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What It's Like to Live in Essex, Connecticut

photo of Essex, CT                                                                         

Essex, Connecticut has been called "The Perfect Small American Town" and was named as one of the 100 best small towns in the entire country. Despite its population of about 6,600 people, Essex has an incredible history and plenty of activities to keep you busy.

Those who live here absolutely love the lifestyle that Essex provides, so if you're looking to relocate to Middlesex County, consider this quintessential small town as your next home.


The Three Parts of Town

The town of Essex is home to three villages, Essex Village, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton, each of which has a small downtown area and a unique history. Essex Village was originally a shipbuilding hub because of its location on the Connecticut River. After the Civil War, more houses started appearing in the village, although the port remained its focal point.

Today, Essex Village is home to the town's government offices and has some large residential areas. The harbor is still quite busy and a great recreational location for locals. Centerbrook started as an agricultural area and became the unofficial center of town during the mid-1700s. Many prominent locals built their farmhouses in this area, and a few of them are still standing to this day.

Nowadays, Centerbrook is home to many businesses and is considered the commercial hub of Essex. It also has two churches and the central station for the Essex Steam Train.

The westernmost village in Essex is Ivoryton, a highly-preserved example of a company town that was a significant player in the ivory industry in the 1800s. Many buildings from this era remain standing, and the Ivoryton Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Modern Ivoryton is mostly residential, although it features the Ivoryton Playhouse, which is a famous performing arts theater.

Overall, there isn't a whole lot of difference between the villages, although you're more likely to find a historic house for sale in Ivoryton and can be closer to the water if you buy in Essex Village.


The Town's Education System

Due to its small population, Essex doesn't have a school district and is instead part of Regional School District #4, along with Deep River and Chester. The only school in town is Essex Elementary School, which is located in Centerbrook.

Once children reach grade seven, they'll have to travel 3.4 miles to John Winthrop Middle School in Deep River. Then, for grades nine through 12, they'll attend Valley Regional High School, which is less than two miles from Ivoryton.

You won't have much choice when putting your kids in school in Essex, but the schools are reliable, and overcrowding is rarely an issue.


Events, Activities, and History

As far as annual events go, Essex has a Groundhog Day Parade every year that is highlighted by Essex Ed, a massive papier-mâché groundhog that is driven from Essex Boatworks to the top of Main Street. Along the way, locals line the streets and attempt to "wake" the sleeping groundhog.

Another annual parade takes place on Burning of the Ships Day, a local holiday commemorating a day in April 1814 when the British landed in Essex and destroyed every ship in the harbor. The parade includes a march down Main Street with a drum corp and period costumes.

The waterfront area in Essex Village is also home to the annual Shad Bake, a party with a beer garden, live entertainment and, of course, shad cooking. Shad is a fish that was incredibly popular in Colonial times, and this event involves cooks traditionally preparing them for the attendees.

For a bit of culture, Essex is home to the Essex Art Association Gallery, the Essex Clipper Dinner Train, the aforementioned Ivoryton Playhouse, and the Connecticut River Museum. You'll also find fine dining venues like The Oak Room and The Essex and bars like Scotch Plains Tavern and The Blue Hound Cookery & Tap Room.

If you'd like to spend some time outdoors, the Canfield Woods has a bunch of hiking trails, while you can put a boat in the water at Falls River Park on Mill Pond. You can launch larger ships at the Essex Town Docks or store them at Safe Harbor Dauntless Shipyard, Safe Harbor Essex Island, or the Essex Yacht Club. The Connecticut River provides quick access to Long Island Sound, making spots at these marinas highly coveted.

Historic buildings are abundant throughout Essex, starting with Essex Savings Bank, which opened in 1851 and is one of the country's oldest functioning banks.

Other historic sites include the Steamboat Dock Site, Essex Freight Station, Benjamin Bushnell Farm, Pratt House, and Hill's Academy, all of which are on the List of National Historic Sites.


Public Transportation

Getting around in Essex is surprisingly easy because of the public transit system. Through the 9 Town Transit Service, all three villages in Essex have transit service, and public transportation is available to neighboring communities like Old Saybrook, Middletown, and Chester.

Once in Old Saybrook, you can journey even further through Amtrak and the Shore Line East commuter rail system. The commuter rail system makes it possible to live in Essex while working in larger centers like West Haven, Bridgeport, and Stamford without driving every day.


Living in Paradise

Although Essex is small, you'll find enough to keep you busy. In addition, since larger towns and cities are easily accessible, you can head to a neighboring community in search of more activities. Essex is also safe, close to the ocean, and has a wonderful shared school system.

What more could you want?