Old Saybrook is the commercial, retail, and small manufacturing center of the lower Connecticut River Valley. Old Saybrook through it’s Economic Development Commission actively promotes the economic and business development of the area. The retail environment is excellent, with four shopping centers as well as scores of retail establishments along Main Street and Boston Post Road. The financial needs of the community are met by seven local and regional banks. Scenic views and invigorating salty air have always been strong features of Old Saybrook, an ideal spot for a getaway or a place to call home.
Bordered on two sides by the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, the town embodies the spirit of small town living. A rich sense of history and seafaring tradition can be felt throughout the area, with more than 100 homes designated as having historic significance. Come see why Mark Twain and others have extolled Old Saybrook and discover our natural treasures for yourself.
Old Saybrook, located at the mouth of the Connecticut River, was the home of Algonquin Nehantic Indians for years before Europeans arrived. They were peace loving Indians who farmed in the area and had a village at Saybrook Point. Around 1590 the peaceful Nehantic and other gentle Algonquin tribes living in the Connecticut River Valley were conquered by the Pequots, a warlike tribe from the north.
The first European to sail up the Connecticut River was Adrian Block who, in 1614, was sent by the Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam on an expedition to explore, map and claim the eastern coast of “New Netherlands” for the Dutch. In 1623, fearing English competition, the Dutch deposited a small group of Dutch men and women at Saybrook Point to establish a permanent colony. After a few miserable months, the settlers gave up and returned to New Amsterdam.
In 1631 the Earl of Warwick, president of the Council for New England, signed a unique deed of conveyance, called the Warwick Patent, to 11 of his closest friends and/or relatives, including the Viscount Saye and Sele and Lord Brook. A year or so later, four more gentlemen became patentees, including Colonel George Fenwick. Saybrook Point was included in this patent that gave the 15 lords and gentlemen a vast segment of New England stretching from the Narragansett River along the coast line south to about Greenwich, and west from these two points to the Pacific Ocean.
In 1635 the Warwick patentees commissioned John Winthrop Jr. as the first Governor of the Connecticut territory. In 1635 Winthrop, learning that the Dutch were planning to permanently occupy Saybrook Point, sent a small vessel with 20 men and orders to seize control of the Point. Arriving on November 24, 1635 the Englishmen quickly put ashore with two cannons to ward off any attack by the Dutch or the Indians.
Engaged by Governor Winthrop to build a fort and lay out a town at the Point, Lieutenant Lion Gardiner sailed in March 1636 for the Point with supplies and 12 men to build the fort. Governor Winthrop arrived a month later and shortly thereafter named the settlement Saye-Brooke in honor of Viscount Seye and Sele and Lord Brooke.
While not the oldest town in Connecticut, Old Saybrook is the oldest town on the Shoreline as well as the oldest English town name in Connecticut. The fort was the earliest in the Connecticut Colony and the Gardiner’s son, David, was born at Fort Saybrook in 1636--the first child of European parents born in Connecticut.
As Saybrook grew, settlers moved further and further away from the original settlement and eventually they received permission to form their own parishes so that they would not have to travel so far on Sundays to attend church services. As these outlaying parishes grew, they separated from Saybrook and became the present day towns of Lyme, Old Lyme, Westbrook, Chester, Essex and Deep River.
Because of its location at the mouth of the river, Saybrook became an important center for coastal trade and for transshipment from riverboats to ocean ships. Its main harbor was North Cove which, before the railroad reduced the opening of the mouth of the cove with fill in 1871, was a much deeper harbor than it is today. The ships sailing to and from Saybrook visited Europe, Africa and South America, but their primary trade was with the West Indies and along the eastern seaboard.
For more in-depth history, contact the Old Saybrook Historical Society, (860) 388-2622 or the Frank Stevens Archives Building at (860) 395-1635 or visit them at 350 Main Street at the William Hart House.
Come and enjoy a stroll. The town of Old Saybrook is one of the earliest settlements in Connecticut and indeed in the United States. Those who are interested in the history of the town will be drawn to the relics of the past in abundance here. The architectural styles are varied, however, there are more 18th century Colonial and 19th century Federal buildings than you will find in many New England towns.
