This small town in eastern Connecticut is located in the southern suburbs of Danbury and stretches into the countryside of Fairfield County.
The quaint and walkable Greenwood Avenue is Bethel’s main thoroughfare and has a real historical impact, especially as the birthplace of famous 19th century entertainer PT Barnum.
The Bethel Historical Society has curated several walking tours in this historic area, telling stories over two centuries.
One of the many admirable things about Bethel is that the town is vibrant, especially in the summer, with live music, food trucks and a fleet of vintage cars parked at the nostalgic Sycamore Drive-In restaurant.
1. Greenwood Avenue Historic District
Bethel’s main street was Greenwood Avenue, which until the 20th century was often referred to as Center (or Center) Street.
In front of this road are many buildings that have been around in some form for 150 years or more and now have local shops and restaurants to entice you.
The Bethel History Museum highlights a list of the town’s landmarks, which you can find on the 11-stop tour of the Bethel Opera House.
The Fox Brothers Hotel and the Pratt Hotel shared space with a local funeral home in the 1890s! 1 Depot Place houses the old Opera House, which dates back to 1860. Now the J. Lawrence Downtown restaurant, the building has become a performance venue, billiard hall, ice rink, movie theater, brush factory, town meeting space, and gym time.
The wooden building at the Broken Symmetry Gastro Brewery near Depot Place is actually Bethel’s former train station, built in 1899 and vacated in 1996 when the new station further north was built.
2. Blue Jay Orchard
With over 140 acres and 36 apple varieties, Blue Jay Orchards is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to find in New England in the fall.
Apple-picking season begins in Mackintosh, usually around early September, and runs through late October.
Open around the end of September, there is a pumpkin patch with small carts for children.
Whenever you come, the farm stand is a must, selling honey extracted from the farm, as well as delicious cider donuts, pies, cookies, maple syrup, sauces, jellies, dressings, fruit butters and farm produce .
3. Monster Mini Golf and Laser Tag
This indoor attraction offers spooky fun for the family, combining mini golf, laser tag, laser maze, ropes courses and a video arcade.
The title is a glowing miniature golf course in black light, packed with terrifyingly animated props and obstacles, while your round will be sounded by a DJ.
The monster theme continues in Laser Tag Arena, designed for players age 5 and up, with effects like fog, mines, more black lights, and mines.
The arcade features timeless classics and the latest editions, as well as ticket machines, and kids can climb over drawbridges, cargo nets and rope ladders in a glow-in-the-dark ropes course.
4. Sycamore Drive-In Restaurant
Bethel preserves true 20th century relics at this drive-in restaurant, which opened in 1948. Like a scene from a ’50s teen movie, the Sycamore Drive-In restaurant offers curbside service up front so you can enjoy a fresh land steak burger, frank or sandwich with your gang in your hotrod.
This place is loved for its homemade root beer and makes one that actually won awards.
There is also a full breakfast menu including egg sandwiches, wraps, omelets, pancakes and waffles.
From May to September, the Sycamore Drive-in restaurant hosts a classic car parade night every Saturday, with giveaways and DJ service, with this nostalgia in mind.
5. Bethel Public Library
The Bethel Public Library, located in the heart of Greenwood Avenue, was built in 1909, but its building is slightly older.
This beautiful home with Doric colonnades is the Seelye Homestead, built in 1842 and donated to the town by descendants of Seth Seelye, Bethel’s first chooser.
The library is a valuable resource, as approximately two-thirds of Bethel residents have library cards and use them regularly.
This facility offers a staggering 84 different services.
For kids, there are story times, craft workshops and music activities.
Adults can join a book club and watch a movie every Monday night.
The library also offers free Wi-Fi, as well as PCs and iMacs for public use.
6. Collis P. Huntington State Park
This state park of more than 1,000 acres of wooded land southeast of Bethel passed two prominent industrialist families before being bequeathed to the state in 1973 by the heirs of Collis Potter Huntington. In the late 1800s, banker and industrialist Commodore Walther Luttgen added many park-like details to the wilderness of the time, creating a series of ponds, as well as walking paths and service roads.
Collis’ stepson, Archer M. Huntington, purchased the estate in 1939 and moved here. Memories of that period can be seen at the entrance to a realistic bear sculpture by his wife, famed artist Anna Hyatt Huntington.
The park runs through a stretch of the Blue-Blazed Aspetuck Valley Trail, which offers horseback riding, mountain biking, cross-country skiing in winter, and fishing in five ponds.
7. Tarrywile Park & Mansion
You have to walk a long way to find a municipal park as beautiful as Tarryville Park, just south of Danbury.
What was once a dairy and fruit farm is now a flowing landscape of woodlands, historic orchards, gardens, open fields, two ponds and picnic areas, 722 acres and 21 miles of walking trails .
