This agricultural town is found not far east of New Haven and just in from Long Island Sound, which puts lots of exciting places in reach.
In summer rural New Haven County is ripe for an epicurean adventure, taking you to craft breweries, vineyards and family-run PYO orchards with creameries and massive farm stands.
At this time of year you can get a handle on North Branford’s heritage at museums run by the Totoket Historical Society, which looks after an 18th-century house, a farm museum, a schoolhouse and an early gas station.
On the coast is Stony Creek, the jumping off point for the Thimble Islands, a beautiful and mysterious archipelago of granite islets.
1. Reynolds-Beers House
At 1740 Foxon Road, the Totoket Historical Society’s main museum office is in a handsome gambrel-roofed house with three dormers peeking through.
This is the Reynolds-Beers House, constructed by Hezekiah Reynolds in 1786 and with two ells at the back and east, added during the 19th century.
What’s special for a property of these proportions is just how much original interior detail has survived the test of time.
This goes most of all for the large amount of decorative panelling.
The house is open on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons all year.
2. Gordon S. Miller Farm Museum
If you time your visit right there’s a trove of artifacts to be discovered at this museum on the same site.
The Gordon S. Miller Farm Museum opened in 2002 and is full of genuine antique implements like two-man saws, tinware, hatchets, augers, coal shovels, hay knifes, threshing flails, saddles and more.
The museum is also a repository for other objects brought to light around North Branford, among them many Native American arrowheads.
Also worth checking out is the preserved 38-star flag, dating to 1876. The building was constructed as traditional post and beam barn and opens one Saturday a month in the spring, summer and fall.
3. Little White Gas Station
To the rear of the farm museum on the same property is North Branford’s first gas station.
Then known as the Angelo Forte gas station, this little hexagonal building goes back to the 1920s and was originally set at the Regional Water Company property on Route 80 close to the High School.
The building was relocated to its present spot in 2007 and its interior is adorned with old gas station signs and license plates evoking the period.
You can take a look inside whenever the Miller Barn is open.
When we wrote this article the historical society was seeking a vintage gas pump to place outside to complete the ensemble.
4. Little Red Schoolhouse
Starting in the summer of 2019 the Totoket Historical Society has opened up another riveting old site to the general public.
The Little Red Schoolhouse has a long and varied history.
It was completed as a one-room schoolhouse in 1805, but had become obsolete by 1904. For the next 25 years the building fell into decay before being restored by the League of Women Voters, who relocated it to its current spot.
For more than 20 years up to 1956 this was the Town Library, and since then has been a museum visited by schools.
What sets the Little Red Schoolhouse from other single-room schools is its age, and the wall-attached desks and benches take up three sides.
You can take a look around on the first Sunday of the month in spring summer and fall.
5. Northford Center Historic District
You can continue on your journey through North Branford’s early years, via Middletown Avenue from the village centre in the south to the junction with the Old Post Road in the north.
This historic district has 85 contributing buildings, nearly all of which date back to before the Civil War.
Although most are houses, there’s also a library, the Little Red Schoolhouse, two churches and Northford town green itself.
The oldest building here is the saltbox Benjamin Howd I House (1705) at 1795 Middletown Avenue.
As you progress through time, what’s interesting is how the district holds a mirror up to Northford’s 19th-century industrial development, when it became the “Christmas card center of the world”. You’ll see that prosperity in the imposing Greek Revival and Italianate houses, but also the Northford Congregational Church (1846), built from sandstone.
This fine Gothic Revival edifice was designed by Henry Austin (1804-1891) who drew up several Yale University buildings.
6. Dudley Farm Museum
This 10-acre property nearby in Guilford was in the Dudley family for almost 300 years up David Dudley’s passing in 1991. The current farmhouse was built in 1845 and is preserved by a foundation as a museum for the region’s agricultural heritage.
You can tour the farmhouse, viewing period furniture and fittings, and learning details about the people who lived here.
The barns and outbuildings hold antique farm equipment, and children be pleased with the farmyard animals representative for the mid-19th century.
In the grounds are period herb and flower gardens, meadows, woods and arable farmland.
7. Rose Orchards
In the North Branford Countryside, Rose Orchards is the sort of rural business that does a bit of everything.
On hot summer afternoons you’ll be enticed by its frozen custard, and the almost limitless choice of sundaes, milkshakes, some mixing fresh fruit grown on the farm.
The PYO fruit season at Rose Orchards lasts from the end of June to the end of October, beginning with strawberries and ending with pumpkins, via blueberries, peaches, raspberries and lots of different apple varieties.
All of this produce is on sale at the farm stand, as well as cheeses, Connecticut maple syrup, pickles, preserves, fresh dairy products and pies in 14 different flavours.
And if you come with an appetite, Buck’s Grill serves up burgers, wraps, sandwiches, hot dogs and salads, as well as a tasty breakfast menu.
8. Northford Ice Pavilion
For a bit of exercise or a family activity, Northford Ice Pavilion’s public skate sessions are an easy, economical option.
