While often overlooked by travelers on their way to New York City or Boston, Connecticut is a hidden gem of the New England region for its rich history and contemporary life. Connecticut is home to iconic white colonial steeple churches accompanied by traditional village greens right beside modern urban cityscapes. Let’s take a look at my home state, and hopefully, your next destination while visiting the United States.
The First Constitution and The Ivy League
There is evidence of Indigenous Peoples living in Connecticut as early as 10,000 years ago, with multiple tribes calling the area home. The largest of the groups being the Nipmuc, Pequot, and the Mohegans. The first European settlers arrived in the area from the nearby colony of Massachusetts around 1633. Connecticut is one of the original 13 colonies of the United States. Right from the start, the small colony was fiercely independent and signed their own constitution in 1639 making it the first constitution in the New World. It also was the first written constitution that proposed the modern idea that “the foundation of authority is in the free consent of the people.” This achievement earned Connecticut the nickname “The Constitution State.”
Connecticut flourished in its early years thanks to its mild climate (compared to the rest of New England) and access to the ocean and rivers for trade with other colonies and Europe. With its wealth, in the 1640s Connecticut opened the door to Collegiate School, one of the first universities in the New World. Starting as a school primarily for clergy, the institution grew in size and soon changed its name to Yale University. Yale has grown into an iconic institution not only for the Connecticut area, but for the United States as a whole. Yale is a proud member of the Ivy League, and the school boasts famous graduates such as former President of the United States Bill Clinton, famous actress Meryl Streep, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, as well the current princess of Sweden, Victoria Ingrid Alice Désirée. Next time you are in New Haven on the Connecticut coast, take a stroll through the brick streets of Yale and soak in the wonderful history of the area.
Apizza and The First Hamburger
While it is always interesting to learn about the history, is there really any better way to truly understand an area than to sample its food?
If you find yourself craving a slice, stop by the iconic Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven (walking distance from Yale), serving classic apizza (pronounced A-beets) since 1925. Yes, that is not a typo, that is actually what we call it to differentiate it from the pizza commonly found in neighboring New York. Apizza is a very thin crust pizza grilled in a coal fueled oven till crispy. What surprises most people about this style of pizza is the topping choice. Classic apizza is topped with a wonderful mix of light cheese and steamed clams fresh from the ocean. It’s hard to talk about Connecticut food without going straight to seafood, being so close to the Long Island Sound, we have some of the freshest clams around. Apizza is a classic Connecticut fare that mixes salty and savory together – a must try.
So maybe seafood isn’t your favorite and you are looking for something else? Take a ten minute walk from the Yale Green and you’ll find an unassuming brick building that is actually home to one of the most iconic foods in American history. The Constitution State is the birthplace of the hamburger! In 1895, Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut served the first “hamburger sandwich.” The restaurant continues to sell the classic style burger the same way they did over 120 years ago. Keeping it simple, the hamburger is ground fresh every morning, served on hot buttered toast with only (strictly only) cheese, onion, and tomatoes. When you stop by Louis’ Lunch you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The interior of the restaurant is still original with raw iron metalwork and rough cut wooden booths. Family-owned and operated for four generations, the family is set on keeping it as original as possible. If it is your first time in Louis’, it may be a good idea to listen and learn a little bit of the local “lingo.” A classic order, and my personal favorite is, “cheese work, salad, and birch.” Which means the classic hamburger sandwich with all the toppings, potato salad, and a birch beer soda from the local brewery Foxon Park.
Twain and Stowe
Connecticut has such a rich historical record as well as an impressive culinary scene, but there is one last area in which my home state excels: literary figures. From classic American writers such as Eugene O’Neill (The Iceman Cometh; and Long Day’s Journey into Night), and Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman, and The Crucible), to more modern best-sellers like Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), they all called Connecticut home. When looking at Connecticut’s literally past, two stand above the rest; Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Twain.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1811. While Stowe wrote many novels and pamphlets, her most notable work was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Written under the pen name, Christopher Crowfield, the novel was published in 1852 and was responsible for the spread of anti-slavery sentiment throughout early American history. The book was the second best selling book of the 19th century, beaten only by the Bible. The novel was groundbreaking for its time for its depiction of the horrors of slavery. The book was such a critical part of the anti-slavery movement in America that Abraham Lincoln, on meeting Stowe shortly after the start of the American Civil War said, “So this is the little lady who started this great war.”
While Mark Twain (real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was born in Missouri, after his marriage he moved to Hartford, Connecticut where he lived the rest of his life and wrote most of his well-known works. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court just to name a few, where all written during the 20 years Twain lived in Hartford. Famous for his wit and satire, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a strong candidate for “The Great American Novel.” A title given to books that capture the spirit of America and its people. An honor that Twain shares with Stowe, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), another Connecticut resident. When you are done taking in the sights, sounds, and food, of historic New Haven, take a short drive to Hartford where hidden within downtown is Mark Twain’s iconic house. A High Victorian house adorned with tall pink gables and full of twisting corridors and hidden writing rooms.
Full of Surprises
Connecticut may be the third smallest states in the U.S., but it is packed with sites that are sure to fascinate everyone, from history buffs to food critics. Take a stroll down our brick lined streets, stop in to eat the world’s first hamburger, all while reading some of the works from the greatest American authors. You’ll soon find that, as our motto goes, Connecticut is full of surprises.
If you want to learn more about studying abroad, make an appointment with one of YGC’s advisors by calling 03-3379-7771.