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Welcome to Connecticut’s Shoreline and the 12th annual edition of The Shoreline Book.

To residents of Branford, Guilford, Madison, Clinton, Westbrook, Old Saybrook, and Old Lyme, as well as the folks just upriver from the sand in Essex, Connecticut’s coast may stretch a full 110 miles, end to end — but its Shoreline is most clearly defined by any exit off I-95 where they can feel the sea breeze and smell the salt air, hear the gulls above and the quiet whisper of the marsh grasses in the late afternoon, or catch a whiff of the brine soaked mud flats at low tide. And that, of course, means them.

If you’re planning time here, you’ll be happy you came. And like so many, you might even be tempted to stay, because in all of the bustling centers and all the quiet corners of these eight towns, life feels a little slower, a little greener, a little less sophisticated than elsewhere. And to Shoreliners, that’s the magic of the place.

Oh sure. There are still the humdrummeries of ordinary life, such as the inevitable presence of the chain and big-box stores. But the Shoreline is a place where cross-town Boston Post Road is actually narrower than some downstate Connecticut driveways — and where the speed limit happily accommodates mallard duck and tractor crossings. A place where the worn wooden floors of a country market are revered by proprietors who actually know the names of the folks who always shop there. A place where travelers can still leave a dollar under a stone in exchange for a clutch of fresh-picked snapdragons. And a place where one can count on grabbing a bucket of steamers or crabs right at the town dock.

Family names like Meigs and Scranton, Bradley and Wilcox, Griswold, Blackstone, Reynolds, Platt, Chittenden, and Lord have been prominent all along this 30-mile stretch of riverbank and coastline since the 1600s, where many historic homes are still occupied by such families, who steward their cherished centuries-old architecture with tasteful care and generational pride.

On occasion, squabbles erupt over cottage-to-water sightlines or disagreements over a project that may compromise marsh-sparrow habitat. And town meetings are lively events, punctuated as much by laughter as controversy, with sparring partners on either side of any argument related — or at least connected — for centuries. But mostly, there’s a timeworn community of neighborliness where newcomers find it easy to relax. And why not?

The tranquility…the way weathered shingles on the stalwart Fenwick cottages lean against the wind, the promise of uncovering new secrets among the hidden beaches and quiet coves, the abundance of local wildlife, the shifting salt meadows, and the garnet sand beaches are the stuff over which writers wax poetic.

This small-town sense of heritage and community may seem provincial to some, but not to those on the Shoreline. Perhaps that’s because the influences of New York and Boston are always present. From the array of restaurants in Branford and the changing displays of outdoor sculpture in Madison to the art school and galleries in Old Lyme and the Connecticut River Museum in Essex, the cultural aftermath of the ex-urbanites who flocked here in earlier decades has woven itself into the daily fabric of life. Follow their path with our 2017 Shoreline Book as your guide. And enjoy.

Photos by Jennifer Cardinal and Al Ferreira.

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