A classic American Main Street and water everywhere, it's the kind of town you thought didn't exist anymore.

By William G. Scheller
August 27, 2002
Carol Lundeen

"There's a sandbar right where the Connecticut River enters LongIsland Sound," says Mike Urban, who lives in Old Saybrook,Connecticut. "A lot of us consider that sandbar a blessing. Itprevented Old Saybrook from ever developing into a majorseaport."

What developed instead was a tidy coastal New England town,where Main Street still has real stores, not just boutiques, andstately old hardwoods canopy the quieter avenues that meander downtoward the sound.

Instead of attracting clipper ships and dockside warehouses, OldSaybrook draws such transplants as Mike, an executive editor at The Taunton Press in Newtown. Other commuters take advantageof great rail connections up and down the state's coast. Corporateoffices in Hartford and New Haven are less than an hour away. Sayslocal real estate agent Greg Young, "We even have a few New Yorkcommuters. The city is just two hours away by train."

That two hours must seem like a century and a half on Wednesdayevenings in summer, when bands serenade Old Saybrook's town green.The concerts aren't simply an attempt to put a Rockwellian patinaon a modern exurban town; instead, they exemplify civic spirit in acommunity that claims origins as a Dutch fur-trading post.

"Main Street is still a place where people congregate," saysMike. "They go there to shop and for holiday celebrations. We havea Christmas parade that brings out virtually the entire town,cheering the school marching bands and the local fife and drumcorps."

There's a lot to march, or saunter, past in downtown OldSaybrook. Within a few blocks, it's possible to purchase hardware,furniture, auto parts, baby clothes, groceries, and Chinesetakeout. You also can visit the bank, the dentist, and thehairdresser. All without a mall in sight.

You might interrupt your mercantile ramble with ice cream from asoda fountain installed in 1896. It's in the same building asShelley Nobile's art gallery, which is next door to her DeaconTimothy Pratt bed-and-breakfast. "After school, the kids all stopin for sundaes and penny candy," says Shelley.

Can this town really be so idyllic? "My guests rave all the timeabout how friendly the people are," Shelley says. "They were thesame way when I started the business. Shop owners were quick withtheir advice, and my neighbors were very supportive when I wentbefore the zoning commission."

Nevertheless, getting the go-ahead for a B&B in thecirca-1746 home on Main Street wasn't easy. "Things arescrutinized," Shelley says. But the wariness with which old-timelocals view change is, after all, what keeps Old Saybrook frombecoming ... well, new.

"When you mention Old Saybrook," says Mike, "people thinkwater." Boaters, swimmers, and sunset watchers--few of them regretthat well-placed sandbar.

(published 2002)