Noank is a village on a small peninsula, vaguely ear-shaped, at the western edge of the entrance to Mystic River Harbor. With water on three sides and the double-tracked railroad corridor cutting it off on the northwest, Noank has an isolated feeling, much like an island.
Technically Noank, CT is a village, or census-designated place, versus a neighborhood. But since it is a separate and distinct part of the town of Groton, CT let’s just say it qualifies. I do know that you won’t find it on a map of Connecticut towns, but if you ask anyone where Abbot’s Lobster is they can tell you exactly how to get to Noank.
Over the years the Noank community grew through fishing, lobstering, and boat-building and in 1850 brothers John and Robert Palmer started a shipyard that eventually grew into the largest facility for building or repairing wooden vessels in southern New England, employing over 300 men and credited with producing over 600 wooden vessels.
The Palmer shipyard is known for the Noank smack, a type of fishing sailboat. The Emma C. Berry, one of the oldest surviving examples, was restored by Mystic Seaport Museum and is now part of their permanent collection.
Noank also lays claim to one of the longest running Memorial Day parades in the country, taking place since 1876. Most of the community was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, primarily because of the residential architecture that has been so well preserved.
In addition to the aforementioned Abbott’s Lobster, Noank also lays claim to Ford’s Lobster. Neither restaurant takes reservations, but a wait is well rewarded. Which has a better lobster roll? That’s a hotly debated subject, but since I don’t eat lobster I can’t opine. I suggest trying both, and you can’t go wrong with the view at either.
If you love fried seafood instead, check out Abbott’s sister restaurant in the Noank Shipyard, Costello’s Clam Shack. So much deliciousness! All three restaurants are BYOB, too. Looking for the perfect breakfast or local ice cream instead? Then visit a Noank institution for over 100 years, Carson’s Store.
Carson’s is on Main Street today but was in two different locations prior. First opened in 1907 by Jane Carson and her family, it stayed in the Carson family until 1979 when it was purchased by David Blacker. His son Andrew keeps the Carson’s Store tradition alive today after a brief period of closure, and it’s one of the first things you spot as you drive into Noank.
Although it is no longer in operation and is a private residence today, the Morgan Point Lighthouse is another well-known local landmark. Named for James Morgan, it sits at the tip of Noank at the mouth of the Mystic River where it once helped to guide boats into the Noank harbor. The current lighthouse was built in 1868, a replacement of the original constructed in 1831.
It is difficult to see from land as the grounds are private, but I hope to get a view from the water one day. The two-story granite exterior has been preserved, while the interior has been redesigned to better accommodate modern living.
The real “landmark” of Noank is not a single building or place, but the collection of historic homes that make up its center. It is quite simply one of the most charming areas I have ever seen, and I immediately began researching real estate listings in town. The homes are on the smaller side (for the most part), the architecture is vintage, and the details are special and sweet.
Of course, there are some newer homes built directly on the coastline taking advantage of the incredible views, but give me a little Greek Revival home or Gothic Revival cottage on a narrow street in town any day. So narrow that the speed limit is set at 15 mph throughout Noank!
What is most refreshing about Noank is that little has changed over the years. The village is still tiny, the majority of the architecture is still intact, and life still revolves around boating and seafood. Noank is a bit of a throwback, in the best possible way.
Summer days and nights have visitors flocking to the restaurants in town, but otherwise, it’s a sleepy little place where residents enjoy the peace and small-town charm that surrounds them.