You might say that Putnam is the least quiet place in Connecticut’s Quiet Corner. Once a prosperous mill town, it later suffered the hardships familiar to so many Connecticut communities: natural disasters and economic decline. But in recent years, downtown Putnam has slowly come back to life, this time as an eclectic little regional hub filled with sprawling antique stores, quirky shops featuring locally made goods, and a plentiful selection of restaurants relative to its small size.
In addition to cultural attractions and seasonal events, what draws people to Putnam is its striking natural setting. The Quinebaug River flows through downtown, its surprisingly powerful falls tumbling over rocks and past trees before continuing, calmly, beside pretty parks where paved paths follow the riverbank. The town rises on the hills above, a mix of modest commercial buildings, grand Victorian houses, and the old brick textile mills that look like they were built to last forever.
It once drew me so strongly that I moved here for a year, curious to experience life in an old-fashioned small town. I return whenever I can, because there’s always something new to see here. But I especially love to visit in the fall, when Putnam seems lit with a soft glow of rust and gold. Its streets, carpeted with crunchy leaves, are perfect for walking, and its cozy stores and eateries seem especially welcoming when you want to warm up on a blustery day.
If you’re planning a day trip to Putnam (and I strongly suggest that you do!) here are some of my favorite things to do and see.
Putnam River Trail, parallel to Kennedy Drive from Arch Street to Providence Street. This walking and biking trail runs alongside the Quinebaug River for about two miles, offering lovely views of the river and easy access to all the downtown points of interest.
River Mills Heritage Trail, Monhasset Mill (Canal Street) to Nightingale Mill (Kennedy Drive.) Another walking and biking route through downtown, this trail, just over one mile long, focuses on Putnam’s mills and other historic buildings. It partially overlaps the Putnam River Trail, then diverges to Church Street, high on the riverbank above the town.
Maps of both trails are available from Putnamtraveler.com.
August & March Home, 130 Main Street. An aesthetically pleasing collection of home accessories and little gifts like notebooks and candles. There’s a surprising variety here, from throw pillows to jewelry to tote bags, and you’ll probably want one of everything.
Flying Carpet Studio, 112 Main Street. This shop is packed with accessories, from bags to silver jewelry to knit hats, as well as other affordable gifts. Upstairs is a small bead store, Beads Over Main.
Sawmill Pottery, 112 Main Street. This pottery studio hosts classes and workshops, but it’s also a store featuring unique (and not too pricey) pieces by local artists.
Silver Circle Studio, 134 Main Street, 2nd Floor. This art gallery and gift shop moved here from a nearby space; now, there are (sadly) fewer small items for sale, but the gallery area is larger – or at least it feels that way, as the upper level offers beautiful views of downtown Putnam in addition to a variety of works by local artists.
Cosmic Cat, 30 Front Street. A tiny shop with a throwback hippy vibe, Cosmic Cat’s focus is psychic readings and related classes and events. But you don’t need to be into that to peruse the enticing and inexpensive collection of crystals and other shiny objects.
Antiques Marketplace, 109 Main Street. The self-described “largest antiques and collectibles mall” in central New England is indeed massive, with multiple floors full of vendors selling practically everything you could imagine.
Jeremiah’s Antiques, 26 Front Street. A smaller, but still sprawling, vintage market that’s part store and part museum. Between the dozens of dealers and the variety of merchandise, you could get lost in here for hours.
Food & Drink
Ben’s Beans, 164 Main Street. This coffee shop has a pleasantly minimal aesthetic, friendly staff, and delicious coffee, as well as a small selection of baked goods.
Victoria Station Cafe, 91 Main Street. A bit cozy, a bit swanky, and full of tempting pastries, this spot is classic Putnam. On warmer days, outdoor seating lets you people-watch while drinking your tea or coffee; if it’s cold out, the interior is comfortable and pretty.
Sadie’s Sweet Shop, 12 Pomfret Street. An old-fashioned little no-frills candy shop that beckons when you need some sugar for more energy to continue exploring Putnam.
85 Main, 85 Main Street. A delicious and cozy spot for lunch or dinner, this centrally located restaurant feels classy and casual all at once.
Bills Bed & Breakfast, 194 Providence Street. There’s no bed here, but the breakfast – a variety of diner-style options and homemade baked goods served in a small, unfancy space – is a favorite with locals and non-locals alike.
Many of Putnam’s shops and restaurants have, shall we say, unconventional business hours. Double check before arriving if there’s a place you particularly want to visit.
Public restrooms can be found in the parking lot where Kennedy Drive, Canal Street, and Pomfret Street meet.
On Saturday mornings from June through October, the Putnam Farmers’ Market is open on Kennedy Drive near the Putnam River Trail.
If you haven’t explored the Quiet Corner before, Putnam is a good jumping-off place for visiting nearby, more rural towns like Pomfret, Brooklyn, Thompson, and Woodstock. This part of the state is full of stand-alone shops, historic sites, parks, trails, and pastoral views; it’s ideal for simply driving and seeing what you come across.