Connecticut Drive: Litchfield County
As you view Sloane’s works, you’ll notice how he captured the mood of the countryside you’ve been driving through; he had a fascination with barns, and some of the ones he painted still stand in the area.
Down a slope from the museum stands a handsome stone chimney, the remains of the Kent Iron Furnace, one of numerous iron-ore furnaces that operated in the region in the 1800s, turning out pig iron for locomotives and fine machinery. Fittingly, the museum shares a driveway with the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association, a compound of buildings where early tractors, engines, and mining- and farm-related implements are on display.
The sooty skies of yore are far removed from modern-day Kent. This outpost of civilized life offers clear mountain air, gourmet dining, tasteful shops, and fine arts galleries. It’s a magnet for New York City weekenders (it’s about a two-hour drive away), and also a crossroads for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. There aren’t too many towns with fewer than 3,000 residents in which you can buy gourmet ice cream for a few bucks a cone (at Scoops), Belgian chocolate truffles by the pound (at Belgique), or waist-high, solid-bronze asparagus stalks for $6,000 (at Morrison Sculpture Gallery).
As afternoon lengthened, we remembered our dinner reservations at The Hopkins Inn in New Preston and our plan to take a circuitous route to see one more covered bridge. Schaghticoke Road, just past the Kent School, hugs the west bank of the Housatonic. When it meets back up with Route 7, it crosses Bull’s Bridge, a rustic covered span just below a hydro plant. Beneath, torrents of white water charge over smooth granite.
We took Route 7 back north and turned east on Route 341, then headed down to Lake Waramaug. We took our sweet time on West Shore Road, admiring the gracious old homes. A short hop from the southern tip of the five-mile-long loch, the village of New Preston has a handful of upscale shops where sawmills and forges once made use of the zippy East Aspetuck River, which flows parallel to the main street. Poke around the Village Barn & Gallery for antiques for every budget (lamps a specialty) as well as local info (owner Craig Nelson told us one gated estate we noticed belonged to Joan Rivers).
When we arrived at The Hopkins Inn, the stone terrace overlooking Lake Waramaug beckoned. The scent of grapes ripening (part of Hopkins Vineyard is right behind the inn) was carried on the late-summer breeze. By the time we finished our escargots, wiener schnitzel, and pork tenderloin in a calvados sauce, we were relaxed to the core, washed clean by the rocky, riverine landscape.