Bounded by South/Middle Cove to the south and North Cove to the north, Essex Village has a rich tradition in maritime commerce.
It was one of 14 stops on the Hartford-to-New York trade route, and has long claimed a place in the heart of naturalists, who have recently identified the Connecticut River as one of 15 wetlands “of international importance.” In fact, Essex now hosts thousands of birdwatchers eager to get a glimpse of bald eagles, which have made a comeback in the area.
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Located on the west bank of the river and 5 miles from Long Island Sound, Essex has the kind of Main Street made for idle strolling.
Small, picket-fence–framed homes in muted colonial colors are occupied by residents who don’t seem to mind the parade of tourists that march by within a few feet of their front doors. Quiet country lanes intersect the busier main street. Town Park, on Middle Cove, offers public benches and a gazebo for those who appreciate a moment to relax and take in the water view.
While many people come here to see the Connecticut River Museum, ride the Essex Steam Train or take a meal at the historic Griswold Inn, Essex is ultimately a slow-paced kind of place that happens to have a soft spot for boaters.
In fact, there are more transient slips in Essex than parking spaces. Even so, many boaters make the run from Long Island Sound without really understanding the significance of what they are passing. Captain Mark Yuknat and his wife, Mindy, are working to change that with guided tours on the 54-foot, 50-passenger Riverquest, based at the Steamboat Dock. The Yuknat’s mission is to educate passengers about the history, ecology and use of Connecticut’s mightiest river. Their eagle-viewing expeditions alone attract over 2,000 visitors every winter.
Essex is a town that celebrates its present as heartily as it does its past. There are 10 parades annually, among them Memorial Day, Labor Day, Eagle Fest, Halloween, Groundhog Day and something called “the Burning of the Ships,” which commemorates the raid of 1814, when 27 newly constructed American warships in Essex were torched by the British.