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According to the town’s official history, the first English settlers were drawn to Simsbury in the 1640s when, in search of a “virgin pine forest,” they discovered a “verdant valley…rich with fish and wildlife.” Named The Massacoh Plantation after the native Massacoe Indians, it was deemed “welcoming.” And it still is. One of the region’s most appealing suburbs, Simsbury offers a way of life many look for in a hometown — and all the dining, shopping, and leisure activities both residents and visitors appreciate.

Tucked into the geographical nook created by Avon, Canton, West Granby, and East Granby, Simsbury seems to have it all, from beautifully varied landscapes, spacious neighborhoods, and excellent schools to a charmingly historic yet delightfully replete town center.

Entering town over Talcott Mountain through the Notch on Route 185 provides a dramatic view of the town’s 34.5 square miles, revealing diverse topography, outlines of its original villages, and the hills of West Simsbury — a scenic backdrop for the fertile farmland that lies along both sides of the Farmington River through Weatogue.

Just off 185, Talcott Mountain State Park offers an easy hike to the Heublein Tower, the Valley’s most visible landmark, which was built as a summer retreat in 1914 by Hartford distiller Gilbert Heublein. And at the base of the mountain, two well-groomed farms serve as an informal gateway to the town. On the right along the roadside is Foley Farm, which, with its exotic animals and barns always decorated for the holidays, never fails to put smiles on faces of passersby. And on the left is Folly Farm — an outstanding equestrian center that regularly hosts horse shows, including an annual charity event. (The Valley Book staff extends our heartfelt condolences for the tragic loss of 24 horses in a barn fire there late last year.)

Bear right at the base of Talcott Mountain, and you’re on your way into East Weatogue’s historic district, a serene stretch of flat farmland lined with some of the town’s oldest Colonials — above which are pricey contemporary homes, their sites carved into the rugged eastern-most edge of Talcott Mountain ridge. Seasonal farm markets offer a tempting selection of freshly grown vegetables, fruits, and flowers in season. And Rosedale Farms, which is famous for fresh corn that appears early and stays late, is also home to a vineyard that not only produces award-winning wines but hosts gourmet farm-to-table dinners.

East Weatogue Street forks to the left, leading to the river, Warner Nursery, and Simsbury’s unique “Flower Bridge,” a foot path into town faithfully maintained by volunteers. Continuing north, East Weatogue Street becomes Terry’s Plain Road, connecting East Weatogue to Tariffville. Along the way, treat yourself to a bouquet at the Ryan Family Flower Farm, some wonderful summer produce or fall pumpkins at the JL Hall Farm, or one of Simsbury’s exciting youth soccer games, played on groomed fields throughout the spring and fall.

Just ahead is Tariffville Gorge, which once provided the power for the town’s early industries but is now best known for testing even the most skillful whitewater enthusiasts. The one remaining mill building has been converted to studios, with the trend-setting restaurant, Present Company, and its seasonal farm-to-table American fare a recent addition.

Bear left at base of Talcott Mountain, however, and you’ll find yourself marveling at the beauty and scale of the Pinchot Sycamore — the state’s largest tree, which stretches up from below the road to welcome you to Weatogue. Cross the Route 185 bridge, and you can’t miss the Pettibone Tavern, built in 1805 and now home to Abigail’s Grille & Wine Bar.

A right turn on Route 10 takes you past the elegant Simsbury Inn, as well as clusters of simple, wooden homes that were once employee housing for Ensign-Bickford Industries. Many have been recycled into a variety of new uses – especially at Simsmore Square, where Meadow Asian Cuisine Restaurant, a mix of small shops, and the popular Simsbury Farmers Market offer an interesting array of diversions. None are far from the Ensign-Bickford Company itself, based in brownstone buildings assembled around Hop Brook at the intersection of Routes 10 and 167.

