The visual impact of , high on a hill above the Thames River, is as dramatic as the story of what happened here in September of 1781.
While half the British forces commanded by traitor Benedict Arnold burned New London, the other half landed in Groton. After unprepared local militia failed to keep them out of Fort Griswold, American commander Lt. Col. William Ledyard surrendered to a British officer and was promptly run through with his own sword. In the following massacre, roughly 150 Connecticut men were killed, wounded, or captured.
Today, the grass-covered earthworks and diminutive shot furnace and powder magazine make for a tranquil, if somber, scene. Walking through winding stone tunnels, used by British troops entering the fort, feels like exploring ancient ruins. And climbing the 166 steps of the granite monument looming over it all is worth it for the view. A house where wounded soldiers were taken after the battle has been preserved on the site, and the Park’s museum covers this and other aspects of Groton’s history.
A short distance away, at the , is one of only a few lighthouses in the state that’s not on private property or only accessible by boat. Though you can’t go inside, you can walk right up to the 41-foot concrete structure and relax in its park-like surroundings.
A brick path winds along a grassy hill between University buildings and a sweeping view of the river and Fishers Island Sound. Sculptures, benches, and fragrant flowering bushes are spaced along the walkway, which leads to the lighthouse itself. Avery Point is Connecticut’s newest - and last - lighthouse, built in 1942, and has a unique style, distinct from its more traditionally New England counterparts. (From here you can also spot New London’s two lighthouses across the Thames.)
The campus, including Branford House, the granite Tudor mansion that dominates the landscape, was once the summer estate of magnate Morton Freeman Plant.
If you asked some landlocked person who’d only dreamed of the waterfront to describe the perfect seaside escape, they’d probably come up with Noank. Isolated but friendly, elegant and simple, this section of Groton blends its origins as a hard-working fishing and ship-building village with a leisurely, permanent vacation feel.
Most visitors head straight to the famous ; other waterfront eateries get plenty of notice too. But a delightful throwback that you can’t find in every other coastal town is . Weathered outside, 1950s inside, Carson’s serves breakfast and lunch and sells newspapers, candy, and delicious ice cream. Wander around the small peninsula and take in the calming mix of boatyards, docks, historic Greek Revival houses, and local shops.
What Fort Griswold is to Groton history, Bluff Point State Park and Coastal Reserve is to this area’s natural environment. These 800 wooded acres, jutting out into the Sound, seem completely untouched except for the picnic area near the parking lot, the gravel trails, and a few benches strategically placed for looking out at the water.
As you walk along - the trails are accessible only by foot or non-motorized vehicle - the way is lined with flowering bushes and birds alight on the canopy of leafy branches overhead. Some parts of the trail are unobstructed, offering views of the Poquonnock River.
If you continue the mile-plus trek to the end of the peninsula where the trees open up and let the light in, the dramatic coastline, hidden like a reward, is revealed.
If you go:
Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park
57 Fort Street
The Museum and Monument are open Wed - Sun, 9 am - 5pm. The grounds are open daily from sunrise – sunset.
Avery Point Light and “Sculpture Path by the Sea” at University of Connecticut Avery Point Campus
1084 Shennecossett Road
Carson’s Variety Store
43 Main Street
Bluff Point State Park