As of 2019 the rates are $8 per skater and $4 for skate rental.
Check the website for the full public skate schedule, as the Ice Pavilion is also the home rink for a host of area high school teams.
If you live locally there are adult and youth teams recruiting new players, while the rink also runs a Learn to Skate program for everyone from toddlers to grown-ups.
Classes run in eight-week sessions and take place Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays.
Each session includes 25 minutes of tuition and 30 minutes of practice time.
9. Thimble Island Brewing Company
A trailblazer for Connecticut’s burgeoning craft brewing industry, Thimble Island has been in business for almost a decade, and puts out more than 10,000 barrels a year.
Until recently this was also the only brewery on the Connecticut shoreline, and both the can designs and taproom have a maritime aesthetic.
The flagship is the crowd-pleasing American Ale, an amber ale with a careful balance of hops and malt.
The taproom is open seven days and has 24 rotating draft lines, with brews like Vanilla Coffee Stout, Oktoberfest German lager and a whole spectrum of IPAs and sours to investigate.
Guided brewery tours are given on weekends, and there’s a New England-style seafood menu on Fridays and Saturdays, and a regular food truck on Sundays.
10. Stony Creek Brewery
When it comes to location, Stony Creek Brewery on the Branford River is in a class of its own.
The airy taproom has a deck, terrace and yard overlooking the water, and even offers a window onto the brewery’s canning and bottling lines.
There’s a also little dock for the brewery on the river if you come by boat.
When it comes to the brews, Stony Creek has a whole line of hoppy IPAs dubbed “The Crankies”, as well as lagers and all sorts of creative stouts, porters and sours, and lots of creative seasonal beers.
Brewery tours take place on Saturdays and Sundays, while there’s a steady rotation of food trucks and live music every few days.
11. Bishop’s Orchards
Another multifaceted rural attraction, Bishop’s Orchards is at two locations, in Northford and Guilford, and features pick-your-own fruit, a creamery, a winery and a farm market.
From early summer to late-fall you can pick strawberries, blueberries, peaches, raspberries, pears, apples and pumpkins.
There’s a helpful calendar on the farm’s website to let you know what will be ready and where.
Bishop’s Orchards’ winery was set up in 2005, growing Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Pinot, Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, for wines from dry to sweet, together with fruit wines and hard ciders.
Drop by on weekends for tours and tastings.
Finally, that capacious farm market is food paradise, overflowing with fresh produce, artisanal cheese, organic treats, home-baked goodies and delicious “grab N go” meals”.
12. Rosabianca Vineyards
Family-owned and run, Rosabianca Vineyards has a tasting room in a quaint restored barn, pouring a variety of Italian-red and whites that run the gamut from sweet to dry.
This estate was the dream of family patriarch Andrea Rosabianca, who came to America from Amalfi more than 60 years ago.
Stay up to date with the vineyard’s website, which posts details of live comedy, music and even vinyasa yoga.
You’re free to bring your own snacks to enjoy with the wine, and there’s a pizza truck on Friday nights.
13. Thimble Islands
In Stony Creek Harbor, a few miles to the south is an archipelago of more than 100 rocky islands.
It’s thrilling to think that these landforms are the peaks of granite hills that were submerged during the last Ice Age.
Unlike many of the islands on Long Island Sound, the Thimble Islands are sturdy because of their granite bedrock and were settled in the 17th century.
The sheltered waters soon became a key deepwater anchorage, and one story goes that the pirate Captain William Kidd buried his treasure here.
There are 81 houses on the archipelago: Fourteen of the islands have only one house, while the most populated, Money Island, has 32. There are three boat companies at the Stony Creek Dock waiting to take you out on a narrated sightseeing cruise full of compelling stories.
14. Stony Creek
The little harbour village where you embark for trips around the Thimble Islands merits a bit more of your time.
Stony Creek has beautiful waterfront houses from the 19th century, some established as hotels when this village was a retreat for industrialists.
Also historic is the village’s pink granite quarry, which provided the material for the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station and the base of the Statue of Liberty, and is still operating today.
You can tie together these different strands at the Stony Creek Museum, which is free to enter and opens on Fridays and weekends.
Meanwhile Stony Creek Beach may be the most delightful beach in the state, with those grand seafront houses setting the scene behind.
15. Lake Saltonstall Recreation Area
North Branford is near the southernmost point of the Metacomet Ridge, a 200-million-year-old basalt fault that forms a rugged hump for 100 miles through Connecticut and Massachusetts up to the Vermont border.
One piece of the ridge lies to the south-west of North Branford at Lake Saltonstall, which is embedded in Saltonstall Mountain.
The land at the Lake Saltonstall Recreation Area is owned by the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority, granting access to permit-holders.
If you’re in the area for the long term, then these are inexpensive, costing $50 for a family for two years.
Lake Saltonstall is a fishing hotspot, with plenty of carp, yellow perch, trout, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass.
For hikers there’s a trail following the ridge through deep forest , treating you to dramatic views of the water, and over Foxon to the west.