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Consisting of North Granby and West Granby — two unassuming little villages, Granby is both the farthest north of all the Farmington Valley towns, as well as the largest geographically, with 41 square miles of gently rolling hills, wide valleys, and rugged countryside. Such enduring rural beauty and small-town warmth have attracted admirers in droves, and in recent years, many have found themselves so taken with the place that they’ve put down roots.

A sleepy farming town until just after WWII, Granby experienced its first growth spurt in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, when new neighborhoods began forming near the center of town and along adjoining hillsides, more than quadrupling the number of residents. Fortunately, that didn’t interfere with the town’s population of horses, llamas, goats, and some of the last remaining dairy cows feeding in fields nearby — and good thing, too, because most agree that the picturesque sight of those gentle creatures grazing has long been one of Granby’s greatest assets.

Granby Center, which lies where Routes 10 & 202, 189, and 20 converge is the town’s hub. Here, a gradual gathering of restaurants, service businesses, banks, and shops have slowly filled in the vast fields that once produced shade-grown tobacco, making the town something of a destination for visitors.

With the opening of @ The Barn, owned by Jimmy Chen, who is also owner of the fine Asian restaurant Han just down the street and Table 570 further south in Simsbury, Granby began building a reputation for offering some very fine dining. Still, gems like the seasonal Grass Roots, which features handmade ice cream, and the Lite-N-Up Eatery continue to be among the Center’s mainstay attractions, along with Geissler’s Supermarket, Beman’s Hardware, Granby Pharmacy, Granby Village Health, Starbucks, CVS, McDonald’s, several banks, and the post office — all of which coexist without cluttering the easy feel of things.

Regularly lined with hand-painted signs announcing the latest goings-on in town — like potluck suppers, school concerts, and upcoming football, soccer and baseball games — the Town Green is both sensible and charming at once. And rumor has it that Granby is still the cheapest place around to fill up your gas tank.

Just north on 10 & 202, Granby Memorial Middle School, the Salmon Brook Ecology Center, and Granby Memorial High School share a campus. And around the bend is the Cambridge House Brew Pub, with its award-winning beers named for local landmarks, and Old Mill Pond Village, featuring the Red Barn Gift Shop with its vast selection of furniture and curtains, everything Christmas, a kitchen store that not only sells fine Polish pottery but jams and jellies and dips and dressings, a women’s boutique filled with accessories, and an outdoor décor store. Further north, enjoy peaceful browsing and exciting buys at The Salmon Brook Shops — “an eclectic mix of antiques and collectibles” from 30 dealers.

East Street leads to North Granby Center, at the heart of which is the stately old Cossitt Library. Across the way is Allen’s old cider mill, which, dating all the way back to the 1750s, is a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and the reason Granby was the foremost distiller of cider for Hartford County throughout the 1800s. Stay on East Street for a real treat: Sweet Pea Cheese Farm — a delight for any connoisseur.

West Granby’s timeless appeal derives from other kinds of attractions. There’s Enders State Forest with its breathtaking Enders Falls; the Garlic Farm, with its farm stand featuring each season’s luscious harvest; and Huggins Gorge, where Salmon Brook spills over the worn remains of several 1800s manufacturing sites.

Heading north, you’ll find more reasons to dawdle, including Lost Acres Orchard and Farm Kitchen, popular for its handmade quilts, crisp apples, and apple crisp. And just down the street, wine lovers will love Lost Acres Vineyards.

Along Route 20 is The Holcomb Farm — usually referred to as simply “The Farm.” Deeded to the state by siblings Tudor and Laura Holcomb and ultimately passed to the Town of Granby, the farm has been given a new lease on life thanks to a whole lot of tireless volunteers, strong community support, and some very successful fundraising. Today, its 320 acres, featuring miles of wooded trails, are also home to an exciting Arts and Environmental Learning Center.

Traveling east, watch for the 400-year-old Dewey-Granby Oak — one of the town’s most treasured symbols, as well as Center Cemetery and Granby’s municipal complex. And as the hill crests there’s a beautiful old Victorian that is home to another town institution: The Granby Drummer. This all-volunteer newspaper was founded in 1970 to address a hot local issue, which it did so effectively that it has stuck around as the community’s free-of-charge newspaper ever since.

South of the center along Salmon Brook Street, historic homes — their lawns shaded by maples in summer — are anchored by South Congregational Church and its parish hall, the gambrel-roofed VNA building, and the VFW hall.

At the foot of the hill is the Salmon Brook Park. Established as Doc Pendleton’s golf course in the 1920s, it attracted golfers from all over New England until WWII’s gas rationing brought about its demise. Today, it’s home to the Granby Little League, Granby Rovers Soccer, a new recreation center, and the town’s very popular dog park.

Abutting the park to the south is the McLean Game Refuge, comprising some 4,300 acres in Granby, Simsbury and Canton — all land bequeathed to the state in 1932 by Connecticut’s former Governor and U.S. Senator George P. McLean, though not before he hosted Presidents Coolidge, Taft and Hoover on fishing outings at the rustic log cabin just above the trout pond. These days, the trails and quiet woodlands are enjoyed every season of the year by countless hikers and strollers, cross-country skiers, horseback riders, and runners in the Granby 10K Road Race.

As one approaches Granby’s southern border with Simsbury, the town’s continued growth is evidenced by some of its newer additions: Stop & Shop, TJ Maxx, the shops and restaurants on Mill Pond Road, Freshies Cafe, the 70,000-square-foot Farmington Valley YMCA — and lots of new homes.

But don’t worry. Granby remains Granby. Its enduring rural beauty and small-town warmth still captivate. Cows and horses and llamas and goats still graze. And the Town Green is still where you’ll find hand-painted posters announcing meetings, concerts, and championship games. It’s just that there’s a lot more to see and a lot more to do in Granby these days — and all of it somehow in keeping with what was once a sleepy little farming town.

Photo by Lanny Nagler