Exploring The Last Green Valley: Towns like Thompson make this region so special

Exploring The Last Green Valley: Towns like Thompson make this region so special

The Town of Thompson is located in the northeast corner of Connecticut and is one of 35 towns within The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.

I am very familiar with Thompson due to the simple fact that, since 1980, I have lived in the two Connecticut towns that border Thompson — Woodstock and Putnam.

Over the past 37 years I have explored Thompson’s rich cultural and natural resources and I am glad to share this beautiful town with you.

There are many unique things that define our National Heritage Corridor and make our region special. We are blessed with picturesque hill towns that have quintessential New England town commons, circled by beautiful homes of unique architectural styles. Many of our hill towns not only have farming traditions of the past but also working agricultural lands of today.

I also take deep pride in our historic mill villages, their rushing rivers, large dams and monolithic brick mill factories reminding me of the critical role these towns played in our economic development during the industrial age of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Our region is rich in picturesque rivers and lakes, with abundant recreational opportunities. Our woods and state forests provide hundreds of miles of trails for hiking and year-round enjoyment by people of all ages.

Our historical societies and museums help to give us perspective and an accurate view of our shared past. They actively work to preserve the precious objects and stories so important to the identity of our region.

When I describe and list these many attributes, I realize that I am also accurately listing the many resources all located in the singular Town of Thompson.

Made up of 10 villages, the Town of Thompson includes East Thompson, Fabyan, Grosvenordale, Mechanicsville, North Grosvenordale, Quaddick, Quinebaug, Thompson Hill, West Thompson and Wilsonville.

The town was incorporated in 1785 and the 2010 census lists a population of 9,458 people.

When it comes to water resources, Thompson is one of the more unique towns in our region. Three major rivers, the Quinebaug to the west, the French in the center of town and the Five Mile in the eastern section, each wind their way through Thompson, linking the community’s Native American past to the age of industry as well as to today’s extensive water recreation opportunities.

The French River begins in Massachusetts and helped to power the industrial rise of both Webster, Mass., and Thompson. From Webster, the river enters Thompson in the Wilsonville section of town before flowing into North Grosvenordale.

But for the French River, there would not have been a North Grosvenordale nor the economic engine that the mills lining the banks of the river brought to the entire region.

The French is popular for paddling and fishing with access behind the Knights of Columbus building on Route 12. There is also a boat launch near the intersection of Route 12 and West Thompson Road. The French River enters the Quinebaug in West Thompson, just below West Thompson Lake and the large U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dam.

The Quinebaug also flows from Massachusetts into Thompson, and the stretch from Fabyan to West Thompson Lake is one of the most popular paddle locations in The Last Green Valley. West Thompson Lake was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following the flood of 1955. The Corps’ facility at West Thompson Lake includes a public boat launch popular with fishermen as well as hiking trails and camping.

The Five Mile River flows into and then out of Quaddic Reservoir, and although it’s a smaller river than the French and Quinebaug, it also provides good paddling all the way to Killingly, where it eventually flows into the Quinebaug.

Quaddic Reservoir, State Park and State Forest provide a beautiful resource for residents as well as visitors to Thompson. The park offers swimming, picnicking, boating, fishing and hiking.

When it comes to understanding the early history of our region, Thompson literally wrote the book — the “History of Windham County,” by Thompson resident and renowned historian Ellen D. Larned.

Her two-volume set earned her the reputation as a regional historian and in 1870 she became the first female inducted into the Connecticut Historical Society. It is fitting that the Thompson Historical Society is located in the Ellen Larned Memorial Building and Museum.

The Thompson Historical Society is very active with many local volunteers dedicated to preserving the past with an extensive collection of objects and documents detailing the history of the town and its residents.

Thompson is also home to the Tourtellotte Museum Memorial Room located in Tourtellotte Memorial High School. The museum includes a spectacular collection of more than 80 pieces of art collected by the school’s founders, George and Harriet Tourtellotte.

If you like to hike, then Thompson is a town that you definitely need to visit. The Thompson Trails Committee is one of the busiest and most active trails committees in the National Heritage Corridor and has partnered with The Last Green Valley for many Walktober walks, Spring Outdoor walks and events.

There are several trails in town to choose from including the Air Line State Park Trail from the Massachusetts border to neighboring Putnam. The trail is on a former rail bed and with 6.6 miles of relatively level trail (improvements are ongoing), it is perfect for walkers and hikers of all abilities.

The Tri-State Marker Trail is a two-mile loop off the Air Line Trail in East Thompson. It takes you up a steep hill to the exact spot where Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island meet.

Other trails include the Orange Trail from Fabyan to West Thompson Lake, Fabyan River Trail/Fisherman’s Walk, Bull Hill Recreation Area Trail, North Grosvenordale River Walk (a mostly paved, handicap and bicycle accessible trail), Quaddick State Park Trail, Tamler Preserve Trail and Border Trail with access to George Washington/Pulaski Management Areas in Rhode Island.

One of the more picturesque villages in the National Heritage Corridor is Thompson Hill with a collection of architecturally-distinct houses lining the town common. The common is now at the center of the 440-acre Thompson Hill Historic District, which includes 130 buildings, 100 of which were constructed prior to 1935.

Not only does Thompson have exceptional historical, cultural and outdoor recreation resources, it also is home to one of the more popular motor sports venues in New England with Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park located in East Thompson. The Speedway schedules several races during the summer season with the 5/8 mile historic oval hosting a number of NASCAR stock car and open wheel racing events.

If farming and supporting local agriculture is your passion, then I suggest you get over to Thompson’s Fort Hill Farms, a diversified farm with land that has been in continuous agricultural production for more than 300 years.

Stop by and stroll their extensive gardens, enjoy tasty Farmer’s Cow ice cream at the Ice Creamery stand, explore a corn maze during the fall season, and attend annual events such as their bluegrass bash and more.

Another farm to consider visiting is Morning Beckons Farm the largest alpaca farm in the northeast. You can walk through the farm and check out the interesting animals living there and visit the farm store for alpaca-related products and gifts.

If you’re looking for more information on any of the resources mentioned in this article, a simple internet search will provide you with their websites. You can also find information on the Town of Thompson website.

We are so lucky to live here in The Last Green Valley. It is towns like Thompson — one of the 35 towns that make up our National Heritage Corridor — that make this region so special. I hope you’ll join me in caring for, enjoying, and passing on all that we appreciate here in The Last Green Valley.

Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org.

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.