Possessed of a long town common with stately trees reconfigured around the turn of the 20th century by the Frederick Law Olmsted landscaping firm (Olmstead designed New York's Central Park), Litchfield is testimony to the taste and affluence of the Yankee entrepreneurs who built it up, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, from a Colonial farm community to an industrial center. The factories and mills were dismantled toward the end of the 19th century, and the men who built them settled back to enjoy their riches in their uncommonly large homes.
In recent decades, the town has been discovered by fashionable New Yorkers, who find it less frenetic than the Hamptons. Their influence is seen both in the quality of store merchandise and restaurant fare, as well as in the lofty house prices.
A Walk Through History -- Litchfield's houses and tree-lined streets reward leisurely strollers. From the stores and restaurants along West Street, walk east (to the right when facing the common), and then turn right on South Street. On the opposite corner is the recently expanded Litchfield History Museum, at South and East streets (tel. 860/567-4501; www.litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org), containing an eclectic array of local historical artifacts, including the world's largest collection of works by the 18th-century portraitist Ralph Earl. It's open from April to mid-November, Tuesday through Saturday from 11am to 5pm and Sunday from 1 to 5pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, and free for children under 14.
Walking down South Street, on the right, are the Tapping Reeve House and Law School (tel. 860/567-4501; www.litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org). One of the few historic houses regularly open to the public, the Reeve house was built in 1773, while the adjacent 1784 building was the earliest American law school, established before independence. It counted among its students Aaron Burr and Noah Webster. Hours are the same as those of the Litchfield History Museum (above), which maintains it; one ticket buys admission to both museums.
When the street starts to peter out into more modern houses, walk back toward the common and cross over to the north side. Over there on the right is the magisterial First Congregational Church, built in 1828. Turn left, then right on North Street, where the domestic architecture matches the quiet splendor of South Street.
Getting Outside -- The White Memorial Foundation, 80 Whitehall Rd. (Rte. 202) (tel. 860/567-0857; www.whitememorialcc.org), is a 4,000-acre wildlife sanctuary and nature conservancy about 3 miles southwest of Litchfield. It has campsites and 35 miles of trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding. On the grounds is a small museum of natural history. The Holbrook Bird Observatory looks out on a landscape specifically planted to attract birds. The museum is open year-round, Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from noon to 5pm. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children 6 to 12.
This is horse country, so consider a canter across the meadows and along the wooded trails of Topsmead State Forest, Buell Road (tel. 860/567-5694). The park has a wildlife preserve and a Tudor-style mansion that can be toured the second and fourth weekends of each month from June through October. To get here, follow Route 118 for a mile east of town. The grounds are open from 8am to sunset. Horses can be hired nearby at Lee's Riding Stable, 57 East Litchfield Rd., off Route 118 (tel. 860/567-0785). Group trail rides cost $30 per hour per person; half-hour lessons are available.
Shopping -- Most of the interesting shops are in the row of late-19th-century brick buildings on the south side of the town green. Inserted among the galleries, antique stores, and the inevitable Talbot's is Kitchenworks, 23 West St. (tel. 860/567-5011; www.kitchenworksct.com), with a good selection of cookware and tableware, as well as some nonculinary gifts. Around the corner and down a few steep stairs is Bella Cosa, corner of West and South streets (tel. 860/567-4606), purveyors of exemplary hand-painted Italian ceramics, pottery, and table linens.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.