Few Connecticut areas better retain the look of yesteryear than the lower Connecticut River valley, particularly the neighboring Victorian villages of East Haddam and Chester which is about 30 miles from Hartford and has a population of about 8,000 people. It is known as the Victorian Charm of Two Classic River Towns.
Developed during the 19th century steamboat era, and it still contains countless imposing Victorian structures, including the restored Goodspeed Opera House, a magnificent four-story Second Empire building on the banks of the Connecticut River. The opera house boomed for it first few decades but fell on hard times by the middle of the 20th century and near faced the wrecking ball. They realized the historical nature of the Goodspeed Opera House, Preservationists stepped in, and now the 360 seat Goodspeed shows three top quality musical programs annually.
Just down river the Gillette Castle anchors the 184 acre state park of the same name. William Gillette, famous for his Sherlock Holmes portraits, labored 25 men and five years to build the elite 24 room fieldstone castle in 1919 for a then astounding $ 1 million. When the actor died in 1937, he left his riverside property to be developed as a state park. You can tour the restored bluff-top structure or stroll along Gillette's 3 mile long railroad. You can hike along the rail bed and admire the handsome stone rail station. This is definitely a wonderful place for a picnic and an afternoon spent exploring the area's nature trails.
Nearby Chester is a delightful spot for its shopping and dining. A smattering of art galleries fill the quaint, walkable downtown of this village perched along a section of the Connecticut River. Foodies laud the excellent Restaurant Du Village, which occupations an dining room that could easily pass for a country farmhouse in the South of France. The Mediterranean allusion continues when you choose from such signature peasants as calamari sauteed with brocoli rabe and lemon vinaigrette, or hearty lamb shank braised with a red wine sauce and root vegetables. It's wonderfully satisfying food, and the service is always faultless.
In summary, the most memorable moments and best times to visit Chester and East Haddam is early February for the Chester Winter Carnivale, with an outdoor ice-carving competition and gallery receptions. Also, late August for the Chester Fair and early September for the Chester Lobster Festival. So take the time to experience the Victorian Charm of Chester and East Haddam.