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New London Main Street the heartbeat of the city

“All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by the frost”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic “Riddle of Strider” might very well serve as a mantra for the nationwide movement known as Main Street America; in particular — “The old that is strong does not wither.”

For it is the mission of this movement to restore what was once magnificent to venerable old cities and townships throughout America, and to resurrect the brilliance that once made them glow. A fair number of them harbor historical roots that reflect the sort of depth referenced in Tolkien’s verse: “Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

New England’s old maritime town of New London is among those deemed to be in the select field of Main Street America’s mission — to resurrect and revitalize the treasures of a historic past.

Executive Director Kristin Havrilla Clark of the Whaling City’s chapter of America’s nationwide movement, New London Main Street, has served in that role these past three years. She had worked there previously as a project manager, dating all the way back to 1999.

A graduate of Fitch Senior High — later attending and graduating from Roger Williams University with a degree in historical preservation and economic development — Clark has been invested in the restoration of municipalities since leaving the academic world and applying the actual craft for which she was trained.

Having also studied urban planning at New York University, she would later serve as director of development and planning for the City of New London during the administration of its former mayor, Daryl Finizio. Now married and with a 10-year-old son, Clark balances her demanding professional life with the frequent responsibilities of family as well. She’s good at all of it.

“I’ve also worked for the towns of Groton and Ledyard in planning and economic development, and did grant writing for them too,” she explained during a recent interview at the Washington Street Coffee House — a bustling popular café that exemplifies the very objectives New London Main Street pursues.

“We want people to catch a comfortable vibe here and to feel welcome when visiting downtown New London. We have a lot of great retail shops and restaurants and a wide variety of events going on that are well worth attending,” Clark said.

Some of those events include the Connecticut Family Festival and the recent Christmas Tree Lighting at Parade Plaza — as well as a solid series of other seasonal specials that are forthcoming.

Along with enhancing New London’s downtown appeal and attracting visitors there to enjoy both the established and the newly developed restaurants and retail stores, Clark and the other New London Main Street personnel point to the city’s cherished heritage.

Prominent and most visible is the hub of southeastern Connecticut’s culture and arts: the Garde Arts Center. Lording over the active downtown area from the top of State Street (two doors up from New London Main Street headquarters), the Garde is a majestic theatrical icon built nearly a century ago — one that draws vast crowds frequently to its host of stage plays, films, dance presentations, music concerts, celebrity appearances … and also serves as a popular forum for cultural, social, and political events.

Clark hopes to see the continued restoration and recognition of New London’s deeper roots, too, dating back to the mid 17th century when its native territory was called Nameag — or “Fishing Place.” The town’s early years are packed with powerful histories involving the native tribes and colonists.

“New London has a rich maritime heritage,” Clark said, “along with those moments rooted in our colonial past. We want to keep all of it in the public eye by encouraging people to come here and feel like they’re experiencing history all over again.

“The Thames River itself is a common thread that flows through a lot of the very locations that mark New London’s earlier days. There’s the Thames River Heritage Park; the old Town Mill; the Hempstead House with its Revolutionary War background; and the classic old lighthouses. These are all beautiful sites that welcome visitors who are interested in the roots that made this town significant and strong.” (Roots “not reached by the frost.”)

Clark also points out the adventure awaiting those who want to experience the charm of New London’s water taxi that ferries people across the Thames from Fort Trumbull and over to Groton and its own compelling historic districts. “New London Main Street has a website and a Facebook page that can be visited for more information on what we are doing to literally light up New London and draw more people here,” Clark added.

Clark and her associates agree that a city’s soul lies not only in its cherished landmarks and businesses, but in the diversity and dignity of those who call it their home.

“New London Main Street is committed to restoring this city to the essence of what established it as one of sound culture and commerce,” she said. So stay tuned and watch the continuing growth of this former colonial settlement known once as Nameag. Better yet, pay a visit to what has become of downtown New London. You’ll be impressed.

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