Stony Creek is a tiny town of 1,500 people located a few miles east of New Haven and part of the city of Branford. The “downtown”, or business area, extends less than a quarter-mile from the town dock, which is home to tour boats and the dinghies of moored and anchored yachts. Stony Creek is the kind of place where sea-stained buoys hang from weather-beaten balconies and where a fife-and-drum corps has been in existence for over 120 years. There are a few stores, a library, a market and a museum, but that’s about it. However, if you’re the type who enjoys peace, quiet and old-fashioned coastal flavor, Stony Creek will do just fine.
Stony Creek has long been famous for its lovely pink granite, which has been used for construction projects around the world. About a mile outside of town, the Stony Creek Quarry still mines the famous stone, from which many local homes are built.
Chunks of “Stony Creek Pink” also form the base of the Statue of Liberty, the abutments of the George Washington Bridge, the Old Harbor breakwater in Block Island and the entire AT&T Building in New York City. Indeed, pieces of Stony Creek are even found in Europe.
Other than anchoring, there aren’t any options for visiting boaters who wish to keep their boat overnight in Stony Creek, as there are no transient slips or moorings. However, the Stony Creek Boating Association maintains a dock in town where dinghies and shallow-draft boats can tie up for free. The water around the dock is at most 3 1⁄2′ deep at low tide.
The main attraction for boaters—especially kayakers—who visit Stony Creek are the beautiful Thimble Islands, a collection of granite outcroppings south of the harbor. There are 25 inhabited islands in the Thimbles chain (named for the thimble berry, not their size), occupied by some 100 families who access the islands via personal boats or on the Sea Mist tour boat and ferry.
The only island currently open to the public is Outer Island, now part of the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge System. Boaters in kayaks an dinghies can go ashore to explore or picnic on the island. Visitors can also be dropped off at the dock or arrive by ferry.
In the Thimbles, trees seem to grow right out of the granite, and some of the islets are botanical wonders. Elton’s Island was President Taft’s summer house, and it remains opulent, with a stone cottage, swimming pool, Jacuzzi and basketball court (although I doubt Taft ever played hoops). Governor Island, settled in 1716, boasts 25 varieties of trees. The 12 1⁄2-acre Phelps Island needs its own private caretaker/landscaper to maintain a 27-room Tudor home and formal gardens.
The Thimbles have always held a certain cachet. Money Island, on which 32 dwellings now stand, was once a self-sustaining community with its own church and bowling alley. A large hotel on Pot Rock Island, which is no longer standing, once drew many visitors to the Thimbles. Even Captain Kidd, a rich kid from New York City turned pirate, was purported to have stayed on High Island. A few doubloons were found here, fueling rumors of buried treasure.
Even the smaller islets have their noteworthy aspects: Frisbee is a nesting area for several species of shore birds; Gazebo is so small the owner could not get a permit to build a house, so he constructed a gazebo, then tied a houseboat to it; Exton’s Reef sports a covered platform on stilts.
While the Thimbles invite small-boat exploration, boaters and kayakers should remember to respect the privacy of the islands’ residents. In the last decade there have been numerous conflicts between trespassing kayakers and property owners. Increasing kayaking activity in Stony Creek and the Thimbles has also caused congestion in the local waters.