Litchfield County Sketches

By Newell Meeker Calhoun

Litchfield County University Club
1906

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V
The Finest Drive in the World

WHERE shall one find it, and who shall be the judge? If it seemed the finest in youth, would it continue to be so later in life? Then, too, do not conditions change with the changing years? The estimate which one puts upon such a thing as a drive must necessarily depend partly upon ever-varying conditions. No one thinks the road a pleasant one over Which he is driving to see a sick friend. The soul’s moods, as well as those of the sky and landscape, help to make or mar the ways by which we go.

The title of this article, “The Finest Drive in the World,” is a borrowed one, and has oftenest been applied to that most wonderfully picturesque road along the shores of the Bay of Naples from Sorreiito to Castel-a-Mare. There you have well-nigh perfect conditions. The roadbed is hard and smooth, the perfection of engineering skill, winding through Italian villas and under beetling crags, with orange groves and flower gardens on every hand. Below lies sparkling the blue-green water of the Bay of Naples, with Capri, Baiae and Posilipo in the hazy distance. Before you The Finest Drive in the World rises Vesuvius, with its turbaned summit, white by day and glowing at night—a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Over all is the blue sky of sunny Italy. That is a drive which, if once taken, will surely never be forgotten. It will atone for some of the ugliness and dirt which are to be found in Naples itself. As a stranger in a strange land, there are, however, no associations connected with it, and so an essential element is wanting. To get the very most out of it, one must have loved every hill, mountain and stream from boyhood; he must have seen, as he has often driven over it, sunsets and sunrises, mountains and bay, Winter frosts and Summer harvests; he must have had a heart as full as a bobolink’s, and a friend by his side whose presence irradiated and glorified all things. Only one’s native land can furnish for him “the finest drive in the world.” Possibly we may find it in Litchfield County.

One might start from ‘Winsted, in the northeast part of the county, and follow up the valley of Mad River for four or five miles, along a shady, winding driveway beside the noisy, businesslike stream which all the way seems babbling boastfully of what it will do when it gets to town. Farther along the way shall lead one between laurel-crowned hillsides, for the drive should be taken in June, most lovely of months. Whatever may be the national flower, that of Litchfield County is the mountain laurel. The Litchfield County University Club has appropriately put it upon its seal, and its stately blossoms adorn the club’s June banquet at "Whitehouse," in Norfolk. The pink and white blossoms appear everywhere, hiding in the woods and straying over the pastures. Here a large clump stands out in the open, backed by pines or hemlock. Yonder the side of the hill is covered with them, standing in groups and singles, as if they had been carefully planted by a landscape gardener. At a turn in the road an opening is discovered in the woods, where there are acres of laurel, looking like an orchard in full bloom, with the added beauty which the waxy green leaves give the gay flowers. This common roadway—if a country road could be called common—has become a royal driveway, through the king’s gardens, and the edges of the silver lakes, reflecting their beauty, give to them a double existence like our own—the material and the spiritual. It is permitted us to think that the flowers that adorn the earth are like all things here—shadows of the heavenly. Earth’s hard conditions cramp and blight them, but in the heavenly world we shall see them in their ideal state and condition. The discoveries and improvements which men are making in flowers and fruits are the way we have of finding out how to do things after God’s patterns, that is all. We do not make things; we only discover them.

We have well-nigh lost our road, while following one of the soul’s pathways, and must get back again to good hard dirt and gravel, packed down by hoofs and wheels. Had we the time to climb this fence, cross over yonder brook, which is saying, “There are trout here,” and explore that thick swamp just in the edge of the woods, we should find another flower rarely found in our State. It is the Rhododendron maximum, or great laurel. The kind-hearted farmer who lives near that swamp used to bring its snow-white blossoms to the little daughter, along with the weekly supply of eggs, and called them “rosydendrons.” It secludes itself in remote swamps, and its whereabouts is known to only a few of its lovers. It is of interest to note that both of these New England wild flowers have been transplanted in Old England, to adorn some of the estates of the nobility.

Getting back to our carriage we steadily ascend until we come to Norfolk, thirteen hundred feet above the sea level, and as much as thirteen thousand “celestial diameters” above the level of the dirty cities. Norfolk has the highest railway station in the State, and by far the most beautiful. Without it is granite, and within decorated with pictures which would adorn a drawing room. ‘With a library of perfect appointments, an artistic and commodious gymnasium, golf links and tennis courts, and withal a cultivated and refined people, Norfolk has justly become the centre of a most charming Summer colony. Once each year the college men of the county are the guests of the founders of the Litchfield University Club, at their beautiful home, where they are entertained with lavish hospitality. Will not such perfect conditions as the Norfolk people enjoy make heaven less to be longed for? A traveller, it is said, once asked for a ticket to Heaven, and was given one to Norfolk, to his entire satisfaction. One can easily believe this to be true.

