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Please select an itemTOWN

Once a part of Saybrook, Old Lyme — or Black Hall as it was originally called, became an independent town in 1655. It incorporated under the name South Lyme in 1855, changing its name to Old Lyme two years later.

According to town historians, early industries included fishing, shipping, and ship building, but when the nineteenth century dawned, this lovely little village on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River found a new calling as both a summer resort and a place where artists came to paint. Since then, its fine blending of rural and village life with a watercolor wash of cordial gentility has ensured a leisurely ambiance, with visitors and the residents an interesting blend, too.

Families come here — and frequently stay — for the clean air, deep woods, sandy beaches, good schools, and diverse recreational opportunities considered essential for a superior education and wholesome living. Likewise, a large contingent of mariners live here, as well, taking to the waterways in fleets from April to November, when the warm weather sets this quiet community abustling.

And Old Lyme is proud home to a large population of egrets, herons and osprey who greatly outnumber the people. Both the town government and the State of Connecticut have done a superlative job of protecting and restoring acres of habitat. Indeed, the salt marshes at Great Island, the fresh river waters, and the brine and sediments swept upriver at high tide have created a stunningly diverse ecosystem.

No matter when you arrive, look for A.C. Petersen’s Hallmark Drive-In on Shore Road and treat yourself to a Black Hall Mud ice cream cone. Then head to Griswold Point and Great Island Salt Meadow. Accessible from White Sands Beach and Smith’s Neck Road off Route 156, it the stretches low and wide, almost primitive in its presence, were it not for the boats and lighthouses also visible. Now called the Roger Tory Peterson Wildlife Area, the tidelands around this marsh are deemed to be among the forty Last Great Places in the Western Hemisphere by the Nature Conservancy, drawing flocks of birds — and painters.

Of course, the tradition of painters painting in Old Lyme is longstanding, the first of The Old Lyme Art Colony gathering at “Miss Florence’s house” next to the Lieutenant River, where Florence Griswold, the daughter of a sea captain, opened her home to them in the late 19th and early 20th century. Now known as the Florence Griswold Museum, the mansion is a national historic landmark, having been restored as both a history and art museum. And featuring room upon room of impressionist and contemporary works in its galleries — as well as on some of its paneled walls, it makes quite an afternoon’s adventure.

Newer members of the town’s artist crowd are students or faculty at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts on Lyme Street — a nationally accredited school that offers a degree program in the fine arts, as well as a gallery of works by local painters. And just a few doors away is the Lyme Art Association, which also offers regular workshops and lectures and exhibits regional work as well.

Another favorite spot on Lyme Street is the Bee and Thistle Inn, which has long provided both elegant dining and restful lodgings. Nearby is the iconic Old Lyme Inn, which entices patrons from far and wide with beautiful rooms and the Side Door — a hip jazz joint featuring some of the biggest name performers in the business. And farther along Lyme Street in the village center is the Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe, which makes some of the best ice creams, ices, and sorbets on the Connecticut shore, and The Chocolate Shell, with its dazzling show of chocolates and other creative confections.

For a completely different cultural experience, spend some time at Sound View, a crowded retro beach colony off Shore Road, where just about every avenue leads to the water and the only real amenities are the sea, the sun, the sand — and The Carousel Shop, which sells beach chairs and sunscreen for Mom and Dad, tickets on the 1925 carousel, whirling nightly all summer for the kiddos, and splendilicious Italian ices from Vecchitto’s.

Al Ferreira Photo