Once strictly working-class, Stonington has become fashionable place in the last few decades. On most summer
weekends, Water Street is packed with residents and daytrippers, many of them looking for bargains in the town’s eclectic collection of shops and boutiques. There are plenty of good restaurants, too, including the Dog Watch Cafe, which offers award-winning waterfront dining at Dodson Boatyard, near the head of the harbor.
From the middle of the harbor, the character of Stonington becomes clear: To the south, a long jetty juts westward, protecting the many recreational boats and fishing vessels that share the harbor. A large 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 produced in Stonington). The building now houses the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club and pricey condos.
Known as the “Borough”, Stonington’s reputation as a manufacturing center made it a popular target of the British during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Its militia successfully repelled bombardments by the Royal Navy in both conflicts.
Stonington was also once renowned for its pottery, which was produced in a bayside factory at the end of Shinbone Alley (now Water Street), where 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 still litter the inshore waters.
Another tribute to the Borough’s nautical past is Stonington Harbor Light, which 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 and keeper’s house are now home to the Old Lighthouse Museum and the Stonington Historical Society. Visitors can climb the tower for great views of the Sound and the harbor, or simply peruse the exhibits of pottery, paintings, old tools, yellowing photographs and other artifacts.
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 miles of hikable trails and meandering creeks to explore. It also features a large (and frequently crowded) 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. Note that large sections of the island are closed to protect nesting shorebirds during much of the season, so pay attention to the signage before venturing ashore.