Turn left onto West Street (Route 167) and you’ll pass a beautifully restored 18th century gristmill that is now home to popular Millwright’s Restaurant and Tavern. A short walk away are the Mill Commons apartments and Mill Crossing townhouses, which are expanding to include more units. And nearby is Hopmeadow Country Club, with its championship Geoffrey Cornish-designed 18-hole golf course.

Up ahead, Rte. 167 curves left to become Bushy Hill Road, which takes you past Powder Forest — an active-adult community, the Cobb School Montessori, and The Ethel Walker School, a well-known girls school with its impressive equestrian center on one side of the road and its classic academic buildings on the other. But if you continue west, Route 167 becomes Route 309/Farms Village Road, which will take you by Simsbury High School, Simsbury Farms Golf Course, and on into the center of West Simsbury, where seventh-generation farmer Don Tuller has made Tulmeadow Farm and its “locally grown” ice cream a genuine landmark.

From here, you can either follow 309 to The Master’s School, a K-12 Christian academy that sits on a woodsy hilltop, or take your first left to Flamig Farm, where farmers Nevin and Julie Christensen offer a variety of fun family attractions, including an animal zoo, pony rides, legendary Halloween hayrides, and breakfast with Santa. All around, the rocky hillsides and forests of West Simsbury’s centuries-old farms have become the newest frontier for large homes and subdivisions, with the town and the Simsbury Land Trust carefully preserving some remaining large tracts, using state and local funds.

Backtracking to the Simsbury Center, a left on Hopmeadow Street, also known as Route 10, leads you past the town’s beautiful First Congregational Church. Beside it is the Simsbury Public Library, a state-of-the-art resource. And perched on the hill just down the road is the historic 1820 House Inn, which is now home to Metro Bis, one of Simsbury’s culinary treasures.

This stretch along Hopmeadow Street has experienced significant commercial development in recent years, all tastefully guided and enhanced by the town chapter of the national Main Street Program.

Here, restaurants continue to be the prime attraction — a wonderful assortment within walking distance of each other. East of Hopmeadow, along Iron Horse Boulevard, is The Performing Arts Center at Simsbury Meadows, which not only hosts outdoor concerts by The Hartford Symphony but attracts an impressive array of popular artists. Nearby is the old train station, which is now Plan B, a popular beer/bourbon/burger joint. And next door, two old-time hardware stores — Welden’s and Valley Home & Garden — defy the big-box trend with their well-stocked shelves and experienced staff.

Staying on Hopmeadow/Route 10, you’ll arrive at the Simsburytown Shops, where you’ll find a little bit of everything — including gift shops, a jeweler, hair and nail salons, martial arts instruction, a tailor, wellness and weight-loss centers, an insurance agency, CPAs, kids art classes, an events coordinator, a real estate photographer/videographer, a post office, and three places to eat.

At the northern end of the town center is the Westminster School, with its sprawling woodland campus — and from there, Route 10 leads to Granby. Highlights along the way include the International Skating Center, the Eastpointe at Dorset Crossing apartments, and the Harvest Café — known far and wide for its delicious breakfast specials. Be sure to look for Necker’s Toy Shop.

Finally, there’s the town’s truly great outdoors. The 235-acre Simsbury Farms Recreation Complex offers a public golf course, four swimming pools, a covered outdoor skating rink, lighted tennis/paddle courts, a clubhouse, a playscape, fitness trails, and picnic areas. Four state parks — Great Pond, Penwood, Stratton Brook, and Talcott Mountain — offer wonderful hiking, biking, and picnicking. And Simsbury’s stretch of the 22-mile handicap-accessible Farmington River Greenway is ideal for biking, cross country skiing, roller blading, walking, jogging, and hiking.

Still picturesque — and welcoming as ever, Simsbury continues to provide both settlers and travelers with essentials and pleasures in great abundance. But then, a reverence for both land and lifestyle is the “nature” of things in this beautiful Farmington Valley, isn’t it.

Photo by Lanny Nagler