By Rachel Louchen
The “icebox of Connecticut" has a lot more going for it than severe winters and not terribly hot summers. Norfolk happens to have many cultural destinations and historic sites, surrounded by beautiful state forests that offer hiking, camping and swimming, among other activities. While its proximity to the Berkshires is a perk, the sense of community is really what makes Norfolk so appealing. Townspeople throw their support behind institutions like the library and the curling club and new traditions like Saturdays at the farmers' market and evenings at Infinity Hall.
1. Infinity Music Hall and Bistro.
Photo: Bill Keane
Almost synonymous with Norfolk is Infinity Music Hall and Bistro. The venue has brought contemporary music to the quiet town, with acclaimed national and worldwide bands that span every genre. Jazz one evening, bluegrass the next, the unique concert experience is heightened by its historic location, originally built in 1883 and an opera house, saloon and barbershop in previous incarnations. Original stage and period details like beautiful stained glass windows and wood set Infinity apart from banal stadium-like venues. And the 500-seat hall provides an up-close and intimate setting for musical acts. Events like local music night and open mic entertain the locals all year long, and its bistro has been recognized for its culinary offerings.
2. Haystack Mountain.
There are ample hiking opportunities in Norfolk, but Haystack Mountain is unique because it doesn't take much time to get the reward at the very top. A roadway provides car access halfway up the mountain; then a brisk half-mile hike leads to the descent, where the 34-foot stone tower greets you. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the tower's winding stairs are pretty steep, but the payoff is 360-degree views of four states including the Berkshires, Bear Mountain in Connecticut, Mount Frissel in New York and even the Green Mountains of Vermont. After your hike up the tower, the walk down the mountain is smooth sailing, with an abundance of pine trees and Connecticut's state plant, mountain laurel, to enjoy.
3. Norfolk Curling Club.
How many towns have their own curling club? A sport similar to shuffleboard, two teams, with four players each, take turns sliding heavy rocks across an ice rink with a marketed target. Founded in 1956, the club suffered a devastating fire in 2011 but returned last year with leagues for men, women and seniors, and Saturday clinics for new curlers. The non-profit is run entirely by volunteers and received an outpouring of support following the fire from the community, which helped rebuild the club and continue its legacy.
4.Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.
Photo: Bob Andelman
The oldest summer music festival in North America, Norfolk dates back to 1899 when Ellen Battell and her husband Carl Stoeckel, son of the Yale School of Music’s first professor, founded the Litchfield County Choral Union. They began hosting chamber music concerts as well as choral concerts in their 35-room mansion, Whitehouse, and in 1906 had local architect E.K. Rossiter build a music shed that still stands. When she died in 1939, Mrs. Battell Stoeckel let her estate to Yale and in 1941 the Yale Summer School of Music opened its doors. This is a festival that the community has always supported and loved; residents of Norfolk and the surrounding area host the Fellows throughout their summer experience. Before a concert, it’s hard not to be enchanted by the rolling hills and babbling brooks which create a magical setting where you can stroll, picnic and musician watch.
5. Norfolk Farmers' Market.
What makes this farmers' market so special when so many towns in the Rural Intelligence
region offer one? The turnout and support of locals throughout the seasons. "I look forward to each and every market that I manage because I get to witness the friendliest atmosphere you could ever imagine," says Market Manager Theresa Cannavo. "There is something about being around extremely smart, talented and hardworking people. The artists, musicians and farmers have so much to offer; you can learn a lot just by observing them."
6. Great Mountain Forest.
Located on 6,000 protected acres, Great Mountain is a non-profit working conservation forest dedicated to the preservation of forests, and offers classes to educate others about our natural landscape. A far cry from a lecture series with slides, these classes are hands-on, effective and fun, putting visitors outside among the trees to learn the value of their preservation. Ecology hikes, do-it-yourself maple syrup gathering, field walks with biologists and photography classes are just a few examples of the fun ways dedicated staff teach about nature. At Great Mountain Forest you can also enjoy recreational activities like hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
7. Norfolk Library.
Established in 1889, the library welcomes you with an owl-shaped gargoyle, and once inside, you'll note its fine architectural details popping out among the rows of handsome books. The heart of the town's historic district, the library has an original fluted Spanish tile roof and fish scale tiled shingles, stone floors, stained glass windows and a fireplace inside. Like all small town libraries, Norfolk's library has served as a community hub for the past 125 years, and has weekly activities for children, book groups, movie screenings and a bridge club.
8. Norfolk Artists & Friends.
Norfolk has had a long tradition of attracting and inspiring fine artists (as well as having generous art patrons). In 2007, when Ruthann Olsson conceived of the idea to have a salon gathering of artists, she put together a list of all the working visual artists and craftsmen living in Norfolk. There were 56 names on the list, which seemed, she said, a large number in a town of around 1,700 people. That was the beginning of Norfolk Artists & Friends, which produced its first group show in 2009. From the beginning, it was sponsored by the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and held on its grounds in the Battell Stoeckel Art Gallery. This summer will be its seventh annual show, and well worth a visit.
9. Dennis Hill.
The 240-acre Dennis Hill State Park has a gently sloping paved drive to the very top, so hiking boots aren’t necessary. It was gifted to Connecticut in 1935 by Dr. Frederick Shepard Dennis, and his summer residence still stands as an open pavilion, with stone ledges and several picnic tables on which to sit. The entire top of the hill is truly the perfect picnic spot, with many flat surfaces to enjoy the far-spanning views. Open the third week of April to November 1; fall foliage season is a mandatory time for a trip to Dennis Hill.
10. The huge slide. Botelle Elementary School's
motto is “a small school with a big heart." But for those in the know, it's actually the small school with a big slide. Giant slide, in fact. In warm weather, it's not unusual to drive by and see a line for the large green slide that appeals equally to adults and children. Ascend the wooden steps, enjoy the long ride down, repeat.