Monday, April 30, 2012

The Real Stars Hollow

I had a dream this weekend that I went to a party thrown and hosted by Lorelai Gilmore, who in her kindness encouraged me to come move to Stars Hollow. If you've never seen Gilmore Girls, Stars Hollow is the fictional Connecticut town where the titular girls live, a mostly ideal small town with beautiful sights, some historical significance, quirky characters, and a general feeling of peace and security.

Naturally one can't ignore a dream of such prophetic magnitude (pop-pop), so I did some research and google told me that the main town Stars Hollow was based upon is called Essex, Connecticut. AKA "The best small town in America."

And I very much want to go to there.

Not only does it seem to have those superficial things that made Stars Hollow so appealing - a relatively small population, classic architecture, town festivals - but its on the water, the Falls River to be exact, an estuary of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, and with its placement it has a pretty rich naval history.

In its growth as an early American town, Essex became a great shipping town, producing able seamen who spent their lives working in that industry, going on long voyages around the world, and returning to the boat launch right at Main Street. In the early 1800s, dozens of ships would be at anchor in plain view of the town.

In fact their claim to fame, historically speaking, was the destruction of this prodigious naval presence. During the War of 1812 (a war I am particularly fond of, being a creature with naval interests, as I'm sure amazes you) Captain Richard Coote of the 14-gun brig sloop Borer, subordinate to Captain the Honourable Thomas Bladen Capel of the 74-gun ship of the line Hogue, travelled 15 miles up the Connecticut River to Essex (then known as Pettipaug) with six boats containing 136 seamen and marines in an attempt to burn, sink, take or destroy all naval vessels in the harbor. This was after information reached them, generously published through the Hartford Courant (a practice America still continues and suffers for today), of a newly built and impressive sloop meant for privateering.

Coote and his men were entirely successful (and that success actually led to Coote's promotion to Post-Captain, him being just a master and commander called Captain by courtesy before, a huge leap that made any Royal Navy officer's career, ensuring that if he managed to stay alive he would eventually hoist his flag as an Admiral.). After a small skirmish (possibly just shots fired) they obtained an agreement with the men of the town to not harm them or their homes in exchange for no resistance, and proceeded to take all the ships, boats and naval stores. After a few hours they went back down the river, but getting stranded at low tide on the river by Killingworth, a nearby town whose militia lined the banks and fired at extreme range, they lost two men and burnt their boats. The end result however was the loss of almost $200,000 an enormous amount back then, and the disturbing rarity of a foreign power attacking an American town.

To this day the town of Essex celebrates their ignominious defeat on the second Saturday of May, with a parade of men dressed accurately in the US Navy's uniforms of 1812 marching down Main Street. Aside from the naval and national pride that came a bit later in that War, clearly the citizens of Essex have much to be proud of.

Griswold Inn
 With two famous, historical inns, an impressive library, a picturesque port and beautiful architecture, they do indeed resemble the ideal American small town. I, for one, look forward to visiting (perhaps even for the May celebration) and who knows? If I happen to have many hundreds of thousands of dollars in my pocket, maybe I'll buy one of the lovely waterfront properties.

Until then, I'll spend my smaller bills on Main Street. I mean, they have a place called Lord Nelson's Antiques, for all love. I fairly slaver.

The Essex, CT Home Page:

A Nice Naval History Extract:

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