The Tarywile Mansion (1897) is regarded as one of the finest tiled buildings in Greater Danbury and is used as a community centre and event space.
Smaller members of the clan will be happy with the Children’s Garden, which features a resident troll and a koi pond.
8. PT Barnum Birthplace
Famous 19th century performer and statesman PT Barnum was born in Bethel in 1810. Barnum had a long career in entertainment, culminating in the creation of “The Greatest Show on Earth” Barnum and Bailey Circus. His story was recently moved to the silver screen in the musical biopic The Greatest Showman (2017) starring Hugh Jackman.
The house where PT Barnum was born is located at 55 Greenwood Avenue and has been here since 1768. It originally had a colonial Saltbox design before taking on its current Greek Revival look after a fire sometime in the 19th century.
9. Putnam Memorial State Park
Not far west of Collis P. Huntington State Park is the scene of the Continental Army Winter Camp from December 1778 to May 1779. It is also Connecticut’s oldest state park, established in 1887. The hands-on station at the visitor center provides insight into the life of Major General Putnam (1718-1790) of Israel, and his valiant horseback escape from the British in February 1779, which made him famous.
You’ll also learn more about the camp that winter and the history of the land.
Meanwhile, in the park’s museum, you can examine some of the artifacts recovered from the camp site.
Sure to catch your attention is Anna Hyatt Huntington’s bold sculpture depicting Putnam’s escape.
10. Danbury Railway Museum
You can also visit this museum in Danbury from Old Union Station.
Dating back to 1903, the building is designed in Richardsonian Romanesque with a colonial revival style.
Scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) were filmed on this unusual curved platform.
Somewhere east of the station is the New Haven Railroad, the Danbury Roundabout, built in 1916 and the only complete structure of its kind in the state.
As for the museum, this offers weekend train rides on locomotives such as ALCO RS-1 (1948) New Haven 0673, EMD SW-8 (1953) Pfizer #1 (Rock Island #838) and GE 44 TON Diesel.
If you pay more, you can take a 1925 vintage coach, caboose or taxi.
A large number of model trains are displayed in the station, and in front of the turntable is a pump house built in 1910, which was moved to the museum from Fairgrounds on Segar Street, Danbury.
11. Bethel Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Bethel’s central cemetery is the resting place of several other members of the Barnum family (PT Barnum is buried in Bridgeport). But perhaps the most striking monument in the cemetery is the column commemorating the 14 Bethel residents who lost their lives in the Civil War.
The monument is hewn from a block of granite more than four meters high.
The dedication is carved into a scroll hanging under the talons of an eagle, flanked by two curled ribbons that read “Alliance” and “Freedom.” At the bottom is a beautifully engraved trophy depicting crossed swords and two rifles, as well as the soldier’s sheet, rucksack, hat and belt.
12. Bird’s Book
Somewhere on Greenwood Avenue, Bird’s Bookstore is a warmly welcomed independent bookstore.
There’s a good chance you’ll find what you’re looking for in this seemingly large store, but if they don’t, they’ll be happy to order it for you.
Byrd’s Books doesn’t just sell paperbacks and hardcovers: for the little ones, there’s story time every Wednesday at 10:00, regular author talks, and even knitting and crochet nights.
13. Plum Tree School Building
It’s worth taking a detour to this lovely little one-room schoolhouse just northeast of Bethel, built in 1867 on Plumtrees Road.
The building retains its original appearance, with whitewashed clapboards and a lovely little dome that houses a 20-inch bell, cast in 1896. There was a school here until 1970, and the building was placed on the Connecticut State Registry’s 2007 Historic Place.
Today, Plumtrees Schoolhouse is a museum about education, although the hours are variable, so it’s a good idea to get in touch before visiting.
14. Ives Concert Park
For summer entertainment under the stars, Ives Concert Park is a great venue with a large pondside bandstand.
The park is named after Danbury native Charles Edward Ives (1874-1954), one of America’s most cherished composers.
About 65,000 people come to Ives Concert Park each year for classical concerts, chamber music, jazz, performances by major recording artists, stand-up comedy and Shakespeare plays.
There is also a program of children’s activities at international festivals throughout the summer, showcasing Latin music as well as Irish and Ecuadorian culture.
15. Food Truck Friday
Record in your journal the first and third Friday nights of June, July, and August when entire food truck convoys come to town.
With about 16 food trucks parked on the Bethel Civic Center lawn, you can choose from burgers, grinders (subs), tacos, burritos, artisan hot dogs, BBQ, lobster rolls and more.
And for dessert, cinnamon fritters are the best choice.
There are bands and artists making waves in Connecticut’s music scene every night.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Bethel, Connecticut (CT)
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