The Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market, held on the grounds of the Nathan Hale Homestead, draws shoppers from around the state looking for a quintessential New England experience. They can certainly find that among the live music, weekly themed events, and rows of stands displaying tempting local food, drinks, and crafts. But there is much more to Coventry than the market.
To learn more about the background of the town, take a tour of the Hale Homestead, the backdrop of the market which was once the farm of Connecticut State Hero Nathan Hale’s family. Their land, on which they grazed cattle and grew apple trees, may have originally extended all the way to Coventry Lake.
Hale, the Patriot spy famously hanged by the British in the early years of the Revolution, never lived in the red Georgian style house. His father began building it in 1776 to replace an earlier, much smaller, house the family had crowded into. But the interior, with its herb-filled kitchen and small closet where generations of children read their schoolbooks, holds some of Nathan’s personal belongings as well as intriguing artifacts of daily Colonial-era life.
Costumed guides relate the stories you probably know, as well as some facts you might not: for instance, that Nathan was hardly the only Hale brother to be killed or disabled in the Revolutionary War. Or on a more upbeat note, that tricorn hats were stored in triangular hat-boxes.
After the tour, wander through the market and check out the food trucks, gorgeous fresh produce, prepared foods ranging from Mexican meals to kettle corn, and people of all ages enjoying the scene. Though downtown Coventry has several restaurants, this is the perfect place to grab lunch. I suggest bread from Meriano’s Bake Shoppe in Guilford and cheese from Colchester’s Cato Corner Farm, but the options are plentiful. (Hint: bring a basket!)
Take your lunch to Cassidy Hill Vineyard, a winding 20-minute drive away. Cassidy Hill, while very pretty, may not be one of Connecticut’s more spectacular vineyards. But the distinct lack of dressy crowds and the homey wooden building that houses the tasting room creates the perfect setting for a casual relaxing afternoon.
You can stand at the bar for a tasting, or sit on the shady front porch with a your wine. Which, by the way, is delicious; a friend whose wine consumption is usually limited to a few polite sips enthusiastically finished off a glass in record time.
Then head to Coventry’s Main Street, not the just-so tourist town center you might imagine but a place with its own atmosphere - a little shabby, a little magnificent, and all authentically historic and lived-in. For visitors, the main focus is antiques, and two big shops are right across the street from one another.
Coventry Arts and Antiques is a large yellow house full of books, art, and assorted collectibles that fill a series of connected rooms. KDM Antiques, built in the 1860s as a Methodist church, makes a dramatic setting for distinctive furniture and some unexpected smaller items, like hand-made soaps, as well.
For a fascinating look at another part of Coventry’s past that’s almost invisible as you stroll along Main Street, head down Mason Street across from the Library and look out for the historic markers that denote the Mill Brook Park Trail. This little area, perhaps my own favorite part of town, was once filled with textile and carding mills. Some of these have to be imagined, but others stand as impressive ruins in an almost pastoral setting, reminders of a bygone age.
If you go:
Nathan Hale Homestead
2299 South Street
June - September: Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Noon - 4 pm; Sun, 11 am - 4 pm
Adults, $7; Students, Seniors, Teachers, $6; Children 6-18, $4; Family (2 adults & unlimited number of children), $15. There is no charge for children under 6 or Connecticut Landmarks members.
Coventry Regional Farmers Market
2299 South Street
June – October: Sunday, 11 am - 2 pm
Cassidy Hill Vineyard
454 Cassidy Hill Road
Friday, 11 am - 8pm; Saturday, Sunday, 11 am - 5 pm
Coventry Arts & Antiques
1140 Main Street
Saturday, Sunday, 10 am - 5 pm
1141 Main Street
Saturday, Sunday, 9 am - 4 pm