Travelers from near and far are drawn to Old Lyme for the Florence Griswold Museum’s renowned collection of American Impressionist art. But at the turn of the 20th century, the main attraction was the bucolic setting.
When Florence Griswold, the daughter of a prominent family facing financial difficulties, turned her home into a boarding house for artists, painters like Henry Ward Ranger and Childe Hassam flocked to the property. Taken by the region’s light and the sweeping countryside views of the Griswold estate, they created a body of work depicting the arched bridge, salt marsh, and other pastoral scenes of this “American Giverny.” The group, known as the Lyme Art Colony, shaped the American Impressionist movement.
The museum is a highlight of Southeastern Connecticut, but what many would-be visitors don’t know is that even when the gallery doors are closed, the museum campus – and the trails that wind through this surprisingly varied landscape – remains open to the public. (And free.)
Beyond the yellow Georgian Griswold House, past the charming buildings clustered around a restored historic garden, twelve acres of sprawling open space provide a calming backdrop for a walk or picnic.
Here, you can stroll along the Artists’ Trail that edges the grounds. Paths skirt rows of flowering trees, and signs point to the River Walk, Hedgerow Walk, and Garden Walk, tempting you in all directions at once. Follow the raised wooden boardwalk to the Meadow, venture into the lush area known as the Woodlands, or head down the gently sloping bank of the Lieutenant River and sit on the dock at the water’s edge.
As of this writing, indoor museums are closed, so the inside of the so-called “Home of American Impressionism,” remains off-limits. But in this case, the era of social distancing in Connecticut offers a particularly lovely consolation prize. As you explore the land that inspired the art, you’re truly seeing what the artists saw: not a painting of a moment in the past, but an ever-changing, constantly beautiful, captivating natural world.
Address: 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT, 06371
Website: Florence Griswold Museum