While our motorhome was in the shop in Windsor Locks CT, we drove down to Mystic CT. Sister Judy had said this was a must-see in New England.
The small town is on the Mystic River, and is the site of the Mystic Seaport, the nation’s largest maritime museum. The town’s location on the river gave it easy access to Long Island Sound between New York and Boston, making it a leading seaport and shipbuilding area.
The town’s most dominant feature is the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, which crosses the river in the center of the village. A bascule bridge (sometimes referred to as a drawbridge) is a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances a span throughout its upward swing to provide clearance for boat traffic. The word “bascule” comes from the French term for balance scale, which employs the same principle. Because the bridge is open to foot traffic as well as automobile, it was possible to view the bridge mechanism up close. It is quite ingenious.
The Mystic River seemed aptly named. On the days we were there, the river was quite misty and somewhat mysterious. But according to the Mystic River Historical Society, the name “Mystic” actually is derived from the Pequot term “missi-tuk”, describing a large river whose waters are driven into waves by tides or wind. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful river with a wonderful name.
We stayed three nights at the Hyatt Place Mystic, which was very nice, reasonably priced, and included free breakfast.
On our first day after exploring the city, we had a late lunch at the S&P Oyster Co Restaurant upon the recommendation of a local. It turned out to be an excellent choice. It was right on the river next to the bridge in a beautiful garden setting. And the food was great, adding to our string of delightful dining experiences in New England. Becky had Seafood White Bean Chili, and David had a Wood Grilled Ground Steak Burger with Vermont White Cheddar Cheese. Delicious!
The next day we visited Mystic Seaport, whose full name is Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea. Most of the museum is outdoors, and is notable for its collection of historic sailing ships and boats. There is also an extensive shipyard that does restoration of historic vessels for the museum as well as for other organizations. Currently, they are restoring the Mayflower II in time for the 400th anniversary of the landing of the original Mayflower at Plymouth Colony in 1620.
The centerpiece of the historic vessel collection is the Charles W. Morgan, a whaling ship which was active in whaling for 80 years. She is the only surviving wooden whaler from 2,700 historical whalers that operated in the United States whaling fleet. On her deck are huge try pots used to render blubber into whale oil. She came to Mystic Seaport in 1941 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
In addition to the floating exhibits, an entire 19th-century seafaring village has been re-created along the shoreline. It captures what a village like Mystic would have been like in the 1800s. The village consists of more than 60 historic buildings, most of them rare commercial structures moved to the 19-acre site and meticulously restored.
There are guides throughout who explained what life was like then. We especially enjoyed the presentation of what it would have been like to be part of the whaling crew aboard the Morgan. The village contains nearly all the types of general and specialized trades associated with building and operating a sailing fleet. They include a chandlery, sail loft, ropewalk, cooperage, shipping agent’s office, printing office, bank, and others.
Each building is used both to show the original activity and to display multiple examples of objects sold or constructed; for instance, the nautical instrumentshop displayssextants, nautical timepieces, and the like. Demonstrations at the cooperage show how casks are assembled.
Additional buildings house more exhibits. One is a 1⁄128th scale model of the entire Mystic River area circa 1870, complete down to the outhouse behind every residence. The model is 40 feet long.
We spent the entire day at the Seaport, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and still didn’t see everything. In many ways, it was the highpoint of our time in New England.