Our way now leads to the south, along woodsy roads and over sharp hills, through North Goshen, past Ivy Mountain Tower, along the East Street through creamy Goshen, where, from the very backbone of the county, the Catskills are to be seen toward the sunset, and the Talcott Mountains toward the sunrising. Now we are in classic Litchfield, where the first law school in the United States flourished under Judges Reeves and Gould, and where Henry Ward Beecher first saw the light. The streets are overarched with stately elms and maples, and bordered with old-fashioned houses and new-fashioned residences. Flower gardens and lawns, hotels and public buildings, all proclaim that we are in a much-loved town. Driving down the main street to the south, we catch the first sight of Bantam Lake, lying in the midst of cultivated farms. The highway from Litchfield to Morris is for the most part in sight of this beautiful sheet of water. At Morris you will pass the site of the old Morris Academy, the first school of its kind in this part of the country, where many young men were educated who afterward filled positions of responsibility in the great world. Here, too, the eye can sweep a wide horizon on every side, for these are the bill towns of Connecticut. Southward still your road leads you, always high up on the ridge, with green wavy hills stretching away on either hand, and rich farm lands with white farm houses and capacious barns. Three miles south of Morris is Bethlehem, once the home of Backus and Bellamy, two country parsons of wide fame, and of the classical school founded by the one, and the theological school held under the roof of the other. This village street, like most of those in Litchfield County, is long, wide and shady. The roads leading from Bethlehem to Woodbury are all of them a revelation of beauty. Whichever one you take, you will be persuaded is the finest. Nonawaug Falls, on the valley road, have more than a local reputation and make a most delightful place for the noontime luncheon. Woodbury is well in the southern part of the county, and reminds one of Stratford-on-Avon, so quiet and dreamy is its beauty. Oremaug Park, just above the village, and the Pornperaug Valley, with lush meadows and waving green fields, tempt the traveller to linger and spend the Summer days in this vale of contentment. Turning now to the northward, our road winds up the valley through Hotchkissville and Wickipeema, and over the hills to Washington Green. In the early days this region was called Judea. and well named it was, “for as the mountains are round about Jerusalem,” so they are round about Washington. This hill town was made famous years ago by Mr. Frederick Gunn and his school, which was called “The Gunnery.” It was immortalized by J. G. Holland as the “Bird’s Nest.” Mr. Gunn was a wonderful school teacher, and sent out into the world many distinguished pupils. One of them—the lamented and brilliant Hamilton Gibson—afterward returned and made his home in Washington. United States Senator Platt, a native of this same hill town, loved it so well that he came back here for his vacations, and was gathered to his fathers amidst the scenes he had loved in his boyhood.

Homelike, modern houses blend with the old-fashioned Colonial ones, with their white paint and green blinds, just as Summer visitors and old-time residents here mix cordially together, forming an ideally delightful community.

From Washington to New Preston any road you choose to take will prove itself the most beautiful, whether by the valley up Bee Brook, or through Calhoun Street over the hills. Taking this latter way, the backward look will repay you, for there are glories behind as well as about you.

New Preston is twins, one living on the hill, the other on the stream which flows down from WTaramaug. Horace Bushnell and President Day, of Yale College, were born in New Preston. There was an old academy here, which was presided over by Gould Whittlesey, and from its doors many youth went to college. He it was who used to say, when tired of trying to make some dull pupil understand, “If I had my life to live over again, I would not he a pedagogue.” His scholars loved him, however, and when his teaching work was done they came back from all over the country to an anniversary, to testify of the love which they had for the old rhaster. Mr. Whittlesey inspired his pupils with a desire for knowledge. Another schoolmaster has labored here for long years, and in his home-school has shaped the lives of multitudes of boys. Mr. Henry Upson has served the church as preacher, his country as chaplain during the war, and the cause of education in the laying of the foundations of character and learning in his pupils. Not many men have wrought in church, State and college better than he has. Northward again, our way leads us, along the shores of Lake Waramaiig, with its beautiful Summer homes and background of hills and mountains, over these last into Kent, up the Housatonic River to the Cornwalls, over more mountains to Sharon the restful, remote from the noise of railway and trolley. Those who first came hither to make their homes must have had in mind that other Vale of Sharon, stretching along under the mountains of Judea. Undulating, cultivated hills roll away toward the horizon, while quiet lakes sleep in their soft embrace. From Sharon to Lakeville the roadway is the best, through a rich farming region and a landscape ever changing and pleasing to the eye. We are now in the lake region of the county, where Wononscopomuc reflects Mount Riga, and Washining and Washinee serve as mirrors for Bald Mountain. Salisbury is the place of schools— Hotchkiss and the Austin for boys and the Taconic for girls. As you drive along its elm-shaded streets the sweet chimes from the Scoville Library strike the hour. It is no wonder that the Shepherd of Salisbury tends his scattered flock year after year, resisting the allurethents of other larger sheepfolds. One cannot blame him if he prefers to continue Bishop of Salisbury, rather than to become a Canon of Westminster. Salisbury, like many another town in our mountain county, is a hard place to go away from. Being very near to the land of Canaan may have something to do with it. Through that land with its “green fields” and “swelling floods” we take our homeward way until we come again to Norfolk. Standing by the meeting house and looking off toward the sunset, if you do not say that you have taken the finest drive in the world, then immediately you will be counted out from the select “four hundred” who were born in Litchfield County.


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