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Destinations & Day Trips

Take A Walk Through Historic Downtown Essex, CT

Written by Ryan Sylvestre

The beautiful Main Street of Essex, CT might just seem like any other regular road, but this street has some real historical significance. British forces rowed their boats six miles up the Connecticut River to invade the shores of Essex back in 1812, burning down almost every house that sat along the road.

When you take a stroll down Main Street be on the lookout for the historical plaques that are attached to some of the houses. These plaques will display the name of the first owner of the house and the year it was built. You will notice that a lot of the houses along the road were built either before or close after the British raid.

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Essex was known for being a big shipbuilding operation. In the span of ten years, the Essex shipyard built over 550 vessels.

Essex’s Main Street will always be a historical landmark in Connecticut. Today, it serves as a great place to bring your family, partner or friends for a day out on the town. I have laid out some key spots to check out when visiting this awesome town.

Next time you’re in the need for some awesome small town history, go through this list of things to check out to get the full experience.

Let’s Talk Food

Whenever I head downtown, I am always conflicted about where to eat because every place has their own uniquely delicious style.

Olive Oly’s 

This place welcomes you with the delicious smell coming straight from the kitchen. Olive Oly’s is an awesome place to grab some sandwiches and head down to a park bench to overlook the water. May I suggest the “Hub Club,” just trust me, have I steered you wrong before? They really give you a hometown feel and serve truly amazing food.

The Black Seal 

The Black Seal is the trusted local bar in Essex. When you walk in you notice the huge bar full of local banter. There is a small, raised dining section directly across from the bar where I tend to sit. Being able to come and enjoy a nice meal with the locals of Essex is pretty cool. They offer high-end bar food; I would recommend a nice chicken parm, sorry, I’m a sucker for Italian food.

Abby’s Place 

Abby’s Place is serving up classic American cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. The owner grew up on an organic farm and has incorporated this lifestyle into her menu. They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner with featured meals like omelets, lobster rolls, and burgers. Come on in for casual comfortable dining.

Essex Coffee and Tea Company

If you need a little boost or just a nice place to hang out, the Essex Coffee and Tea Company can serve as a great place to take a little break. They have an awesome place to sit down with a friend and chat for a while and then popping back out onto Main Street to keep exploring.

Griswold Inn 

Not only is the Griswold Inn a historic landmark for the town of Essex, it also offers an awesome lunch and dinner menu alongside a wine bar. If you really want to experience some of Essex fine dining, I suggest you try the Griswold Inn

Sweet P’s 

Whenever I take a trip to Main Street, I always pay a visit to my friends at Sweet P’s. I love walking in and being greeted by smiling faces and delicious ice cream. I’d have to say one of my favorite flavors would be Sea Salt Caramel. Make sure to swing by for some ice cream or a fruit or veggie smoothie.

Things To Check Out

There are a couple things that you should check out beside the food. It’s obvious that this part of town holds a lot of significance but you can find out a lot by stopping by some of the other spots on Main Street.

Connecticut River Museum

The Connecticut River Museum is the place to go to learn about everything that has happened along the river.  Established in 1974, their all-volunteer team is tasked with preserving the history of the Connecticut River. They continue to collect artifacts that are important to connecting the historical dots between what we think happened and what actually happened.

It costs money to get in but, you can head down and overlook the river from their dock for free. On a fair weather night you will most likely find people fishing off the dock, dogs running around in the small lawn area, and people enjoying some Sweet P’s ice cream. You can most likely find me down there as well!

Essex Steam Train

Though it may not be directly in downtown, the Essex Steam Train is another huge attraction in the town. If you are in town on the weekends, you will most likely hear the sound of the train throughout the day. They have tons of events like the dinner train, riverboat cruises, Gillette Castle hiking, and more! You won’t want to skip out on this if you plan on coming to town.

Essex Town Green

This is located right across the street from The Black Seal. A large gazebo marks the center of this beautiful area. As you walk through the green, you will find many plaques and signs that share a lot of interesting history about the town.

If you walk all the way to the water, you will find a single park bench that overlooks the glass-like water. The hum of the boats in the marina nearby are the only things breaking the silence. I usually bring my dog down here and let him swim around before making my way to the River Museum Dock.

The Walk

Take some time to just walk and listen. This is a beautiful little gem of CT so take your time and just enjoy the experience. I gave you a pretty good start but it’s up to you to really make Mainstreet your own. Check out the water, boats, people, and shops as you make your way down the street. There is plenty of stuff to see.

Back In the Day

Having such an interesting part of history in our state is pretty cool. Essex, like a lot of towns on the water, has a big historical significance and highlighting these towns helps people remember what it was like to live in our area back in the day. I urge you to take a nice leisurely stroll when visiting downtown, there is so much to see, you may have to come more than once.  
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About the author

Ryan Sylvestre

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