In 2010 I traveled to the lovely town of Stonington in eastern Connecticut to check out the local boating scene. Along the way I ran into Dann Lockwood, General Manager of venerable Dodson Boatyard. Lockwood graciously gave me lift aboard one of the marina’s launches and conducted a personal tour of the harbor and its many charms. Check out the video to learn more, or read our feature destination article on Stonington, which starts below.
Stonington Harbor, located just west of Watch Hill, on the eastern end of Long Island Sound, is an ideal boating destination and a wonderful place for transients to stop on extended trips along the coast. Not only does the harbor offer excellent marine services and things to see and do, it’s close to many other boating and fishing daytrip destinations, among them Fishers Island, Napatree Point, the Race, Mystic, Watch Hill, Montauk and Block Island, some 16 nautical miles distant. Stonington’s proximity to deep water did not escape the notice of commercial fishermen. Indeed, the harbor is home to the last major commercial fishing fleet in the state.
Once strictly working-class, Stonington has become fashionable place. On most summer weekends Water Street is packed with residents and daytrippers, many of them looking for bargains in the town’s eclectic shops and boutiques. Skipper’s Dock, a well-known lunch and dinner hot spot with live entertainment and a long pier for boating patrons, bustles during summer. Farther north, at the venerable Dodson Boat Yard, the Dog Watch Cafe offers award-winning waterfront dining as well.
From the end of Skipper’s Dock, the character of Stonington becomes clear: To the south, a long jetty juts westward, protecting the yachts and draggers that call the harbor home. Enormous summer cottages overlook the tranquil harbor. A brick-and-stone building, once home to a factory, dominates the skyline and serves as testament to the town’s manufacturing history (everything from horsehead nails to firearms to Coke bottles were once made in Stonington). The building now houses the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club and pricey condos.
When it comes to history and nature, Stonington has both covered. Known as “the Borough,” Stonington was a hotbed of activity during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 and successfully repelled bombardments by the Royal Navy in each war.
Stonington was also once renowned for its pottery, which was produced from 1780 to 1834 in a bayside factory. At the end of Shinbone Alley (now Water Street) William States established a pottery works in 1811. The imprints of “W. States” and “Swan & States, Stonington” are well known among pottery aficionados, and pottery fragments from the States factory litter the inshore waters.
Stonington Harbor Light stands at the end of Water Street, overlooking Barn Island to the east and Stonington Harbor to the west. Gray and weathered, the stone lighthouse—now called the Old Lighthouse Museum—is also home to the Stonington Historical Society. Visitors can climb the tower and gaze out over the Sound and the harbor. In simple exhibits of pottery shards, paintings, old tools and yellowing photographs and artifacts, the museum displays Stonington’s history.
Nature-lovers seeking solitude in kayaks, skiffs and canoes will also find much to appreciate about Stonington. At just over 1,000 acres, the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area (BIWMA), on the shores of Little Narragansett Bay just east of the harbor, features 4 miles of hikable trails and creeks to explore. It also features a large public launch ramp with lots of parking. Once permitted for development as a golf course, the woods and marshes of the BIWMA are now the protected home of dozens of bird, mammal and fish species.
After launching at BIWMA, boaters can explore miles of protected shorelines and beaches, including those on Sandy Point, a spur of land that was once a part of nearby Napatree Point, but is now an island. A hummock of sand and scrub, Sandy Point is popular with kayakers, beachgoers and especially fishermen. The island is owned by the former Mashantucket Land Trust (now the Avalonia Land Conservancy, Inc.) and is managed by the Stonington Community Center, which sells seasonal passes or charges a nominal daily fee to access the island. Recently, piping plover nests have been discovered on the island, causing Fish & Wildlife Service personnel to close off sections of the beach for much of the summer.