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Farmington’s location on the river and its proximity to major interstates have favored it as a large commercial and medical center and a desirable suburb – but it is the little, historically significant village center that gives the town its undeniable “Charmington” appeal.

The town village, spanning more than a mile along Main Street, has earned the State’s designation as a Scenic Route for its charming procession of authentic colonial homesteads. Many are also part of the Connecticut Freedom Trail, having been home to early Farmington families who, as committed abolitionists, made these dwellings an important part of the Underground Railroad. In fact, in 1841, thirty-eight Mende Africans — and Cinque, the leader of the famous Amistad slave revolt — lived and studied in Farmington while funds were raised for their eventual return to Africa.

Likewise, Farmington houses many notable museums. Just one street east of Main Street is the Stanley-Whitman House, a classic Colonial circa 1720 which was restored to depict life as it was in the 18th-century. East of the village on Mountain Road is the Hill-Stead Museum, gracefully situated on 152 acres. Its 19 rooms showcase a nationally recognized collection of Impressionist paintings by such masters as Manet, Monet, Whistler, Degas and Cassatt. In the summer, the museum’s annual Sunken Garden Poetry Festival draws some of the nation’s most famous poets, along with local talent and an always-rapt audience.

Prominently located on Farmington Avenue is the venerable Country Club of Farmington. Up the road slightly, where Route 4 turns sharply, is the new Department of Transportation Route 4 safety project, currently under construction. The reconstruction of Route 4 involves widening the side of the road that leads toward the highway and transforming the brownfield on the corner into convenient parking for the shops across from Truffles Bakery.

Going south along Main Street is Miss Porter’s School, whose buildings occupy much of the village center. A significant historic and cultural institution in its own right, the school was founded in 1843 and has long been considered one of the finest girls’ college preparatory schools in the country.

Go south, and you’ll find Highland Park Market — a community favorite, where you’ll not only find the choicest ingredients for that special gourmet meal but some old-time customer service, too.

Heading west on Route 4 takes you to the “new” Farmington. Going further leads you under the “Big Bird” bridge and the Farmington Canal bike trail. Following the bike trail will take you where the quiet of the town’s meadows yields to Tunxis Mead Park, a maze of well-groomed recreational fields, riverside boat landings, and bustling neighborhoods.

Just off of Route 4, traveling north on Town Farm Road, is the Tunxis Plantation Country Club, a 45-hole golf course where serious players tee off, hackers hang out at the driving range, the non-serious take in a round of mini golf, and everybody grabs ice cream at the shop next door.

Further down is the recently completed Mormon Temple, which now serves members of the religion from CT, RI, southwestern MA, and Eastern NY.

Continuing west on 4, you’ll pass a series of more recent housing subdivisions and commercial developments, but along the way, weary commuters find safe harbor at both The Wood ’n Tap — an amiable pub with tasty grub — and Ann Howard’s Apricots, a restaurant well known for its gourmet fare upstairs in the dining room and comfort food in the downstairs pub.

Opposite Apricots is Farmington High School, with consistently top-ranked academic and athletic programs. Also located here are the town offices and the Farmington Public Library, impressive for its large variety of public programs.

Traveling west we reach Farmington’s borough of Unionville where Victorian-era homes still colorfully line the main and side streets. Down in the “Ville,” Sanford and Hawley Lumber Company — “the red store on the corner,” a few small manufacturers, and the old train depot are reminders of the village’s industrial past. Past the dense plaza in the center — anchored by a Stop & Shop, as well as numerous small food and retail outlets — is the Unionville Museum. On the corner of Mill St. and South Main St., Walgreens built a new store in a historically sensitive style consistent with renovated nearby industrial structures. Long dormant, those factory buildings are being brought to life by a popular new restaurant, Cure, and an upscale teashop, Culteavo, as well as other start-up businesses.

As Route 4 heads on up to Burlington, you reach Route 177 which takes you through Farmington’s West District, a section of town where new subdivisions can be seen all the way to the Plainville border — and where Tunxis Community College educates a large number of students from the Valley on their beautifully renovated campus.

Farmington’s most developed area lays to the east — adjacent to Interstate 84, which connects to Route 4 up beyond the Hill-Stead. Here, the University of Connecticut Health Center has continued to grow steadily over the past several years and is now one of the town’s largest employers. Comprising the University’s medical and dental schools, a teaching hospital, a regional medical reference library, and the Valley’s only Emergency Room, the Health Center provides local residents with access to more than 200 physicians in 50 specialties.

The complex has stimulated significant ancillary development — including multiple surrounding office buildings and the clusters of condos, single-family subdivisions, and new schools that have been built in “East Farms.” A couple of years ago the Health Center campus welcomed Jackson Laboratory, a state-of-the-art facility for the study of the human genome, disease, and development of new treatment methodologies. The state invested nearly $300 million into the facility, which has contributed hundreds of new jobs, student internship opportunities, and leading-edge research to the state.

Right nearby, to no surprise, retail and commercial development come to a head at the Westfarms Mall, one of the area’s major attractions that draws shoppers from both sides of the river. Its 160-some-odd shops include most of the well-known nationals – Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and J.C. Penney – plenty of designer fashion, and a host of busy specialty stores, name brands, and food outlets.

Photo by Lanny Nagler