EAST LYME — Nestled on the west bank of babbling Bride Brook along one of those winding back roads that meander throughout the state is one of the greatest treasures in all of Connecticut.
As you drive up Plants Dam Road (just off Exit 73 on Interstate 95) you can’t help but be stricken by the hard-bitten beauty of the ancient gambrel-roofer that suddenly appears before you, as though it emerged 350 years late from a game of hide-and-seek among the equally ancient woods along the road. The center-chimney farmhouse and the green hill that rolls away from it toward the noisy brook is an enduring symbol of the weathered hardiness of the Yankee farmers who first built it in 1685.
It’s the Samuel Smith Farmstead, a surprisingly intact and well preserved example of a late 17th, early 18th century New England farm, and it’s slowly being returned to its heyday by an impressive group of dedicated volunteers.
Next to the house, right against the road, is the barn in the shape of a saltbox — that resilient design of the early New Englanders whose architecture seemed to stand in defiance of the worst that Mother Nature could hurl against it. Beyond is garden after garden, rife with the types of flora and vegetation that thrive best in the harsh and rocky New England soil.
Contrasting with all this metaphorical ruggedness is the labor of love that goes on inside. Determined to preserve and restore this monument to Yankee stamina, and encouraged by the success of a handful of open house events, a team of volunteers — The Friends of Samuel Smith House and Property Inc. — is lovingly preparing the farmstead for its introduction to the people of Connecticut and beyond.
On any given Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day, pop over for a visit anytime between noon and 3 p.m. Chances are you’ll see a volunteer like Benn Bullock or Art Carlson, who will happily tell you all about the farmstead and the latest restoration project, such as the replacement of pine clapboards on the farmhouse’s buttery. Step inside the kitchen, and the lovely historian-actress Jennifer Emerson — resplendent in the garb of a colonial farmer’s wife — is happy to show you how to churn butter — she’ll even let you help. Ask nicely and she’ll let you take a peek inside the fireplace’s beehive oven and teach you how to stoke a fire to get the bricks at a good 350 degrees — just perfect for baking.
But the real story is the tale told by the house itself. You’ll see just how a 17th century farmhouse was built — right down to the 350-year-old beams. Look hard enough and you’ll see some carved graffiti (how old is anyone’s guess) of a ship at full sail. As the volunteers will be quick to tell you, the original house was built around 1685 and saw additions in 1735 and again in 1812.
Throughout the year, the farmhouse is home to several events that are perfect outings for the whole family, such as Connecticut Farm Day on July 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
See how soldiers lived in the field at the farmstead’s Revolutionary War encampment on Sept. 8. Cooking demonstrations and other colonial-era programs will bring the farmstead to life.
If you want to sample the best hot mulled cider this side of the Atlantic Ocean, then head to the farmstead’s fall open house on Oct. 21, Maybe some local livestock will be wandering the grounds, eager to take a selfie with you.
After the success of its first Christmas Open House and Greenery Sale last year, it will officially become a homestead tradition when the event is celebrated again this year on Nov. 25. Visitors can expect to see the house lighted by electric candles, and smell the hanging herbs that decorate the Farmstead. Inside the barn, visitors will find Christmas decorations, wreaths, swags, topiaries, burlap bags filled with greens, beeswax hand-dipped candle pairs, and small tree ornaments for a suggested donation.
The Friends of Samuel Smith House and Property Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The mission is to restore, maintain and preserve the house and property as a living museum of 17th and 18th century Connecticut farm life. The Farmstead is jointly owned by the Town of East Lyme and Niantic Sportsmen’s Club. The Farmstead is overseen by Friends of Samuel Smith House and Property Inc. Its membership is open to anyone who wishes to support its mission. For more information, visit samuelsmithfarmstead.org.