A detailed walking tour brochure is available at the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce office. The walking tour draws attention to what is left of the old buildings on Main Street. It also focuses on sites of selected historic buildings that have been replaced. Call or write for your copy.
Driving down the wide picturesque Main Street of Old Saybrook, a town defined by its ties to the water, it is hard to imagine that the whole region was actually once under water.
Old Saybrook’s landscape was most influenced by continental glaciers, the most recent of which moved south across Connecticut approximately 22,000 years ago. Ice thickness in the Old Saybrook area is thought to have been about 1,800 feet, or 1/3 of a mile.
Since the 1970s Connecticut has restored over 1,500 acres of wetlands, most of which was supervised by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP’s Long Island Sound license plate program, which features the familiar Outer Lighthouse at the mouth of the Connecticut River, has funded a multitude of projects to improve the Sound’s quality of life and to educate people about this important natural resource.
The Connecticut River
In 1998 President Clinton designated the entire Connecticut River from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound as one of 14 “American Heritage Rivers” in the United States.
The mouth of the Connecticut River is a mile-wide estuary protected by a large, shallow sandbar. The impact of constantly shifting sandbar locations on deep-draft ship navigation is one of a number of reasons that no significant industrial development has occurred along the banks of the lower river from Old Saybrook north to Deep River.
In 1994 the Connecticut River estuary and tidal wetlands complex, from the mouth of the river to a point above Middletown, was identified under the International Ramsar Convention Treaty as a “Wetland of International Importance,” one of only 15 such designations in the entire United States. In 1993 the Nature Conservancy designated the tidelands, including the wetlands of North and South Coves, as one of 40 biologically important ecosystems in the western hemisphere, known as the “Last Great Places.”
Sharing the Waterways
The lower Connecticut River and Valley has many beautiful places to visit and enjoy nature. Osprey, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Piping Plovers, Diamond-Backed Terrapins and River Otters are commonly seen. The national symbol, the Bald Eagle, is a winter visitor whose numbers are increasing.
There are several places from which to launch a canoe, kayak or motor-driven vessel. The largest state-owned launching spot is under the Baldwin Bridge on Ferry Road, Old Saybrook. As always, we ask that you please respect our wildlife and observe from a careful distance.
Some good land-side observation areas are at the DEP headquarters on Ferry Road in Old Lyme and Saybrook Point at the end of College Street in Old Saybrook.
Come enjoy the natural beauty of Old Saybrook at any time of the year. Take your canoe into the hidden beauty of coves, creeks and marshes and get a close-up view of the herons and egrets feeding. If you are lucky, you will catch sight of an osprey on its nest or perched in a tree eating its latest catch.
Walk the beach at sunset; check out the boats from all over the country docked at the marinas at Saybrook Point. Play mini-golf with one of the best views you’ll ever find.
Fresh air, sport and scenery make fishing a very popular pastime, whether on the Sound or the River.
Winter brings a special beauty of its own. Take an Eagle Cruise on the Connecticut River, or come see the Torchlight Parade during the Christmas season.
We have history, antique shops, art galleries and natural beauty. Come by water, rail, or car and be sure to bring your camera.
Seasonal Public Attractions
- Fort Saybrook Monument Park: Open year-round. Storyboards at site of original fort “walk” you through history at one of the most picturesque spots on the Shoreline. Saybrook Point. Free
- General William Hart House: Home of the Old Saybrook Historical Society and the Frank Stevenson Archives Building. Open to the public. Visit the Historical Society's website for detailed schedules.
- Harvey’s Beach: Open year-round. Route 154 on Long Island Sound. A parking fee is charged from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
- Saybrook Point Mini-Golf: Open daily Memorial Day to Labor Day and select days in the Fall (contact Parks & Recreation for detailed Fall hours). Saybrook Point Park.
- Old Saybrook Walking Tour: A self-guided tour from the railroad station to the “millstone” highlighting 37 homes, churches and commercial buildings. A descriptive brochure is available at the Chamber of Commerce office or by mail.
- Old Saybrook Loop Ride: A 10-mile scenic circle of Old Saybrook from Main Street to the River, along Long Island Sound and back again. A map is available at the Chamber office or by mail.