the Blue-Orange trail, which has some testing sections but is worthwhile for the view and the foliage on the way.
There are mountain biking trails here too, with a high-speed trail further down, and a technical, rocky trail up the slope.
For a more relaxing time you could bring a picnic to the lake shore or fish for largemouth bass.
11. Hawk’s Landing Country Club
Practically next door to Sunset Rock is a highly regarded 18-hole par 71, designed for all ability levels and deep in towering mixed woodland.
The course is on rambling terrain, and occasionally grants you exhilarating views east to the Metacomet Ridge.
The par 4s and 5s tend to be quite short at Hawk’s Landing, and require a little finesse off the tee.
Green fees are $50 for 18 holes with cart on weekdays and $60 on weekends.
For a fitting end to your round Club 19 has a tempting, cosmopolitan menu with salads, wraps, burgers and sandwiches (the prime rib grinder is a winner), and comes with an outdoor bar with a perfect view of the course.
12. Southington Public Library
Southington has a public library almost any town would be proud of, in a grand Classical Revival building dating to 1902. This is an especially good resource for families, as the Children’s Department is a caring environment where young minds can play, learn and explore.
The events calendar for children is chock full of fun goings-on, like story time, movie screenings and, in summer, the roaming railroad, a road train that tours the library parking lot.
For grownups there are art exhibitions, drawing classes, engaging talks, poetry readings and self-help sessions.
13. Karabin Farms
One of the great things about being in a mid-sized town like Southington is that rural businesses like Karabin Farms are a whisker away.
Things kick into gear in spring when the farm opens daily for fruits, vegetables, flowers, maple syrup, farm-raised meats and then a lively pick-your-own apple season in autumn.
This is maybe the high point on the calendar, and for the next two and a half months, varieties like Honey Crisp, Yellow Delicious, Macoun, Mac and Fuji will ripen, closing with Red Delicious and Cameo in late-October.
Apple picking is always a thrill for smaller family members, as you’ll ride a tractor-pulled wagon to get to the orchards.
The PYO pumpkin season coincides with the later apples, and just a few weeks later it’s time for turkeys and Christmas trees.
14. Southington Memorial Park
The sort of park no town can do without, the 20-acre Memorial Park boasts sports facilities, a duck pond and a playscape for kids.
There’s a pool, which is open only to residents, but the remainder is open to all and includes three tennis courts, a floodlit football field, baseball diamonds, a basketball court and an appealing picnic grove.
When the pond freezes over in winter there’s also ice skating, and in summer the many tall trees create ample shade.
15. Southington Linear Trail
Between Hart Street and the Southington/Cheshire Line is a 4.1-mile walking trail on the right of way of the old New Haven and Northampton Company railroad.
That line was built in the mid-19th century on the route of the earlier Farmington Canal, linking New Haven and Northampton in the 1820s.
The Southington Linear Trail is a forgiving paved walk, suitable even for kids and conveying you through a canyon of trees, over old bridges and past some interesting pieces of historic industrial architecture like the brick Clark Bros. Bolt Co. Factory No. 2 from the 1910s (now housing Kinsmen Brewing).
The trail is a section of the 81.2-mile Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, which will eventually run unbroken from the Yale campus in New Haven to Northampton, MA.