Topsmead State Forest

Topsmead State Forest is one of the most bucolic public park settings in the state, set on the top of Jefferson Hill on the outskirts of the town of Litchfield. The property was formerly the home of Edith Morton Chase, daughter of Henry Sabin Chase, president of the Waterbury Brass Company in the early 20th century. Edith so loved the hills of Litchfield that her father gave her a gift of 16 acres on Jefferson Hill in 1917, and in 1925 she built an English style Tudor house where she spent most of her time three seasons of the year. Being a shrewd businesswoman, she acquired adjoining homes and farmland, and by the time of her death in 1972, she was able to gift 514 acres to the state to become a place where others could enjoy the ambience and nature in much the same way she did.

Chase Cottage, the turn-of-the-century Tudor cottage, is decorated with formal gardens, shown at peak bloom in July.

Chase Cottage, the turn-of-the-century Tudor cottage, is decorated with formal gardens, shown at peak bloom in July.

The grounds themselves are quite different than the usual state park in Connecticut. The house is set among grassy meadows on the top of the hill, hence the name Topsmead, meaning ‘top of the meadow’. From the parking lot, a long driveway lined with apple trees brings you to the house that appears like a castle rising up from behind the apple trees. Four acres around the house are kept formal, with flower gardens at either end of the home, and shrubs that seem to literally hug the house. The meadows are left long until a late haying in mid-July, which allows habitat for birds of the meadow, such as the bluebird and the increasingly rare bobolink. Paths are mowed through the fields for easy access to the trails that circle the 514 acre property, and lead to the wildlife viewing area on the south side of the park. There is a small pond surrounded by trees, a 40 acre meadow filled with wildflowers that bloom throughout the spring and summer, and a farmhouse on the property which is currently occupied and private.

The four bedroom house looks like it came right out of the Cotswolds in England, both inside and out. It is constructed of stucco and brick, with massive cypress and oak beams on both the exterior and interior. The entire home is simply furnished with European antiques collected by Edith. The home is open for tours on the second and fourth weekends during June through August and it is well worth the visit to get a glimpse of the interiors, and into the life of the woman that so loved the place.

The Tudor home looks like it was transported to the Litchfield Hills right out of the Cotswolds in England. Look closely for architectural details to photograph, or capture the the entire house.

The Tudor home looks like it was transported to the Litchfield Hills right out of the Cotswolds in England. Look closely for architectural details to photograph, or capture the the entire house.

What to Photograph

The house and gardens are a good place to start. There are so many interesting details in the construction, with little nooks and crannies that are interesting to photograph. You first arrive at a porch set up with an Adirondack chair and colorful planters outside the welcoming screen door. Walk around the front, and you come across a hobbit-like front entry surrounded by sculpted euonymus trees, and a wonderful old wooden door with cast iron door-knocker and hardware. At the back there is another relaxing porch set up with Adirondack chairs where you can sit to take in the views over the meadow and the sunset. All the windows are leaded glass, with period country curtains and make for interesting details to shoot.

The tiny porch just outside the door into the house is a shady spot for relaxing and is full of fun details, like this painted Adirondack chair flanked by colorful flower pots.

The tiny porch just outside the door into the house is a shady spot for relaxing and is full of fun details, like this painted Adirondack chair flanked by colorful flower pots.

If you like to photograph gardens and flowers, the gardens are full of colorful annuals and perennials that attract butterflies. The beds tucked in at either end of the house are formal, and give a good playground for photographers who like the detail in flowers. They also add color and beauty for those who like to photograph architecture and landscapes.

Brilliant orange butterfly weed is a butterfly magnet, like its name implies.

Brilliant orange butterfly weed is a butterfly magnet, like its name implies.

Walk the trails around the property to look for birds of the meadows and woods. Take a short walk (about a half mile) along the trail past the farmhouse and to the wildlife viewing area where there a butterfly garden has been planted. From the privacy of the small viewing building, butterflies by the hundred can be photographed. Follow the trail another quarter mile to a large pond, where you can capture reflections of the surrounding trees, or a landscape image, or perhaps some of the birds that frequent the park. Wildflowers in the meadow add color for landscapes. Farm equipment is set in the meadows and can be used to add interest.

When to go

The park is open from 8:00 am to sunset. The light is best in the late afternoon or evening, so it’s best to go for sunset rather than sunrise. The views are beautiful any time of year, but for color and gardens, the summer and early fall is best.  In the fall, the meadows are surrounded by colorful trees and makes a good time to try for colorful reflections in the two ponds on the property.

The sunset can be spectacular seen from the back of the house overlooking Jefferson Hill.

The sunset can be spectacular seen from the back of the house overlooking Jefferson Hill.

Address

Buell Road
Litchfield, 06759
Phone: 860-567-5694

GPS Coordinates:  41.7480201 W, -73.1525899 N

Websites:

http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2716&q=325076&deepNav_GID=1650%20

http://ct.audubon.org/topsmead-state-forest

Free parking is available in the small parking lot at the end of the drive.

Hours: 8:00 am to sunset.

The home is open for tours on the second and fourth weekends starting in June and running through October.  Tours run from noon to 4 pm.

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