Located on the Connecticut River some five miles from Long Island Sound, the lovely village of Essex deserves a spot on every boater’s bucket list.
Long a favorite stop among cruising boaters, Essex likes to boast that it has more slips than parking spaces, plus many of its shops, galleries and restaurants are just steps from the local marinas. There’s great fishing nearby and miles of protected creeks and coves to explore in a small boat, kayak or SUP. Indeed, the Connecticut River is one of 15 wetlands of international importance, and each year Essex hosts thousands of birdwatchers eager to get a glimpse of bald eagles, osprey and the famous fall migration of tree swallows.
As mentioned, the village itself is charming and close to the water, with a Main Street seemingly designed for idle strolling. At one end is the Town Landing, where you can launch a small boat and catch blue crabs from the dock. Head north and you’ll pass small, picket-fence–framed homes in muted colonial colors, occupied by residents who don’t seem to mind the tourists who pass within a few feet of their front doors. Quiet country lanes intersect the busier streets, while Town Park, on Middle Cove, offers public benches and a gazebo for those who appreciate a moment to relax and take in the water view.
A major attraction for visitors is the Connecticut River Museum, which sits front and center on the Essex waterfront. Inside, you’ll find fascinating exhibits on the history of Essex and the Connecticut River, including the 1814 British raid on the village and a replica of the first submarine ever built. Other exhibits explore the river’s former importance as an inland trade route for timber and farming products, and Essex’s past as an import center for African ivory.
More history awaits at the popular Essex Steam Train, a few miles north of the village. This working steam train makes trips from Essex to Deep River and back, and is a favorite among kids. If you get hungry or thirsty during your ride, be sure to stop at the historic Griswold Inn, the interior of which is decorated with historic, nautical art collected by the owners. You won’t find a cozier place to enjoy a meal, glass of wine or pint of ale, and the Inn’s pub features live music on some evenings. Another popular Main Street restaurant and watering hole is the Black Seal, which also celebrates the village’s nautical past. Inside you’ll find tasty food, a wide selection of wines and brews, and a comfortable atmosphere.
If you are interested in learning more about the Connecticut River, hop aboard the Riverquest. Owner Mark Yuknat’s mission is to educate passengers about the history and ecology of Connecticut’s mightiest river. His eagle-viewing cruises alone attract over 2,000 visitors every year, but there are plenty of other creatures and sites to see on one of his trips.
If you love a parade, Essex does not lack for historic celebrations. The village holds 10 parades annually, among them Memorial Day, Labor Day, Eagle Fest, Halloween, Groundhog Day and something called “the Burning of the Ships,” which commemorates the raid of 1814, when 27 newly constructed American warships in Essex were torched by the British during the War of 1812.
So whether it’s history you seek, stunning natural beauty or simply a pretty village to explore, Essex belongs on your boating itinerary.