Can't beat borough's Water Street

The view down Stonington Borough's Water Street.
The view down Stonington Borough's Water Street.

It stretches less than a mile but it's chock full of interesting sites, galleries, unique shops, restaurants and historic buildings and homes, even a small beach.

It's Water Street and in many ways it has helped the borough remain the quintessential historic New England seafaring village, attracting tourists as well as residents, some of who keep second homes here.

A summer stroll begins at its northern end where Dodson's Boatyard is located along with Mathews Park, a "pocket park" across the street that is lined by waist-high hedges.

On the site of Dodson's Boatyard, which attracts mariners from around the world each year, is the popular Dog Watch Cafe which offers waterfront dining and a lively bar scene on weekends. On Tuesday nights in the summer it's the starting line for a weekly 5K fun run.

Heading south, visitors come to Wadawanuck Square which is lined with massive shade trees that make sitting on a bench there comfortable even on the hottest days of summer.

In the 19th century, when the borough was a bustling steamship and rail transportation hub between Boston and New York, a large hotel was located on the square.

Today, it hosts an annual reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th when residents and visitors march down Water Street - and in December it's the site of the annual Christmas tree lighting and carol sing.

The square is also home to the Stonington Free Library which hosts a popular summer children's reading program as well quiet areas in the stacks to read a book.

The two cannonballs that sit on the columns framing the entrance to the library's gravel driveway were fired by British naval ships during the Battle of Stonington in 1814. Reminders of the battle can be seen all along Water Street.

Across from the southwestern corner of the park, High Street leads down to the Town Dock, home to the state's last commercial fishing fleet, a public fishing pier, a fishermen's memorial, a playground and Stonington Seafood Harvesters, where scallops, fish and other seafood can be bought from a large freezer on the honor system.

Heading south from the park, walkers will enter the main commercial area of the borough. On the left is the Yellow House, a popular spot for coffee and pastry in the morning and then lunch.

Nearby is the teal-colored Milagro, which features upscale Mexican food as well as the Water Street Cafe, which has been a popular dining spot for many years. Across the street is Theresa's Culinary Creations, where families stop in for ice cream and sandwiches.

At the corner of Grand Street, is what many consider the hub of the borough.

The windows of Tom's News are covered with local notices and announcements of all kinds. Inside, people not only pick up newspapers and assorted items but discuss the local happenings and gossip with owner Tom Rezendes, who is always willing to share his opinion. Kids like to stop in and buy candy.

Just past Tom's at the corner of Church Street is a building with the mural of the Nor'Easter Diner painted on it last year for the filming of "Hope Springs," a movie starring Meryl Streep, Tommie Lee Jones and Steve Carell that will open this month.

Inside, though, is actually Noah's restaurant, which has long been a popular stop for breakfast and dinner with its large windows overlooking the street.

A block further south is something no longer seen in many communities. It's the Village Barber Shop where owner Doug Radicioni, better known as Doug the Barber, not only cuts men's and boy's hair, but discusses the issues of the day with customers. Magazines and newspapers sit on the chairs and a television is tuned to news or sports. Children get to reach into his bucket of lollipops before they leave.

Across the street from the barber shop is a brick archway that leads to Whalen's Wharf. There is not only public parking there, but a lawn, gazebo and dock that hangs over Stonington Harbor. In summertime, children can always be found here jumping in the water to cool off.

Continuing south down Water Street, there is the nonprofit New England Science & Sailing which offers a host of sailing and marine biology programs for adults and children.

Next door is the 18-room Inn at Stonington and behind it, Skipper's Dock seafood restaurant which has been in business since 1929. Skipper's Dock is especially busy in the summer as diners can sit on a large deck and watch the boats go by in the harbor.

Next to Skipper's Dock and the Inn at Stonington, is Stonington Commons, a rebuilt mill complex that features a mix of luxury homes and condominiums as well as office space, marina and the headquarters for the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club.

A public walkway loops around the site and along the harbor. At the southeastern end of the walkway just before reaching Water Street is a plaque affixed to the side of the brick wall that marks the spot where a small fort was located in 1814. This is one of the spots where residents used cannons to repel a British naval attack during the Battle of Stonington.

Also on the Stonington Commons property is a stone foundry which has been converted into the nonprofit La Grua Center. It offers numerous lectures, art exhibits and musical performances during the year and most of them are free and open to the public.

Across from the entrance to Stonington Commons is scenic Cannon Square, where the two recently refurbished cannons that were used to fend off the British are on display. It is one of the most photographed locations in the village.

Houses line the street the rest of the way to Stonington Point.

One of the more interesting and well known is the Black House at 11 Water St. While it now has weathered gray shingles, it's owners painted it black in 2001 to protest what they charged was unfair treatment by zoning officials when they sought a permit to renovate the small cottage.

Just before Stonington Point is the Old Lighthouse Museum where a sweeping rear lawn offers views of Sandy Point and Watch Hill. The property is host to several events during the summer. Inside the museum are artifacts and exhibits that trace the town's history and people. From May through October it's open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Admission is $9 for adults and $6 for children and includes entry to the town's Nathaniel Palmer House, once the home of the man who discovered the Antarctica.

The Point itself is arguably the most popular spot in the borough.

It's large gravel lot offers ample parking and a three-state panoramic view of Little Narragansett Bay, Sandy Point, Watch Hill, Fishers Island, and the harbor itself. While the lot fills up on busy summer days, most often a spot can be found. Many residents come down with a coffee and sit in their cars at all times of the year to enjoy the view.

The Point has a large lawn and another memorial marking the Battle of Stonington at the southernmost tip of the parking lot.

Also at the Point is Dubois Beach, a small beach run by the Stonington Community Center that has a $5 daily admission fee for individuals and $10 for families. An annual pass can also be purchased.

The beach is very popular with families as children swim out to the float and catch crabs on the jetty. Lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

All in all, there's plenty to do in see on Water Street.



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