A bucolic outpost

A rural town that's pretty to look at and has plenty to offer

Pomfret peach tree
A peach tree is part of the late spring scenery in Pomfret. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ellen Albanese
Globe Staff / May 28, 2008

ODD FACT: Actress Renee Zellweger has a home in Pomfret.

Pomfret may be best known for its picture-postcard private boarding schools, the Pomfret School, founded in 1894 on a lush, green 500-acre campus, and the Rectory School, founded in 1920. The schools provide some of the town's most distinctive architecture. A drive along Route 169, the main north-south thoroughfare and a designated national scenic byway, passes rolling meadows and miles of stone walls. Incorporated in 1713 on land purchased from the Owaneco Indians in 1686, Pomfret was named after Pontefrat, the English home in Yorkshire of the family of Governor Gurdon Saltonstall. The town boasts several buildings and sites on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Brayton Grist Mill, Abington Congregational Church, Wolf Den, and Old Town House. Though houses now cover much of what was once farmland, there are still about a dozen working farms, including dairy farms and orchards.

"Comfort foods in a comfortable place" is the mantra of the family-owned Vanilla Bean Cafe (corner of Routes 44, 97, and 169, 860-928-1562,, breakfast $5.50-$9.50, lunch $4-$10, dinner $12-$17). Along with homemade and healthy soups, there is an "award-winning chili" in traditional beef and vegetarian versions, and sandwiches, salads, light entrees, and an enticing selection of decadent pastries. For fine dining in a historic setting, try the Harvest Restaurant (37 Putnam Road, 860-928-0008,, lunch $8-$21, dinner $16-$34). The building may date from 1765, but the menu is 21st century. Steak is a specialty, with lots of custom options, such as bordelaise sauce, 16-spice blend, or caramelized onions. You get a free doughnut with a purchase if you can answer the daily trivia question at Baker's Dozen (24 Mashamoquet Road, 860-928-6469), a shop that bills itself as an alternative to chains. Try the flatbread sandwiches for lunch: ham and cheese, turkey, or chicken cordon bleu ($4).

For nearly two decades, Martha's Herbary (589 Pomfret St., 860-928-0009, marthas has offered distinctive home and garden accessories, as well as jewelry, clothes, candles, and books. Demonstration gardens feature herbs and perennials. The shop's inviting aroma might also come from cooking classes, offering recipes for sauces and marinades, as well as gourmet pizzas. Just across the street from Martha's, Hazelwood Fine Crafts (12 Putnam Road, 860-928-5888) offers a stunning selection of American handmade crafts. Wood, glass, metal, and ceramics are favored mediums, but the most distinctive items may be the scarves, jackets, and coats hand-woven by the shop's co-owner, Camille Benjamin. Celebrations Gallery & Shoppes (330 Pomfret St., 860-928-5492, highlights local artists in its gallery and the work of some 50 artisans in 10 rooms of this 1885 Queen Anne Victorian. Through June 29, the art of Emily Boosahda and Bernice Harmyk is on display. Popular items include designer chocolates and specialty teas. Fine, hand-painted Italian ceramics fill the barn at Majilly (56 Babbitt Hill Road, 860-974-3714, We liked the botanical themes featuring asparagus and herbs, though the nautical designs of clams and fish are popular, according to owner Martha Emilio. You can also find glassware, gourmet food, jewelry, handbags and pet gifts (the Emilios breed Labrador retrievers). If you're looking for antique flooring or custom tables, visit Thomas Campbell's Old Wood Workshop (193 Hampton Road, 860-655-5259, Campbell salvages wood from old barns, then turns it into custom furniture.

Chickadee Cottage Bed & Breakfast (70 Averill Road, 860-963-0587,, doubles $210) is tucked away on four acres bordered by walking trails and a pond. Each hideaway has a private entrance and fully equipped kitchen. Feather Hill Bed and Breakfast (151 Mashamoquet Road, 866-963-0522, featherhill, $110-$225) has five guest rooms and a cottage. Set on eight acres, the inn offers a swimming pool and walking trails. Gwyn Careg Inn (68 Wolf Den Road, 860-928-5018,, doubles $125-$165) is best known as a wedding reception facility, but it is also open for overnight stays. The colonial revival mansion is set on 14 acres of greenery, gardens, and walking trails.

The Audubon Society Center at Pomfret (189 Pomfret St., 860-928-4948, ctaudubon .org) offers guided walks to view birds, butterflies, and wildflowers in the adjoining 700-acre Bafflin Sanctuary. The center also affords access to the Air Line Rail Trail ( .htm), a 50-mile stretch that follows the rail bed of the New York and New England Air Line Railroad, from East Hampton to Thompson on the Massachusetts border. This trail is suitable for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The most famous feature of Mashamoquet Brook State Park (147 Wolf Den Drive, 860-928-6121, (;q=325238) is the Wolf Den, where, legend has it, Israel Putnam shot the last wolf in the state in 1742. Putnam was later to gain fame as a major general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The park offers swimming, hiking, fishing, and camping.

"Ballet of Angels" is the runaway best seller at the Sharpe Hill Vineyard (108 Wade Road, 860-974-3549, We found it a bit sweet, but we loved the St. Croix 2005, a Rhone-style red. Tastings are $5 or $10 depending on selection. Visitors can take a self-guided walk into the vineyard and enjoy the spectacular view at the top, which overlooks parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. You can watch blacksmith Mark Schlehofer at work at Laurel Forge (53 Wade Road, 860-974-0659, Using traditional and modern blacksmithing techniques, Schlehofer creates a variety of items including colonial hardware, lighting devices, fireplace accessories, and more. Call for hours. The Brayton Grist Mill & Marcy Blacksmith Museum (147 Wolf Den Drive, at the entrance to Mashamoquet Brook State Park, 860-928-0304) is an example of a one-man mill operation of the 1890s. Exhibits include original milling equipment and blacksmith tools. Maintained by the Pomfret Historical Society, it's open Sunday afternoons through Labor Day weekend.

The Vanilla Bean Cafe (see Fuel) is on the national folk music circuit and hosts folk singers from across the country. Most shows are on Saturday nights. The Atwater Donnelly Trio performs on Saturday at 8. The Pomfret-based Performing Arts of Northeast Connecticut (860-928-2946, performs at the Hyde Cultural Center, 150 Route 169, in neighboring Woodstock. While the group's focus is introducing schoolchildren to the arts, it puts on three or four public productions each year. "A Jazz and Tap Odyssey" will be staged Oct. 18, and the Dirty Sock Funtime Band will perform Nov. 2.

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