A town with a history that is wrapped in silk

A town with a history that is wrapped in silk

Cheney Hall, an elegant Victorian, opened in 1867 and hosted plays and concerts. Today the Little Theatre of Manchester at Cheney Hall carries on the tradition. Cheney Hall, an elegant Victorian, opened in 1867 and hosted plays and concerts. Today the Little Theatre of Manchester at Cheney Hall carries on the tradition. (ellen albanese for the boston globe)
By Ellen Albanese
Globe Correspondent / November 2, 2011

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There are two distinct sides to this town of 57,000 just east of Hartford, which was home to the largest silk manufacturing plant in the country in the late 1800s. Along Hartford Road the legacy of the silk industry endures in the Cheney Brothers Historic District, a National Historic Landmark. The other end of town is one vast shopping mall, with more than 100 stores clustered in the Shoppes at Buckland Hills. In between are kid-friendly museums and lots of options for family dining.


The Mansion Inn Bed and Breakfast (139 Hartford Road, 860-646-0453,, $95-$145), in the Historic District, offers cozy accommodations for couples. Families may be more comfortable at one of the many chain hotels on the shopping end of town. Hampton Inn & Suites (1432 Pleasant Valley Road, 860-644-1732,, $99-$149) offers rooms with two queen beds, an indoor pool, and a generous breakfast with omelets and waffles. Courtyard Marriott (225 Slater St., 860-533-8484,, $119-$209) has rooms with two double beds and an indoor pool. Baymont Inn & Suites (20 Taylor St., 860-643-1864,, $75-$150) has two-room business and family suites with whirlpool bathtubs, refrigerators, and microwaves.

ellen albanese for the boston globe Soda jerks behind the counter at Shady Glen Dairy, home of some legendary ice cream flavors.DINE

For burgers, fries, and ice cream, you can’t beat Shady Glen Dairy (840 East Middle Turnpike, 860-649-4245, and 360 W. Middle Turnpike, 860-643-0511, $3.30-$13, no credit cards). The retro dairy bar and restaurant, complete with paper-hat-wearing soda jerks, is famous for its cheeseburgers, topped with a fan of fried cheese that spreads out well beyond the bun. (It’s not on the menu, but regulars know they can order a plate of melted cheese.) Ice cream is also legendary, with flavors such as pumpkin pie and licorice chip. Tullycross Tavern & Microbrewery (1487 Pleasant Valley Road, 860-644-2739,, $8.50-$29) opened in September in the former John Harvard’s Brew House. There are always at least a half-dozen handcrafted beers and ales on tap to wash down the Irish-themed food. Take a shopping break at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (221 Buckland Hills Drive, 860-644-7333,, $6.50-$25.50), an outpost of the famous New Haven eatery that has been selling thin-crust “tomato pies’’ since 1925.

ellen albanese for the boston globe The Fire Museum displays historical hand-drawn, horse-drawn, and motorized fire apparatus.DURING THE DAY

Located in the heart of the Cheney Brothers Historic District, the Fire Museum (230 Pine St., 860-649-9436,, suggested donation $4 adults, $2 ages 13-16, $1 ages 6-12) is housed in a 1901 fire station, built to protect the mills and houses that belonged to the Cheney family. It traces the transition from hand-drawn to horse-drawn then to motorized apparatus. Highlights include a Hartford hand pumper that required 36 men to operate; “parade’’ pieces, fancy vehicles with elaborate trim and etched glass lanterns that were used only ceremonially; and a working, wall-mounted Gamewell Fire Alarm System. Children are welcome to climb into a couple of the more recent engines and sound the siren and ring the bell. The museum will close for the season on Nov. 12 and reopen in mid-April. After two months in temporary quarters, the Lutz Children’s Museum (247 South Main St., 860-643-0949,, $5, 1 and under free), geared to children ages 2 to 10, returns next week to its renovated home base. Core exhibits cover “Main Street Manchester in the 1940s’’ and “Farm Life in Connecticut.’’ The animal room features a colorful and chatty menagerie of birds, along with snakes, lizards, rabbits, and turtles. History buffs can recall the town’s silk manufacturing heyday at the Cheney Homestead and Keeney Schoolhouse (106 Hartford Road, 860-647-9983,, donations accepted) on the second Sunday of each month, from 1 to 4 p.m. From April through October, Wickham Park (1329 West Middle Turnpike, 860-528-0856,, $4 per vehicle weekdays, $5 weekends) offers 250 verdant acres with themed gardens, playgrounds, picnic areas, walking trails, a nature center, and an aviary. Mall aficionados will not want to miss the impressively large Shoppes at Buckland Hills (194 Buckland Hills Drive, www.theshoppesatbuckland, around which are clustered hotels, restaurants, and even more stores.


Cheney Hall, an elegant Victorian structure, first opened in 1867 to host plays, concerts, and parties. Today the Little Theatre of Manchester at Cheney Hall (177 Hartford Road, 860-647-9824, carries on that tradition with a year-round schedule. Next up is “The Drowsy Chaperone,’’ a musical suitable for all ages, which runs Nov. 4-20. For the grown-ups, the Main Pub (306 Main St., 860-647-1551, offers live music six nights a week in a variety of genres ranging from bluegrass to hip-hop, and Corey’s Catsup and Mustard (623 Main St., 860-432-7755,, a burger bar by day, hosts local bands on weekends.

Ellen Albanese can be reached at

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