New Canaan was just named one of the “15 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2019” by Smithsonian magazine. Every year their editors search the entire country for places that sing to our imaginations and offer a distinct sense of place. New Canaan is now recognized as the best of small town America.
That’s some well-deserved recognition at a time when we need it. Local news is often negatively focused on the slings and arrows directed at us from Hartford, our few self-imposed problems combined with certain wistfulness about the way life used to be in our small town. That can make us feel vulnerable and low. Thank you, Smithsonian, for recognizing New Canaan is beautiful and vibrant and has much to be thankful for. We are not only a great place to live but also a great place to visit.
So, what did the Smithsonian editors find here to crow about? First, they began New Canaan’s story with architectural pioneer Walter Gropius and his influence on the Harvard Five architects who lived and built 80 extraordinary houses here. The editors called our architecture an “unusual blend of modernism” that has continued with the “sleek” River Building at Grace Farms, and is juxtaposed with the “stunning” Waveny castle and our stone Carriage Barn. Most importantly the magazine recognized that architecture is alive here: the Glass House summer party, the Historical Society’s Mad for Modern gala, the New Canaan Library’s “Glass House Presents” lecture series and heck, just slowing down for afternoon tea with Frank at Grace Farms are just some of the ways we continuously celebrate and live with New Canaan’s uniquely great architecture. (By the way a new architectural foundation is opening its columned porch on God’s Acre and planning their first exhibition)
Second, the Smithsonian called our walkable downtown a “Fairfield County rarity”. It is. They noted the tented home of Summer Theatre of New Canaan on the way into town as well as the vibrant mix of boutique shops, high-end retailers, cozy breakfast eateries and Elm Restaurant which they called “high-end” but is only one of 50 first-class restaurant choices spanning the full range of family to formal.
We are beginning to appreciate the value of attracting visitors to our town and recently created a 15-person committee of experts (the TEDAC) to identify, cultivate and grow what is awesome about this town and begin to communicate it to others.
I’d like to add one essential thing that Smithsonian failed to mention: the people. There are plenty of pretty, but mostly empty, towns across America. New Canaan’s fabulous downtown with its awesome architecture and all of those arts and non-profits wouldn’t be worth visiting if they weren’t full of the most interesting people. We are out shopping, spilling on to the sidewalks on restaurant row, waving out our windows at the crossing guard, beeping hello at baby carriages along South Avenue. We are out walking the Irwin paths, running the Waveny trails, biking the back-country, filling our pretty churches Sunday mornings and our bleachers on Friday nights. Thousands come to the Caffeine & Carburator car shows, picnic on the 4th of July, light the menorah and carol on God’s acre. If you are a visitor to our town it’s the people you’ll meet who make up the foreground, behind whom a 200 year tapestry of fascinating architecture and commerce are only the physical record of the way New Canaan lives. It’s a great time to re-discover New Canaan.