Known for its links to the sea and the home port of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut sits on the banks of the Thames River, and is also home to two well-known colleges and some notable academicians, politicians and patriots.
A seaport city and port of entry for the Northeast coast, New London is located about 107 miles from Boston, 56 miles from Providence, 85 miles from New Bedford and 128 miles from New York City.
Everyone thinks of Nantucket or New Bedford as the whaling capitals of New England. But few non-Nutmeggers know that for several decades beginning in the early 19th century, New London was the world’s third busiest whaling port after New Bedford and Nantucket. The money that the whaling industry brought into the city’s coffers furnished the capital to fund much of New London’s present architecture. New London subsequently became home to other shipping and manufacturing industries but over the years had gradually lost its commercial and industrial base. The city is home to Connecticut College, Mitchell College, the United States Coast Guard Academy, and The Williams School. New London Harbor is home port to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Chinook and the Coast Guard's tall ship Eagle. Nearby Groton is home to the Electric Boat Corporation, which builds submarines for the U.S. military, and the U.S. Naval Submarine base.
New London had a population of 27,620 as of the 2010 census. The Norwich-New London metropolitan area (NECTA) includes 21 towns and 274,055 people.
History and Revolution
New London was originally named Nameaug by the Pequot Indians. A former governor, John Winthrop, Jr., founded the first English settlement here in 1646, making it the thirteenth town settled in Connecticut.
Inhabitants informally named the settlement Pequot after the tribe. The Connecticut General Assembly, however, wanted to name the town Faire Harbour, much to the dismay of the citizenry, who declared they would rather it be called Nameaug. The legislature relented, and on March 10, 1658, the town was officially named after London, England.
Widely considered to be the best deep water harbor on Long Island Sound, it is certainly not a coincidence that New London became a base of American naval operations during the Revolutionary War. You can walk the same streets as Revolutionary War heroes Nathan Hale, Capt. William Coit, Capt. Richard Douglass, Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons, and Capts. Thomas and Nathaniel Shaw (many of their historic houses still exist). Timothy Green was also a well-known New Londoner and the second printer in the colonies. He operated a print shop in New London during the war publishing the Connecticut Gazette.
The Battle of Fort Griswold
Because of its significance in privateering during the Revolution, New London, like many Connecticut towns in Fairfield County and along the shore, was raided and nearly burned to the ground on September 6, 1781 during the Battle of Groton Heights. Norwich native Benedict Arnold, who defected to the British Army, serving as a brigadier general during the war, planned to destroy the colonial privateer fleet, goods and naval stores within the city. Eight hundred men led by Arnold landed in New London where they subsequently destroyed 143 buildings, setting the town and waterfront wharves ablaze.
The main defensive fort for New London, Fort Griswold, was located across the Thames River in Groton. After burning the town, the British battalion and Loyalists attacked the fort. In the ensuing battle, more than 52 British soldiers and 83 militia were killed and more than 142 British and 39 militia were wounded, many mortally. Eight-eight members of the 165-man American garrison were massacred, and many others wounded in the siege. American Colonel William Ledyard surrendered, offering the British commanding officer his sword, only to be killed on the spot with it. The state of Connecticut operates a state park and museum at the site, which historically recreates the battle. Nearby Fort Trumbull State Park, another Revolutionary War fortification, also has a visitor center, boardwalk, fishing pier and recreational walking trails.
Housing and Redevelopment
New London today is in the midst of several redevelopment efforts. The downtown waterfront has been revived and there is a major project on the drawing board to build a hotel, waterpark, museum, and Village on the Thames, a 103-unit planned townhouse community in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. When built, (groundbreaking is anticipated in May or June 2013), the project would be the first LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) community developed in Connecticut. There is also a proposal to build a 54,300-square-foot building in downtown New London to house a museum dedicated to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain lived in New London as a child when his father worked at the submarine base in Groton. The average listing price of homes for sale in New London as of April 3 was $272,240, according to Trulia.com. Condominium prices range anywhere from $80,000 to upwards of $350,000, according to HomeFinder.com.
One of the prime reasons to visit the New London area, other than the sub base and immersing yourself in early American history, is the 50-acre Ocean Beach Park. The summertime amusement park features a half-mile-long boardwalk and white sugar sand beach, a 50-meter Olympic sized swimming pool, a waterslide and spray park, an 18-hole miniature golf course, a family fun center with a video arcade, and dozens of family and kiddie rides.
Another popular tourist attraction is the Historic Waterfront District. Ranked in the top ten districts in New England, this 26-block National Register Historic District features art galleries, music, and design venues, one-of-a-kind boutiques, and over 30 eateries. It is said that America’s greatest architects left their mark in these buildings. From the collection of Tiffany glass windows in its cathedral to the country’s oldest operating courthouse and custom house, to the quirky shops and plentiful entertainment, New London is a great place to be.
For the artsy set, the District’s Garde Arts Center, a restored 1920s Moroccan-style movie palace, hosts everything from Broadway musicals to performances of the resident Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. Theater or puppetry can be found on the waterfront or in historic churches, offering everything from Shakespeare to original Latino plays. Nobel Prize winner and noted playwright Eugene O’Neill summered at a family cottage in New London, where he crafted two of his plays. The Monte Cristo Cottage is owned and operated by the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center as a historic house and museum.
If you want a nice summertime excursion, the Cross Sound Ferry provides service between New London and Orient Point in Long Island. From Orient Point you can take the Long Island Rail Road straight to New York City. You can also take a ferry from New London to Block Island, a popular summer resort in Rhode Island.
One of the region’s best events is Sailfest, which occurs on the New London waterfront, and this year will take place July 12-14. Over 300,000 people come to the three-day festival for a fireworks show, amusement rides, regional food, free entertainment, a Tall Ships display, and over 200 vendors lining the downtown streets. Come for a visit and maybe you will plan to stick around a while to take in New London’s 367 years of history. You’ll be glad you did.
Debra A. Estock is executive editor of New England Condominium.