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Lebanon: Red, White, and Blue (and Green)

Nestled in the northwest corner of New London County is a concentration of Revolutionary War-era sites, centered around a Town Green like no other.

In the closing years of the Revolutionary War, the small town of Lebanon was an important place. It’s fair to say that nothing of equal consequence has happened there since. And that makes it ideal to get a sense of events that occurred more than  200 years ago. With an equally nerdy friend, I drove past  fields and homemade signs advertising hay for sale, to the place that calls itself the “Heartbeat of the Revolution.”

Entering Lebanon (accent on the first syllable), you can’t miss the Green, which is one of New England’s largest and the last in the country to be used for agriculture. A mile from end to end and vaguely fish-shaped, it resembles a meadow more than the standard manicured rectangle of lawn.

Saturdays, the town hosts a Farmers Market on the Green. Near Town Hall, friendly vendors offer baked goods, honey, cold drinks, flowers, crafts, eggs, and more, as live music plays.

We spotted a group of horseback riders making their way through the wildflowers, which seemed appropriate as horses figure prominently in the story of the town. In 1780-81, this was the camp of a legion of French Cavalry under the Duc de Lauzun. The hussars drilled on the Green and their officers stayed in nearby homes. (The French found the local bread unacceptable, but my blueberry scone from a Market stall was delicious.) After eight months here, the Legion eventually joined the rest of the French forces and Washington’s army to defeat the British at Yorktown.

The Lebanon Historical Society Museum and Visitors Center, located on the Green, contains exhibits about local history and farming, emphasizing the Colonial period. There are plywood muskets to lift and tricorn hats to try on. Interactive displays and games about 18th century life provide education for children  and hilarity for immature adults.

Nearby is the Georgian-style Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House. The Trumbull family was large, with many accomplishments and few names between them. This Trumbull was a son of the Colonial Gov. Jonathan Trumbull. He was aide-de-camp to George Washington (who slept here) and later became governor himself. You can take a guided tour of the house and learn about its architecture and inhabitants, or walk through on your own. Outside is a pretty heritage garden.

Across the Green is the home of the first Governor Trumbull, the man who made Connecticut the “Provisions State” and the only Colonial Governor to support rebellion against England. George Washington did not sleep in this white center-chimney Colonial, but practically everyone else did, including the Marquis de Lafayette. This is also the birthplace of John Trumbull, the “Patriot Artist” known for his portraits and stirring historical scenes. Enthusiastic costumed guides point out the artifacts and furniture that bring the private world of the Trumbulls, and a tumultuous time in American history, to life.

On the grounds of the Governor Trumbull House is the Palladian-style Wadsworth Stable, which was moved here from Hartford in 1954. Owner Jeremiah Wadsworth (father of the Athenaeum founder) was, along with Governor Trumbull, instrumental in procuring supplies for the Continental Army. The Stable’s claim to fame is that Nelson, one of George Washington’s favorite horses, slept here. Also on display are historic tools and period transportation: wooden ox carts and dainty carriages.

Next door is the War Office, where the Council of Safety met to discuss Connecticut’s defense and where Washington conferred with the Comte de Rochambeau, Generals Knox and Putnam, and many others. The humble red building was once the Trumbull store. When we visited it was closed, sadly because of the death of its usual guide. But the outside is expressive enough; perhaps more than any place in Lebanon, it epitomizes how a tiny rural town helped change the course of history.

If you go:

Lebanon Historical Society Museum & Visitors Center

856 Trumbull Highway

Wed – Sat, Noon – 4pm

There are fees for special programs and research, but viewing the exhibits is free.

860-642-6579

www.historyoflebanon.org

Gov. Jonathan Trumbull House

169 West Town Street

Fri, 1pm – 6pm; Sat, 10am – 5pm; Sun, 11am – 5pm

Admission is free, though donations are accepted.

860-642-7558

www.ctdar.org/properties.html

Wadsworth Stable

169 West Town St.

Sat, 10am – 5pm; Sun, 11am – 5pm

Admission is free, though donations are accepted.

860-642-7558

www.ctdar.org/properties.html

Revolutionary War Office

149 West Town Street

Thu – Sun, Noon – 4pm

Admission is free.

860-873-3399

www.connecticutsar.org

Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House

780 Trumbull Highway

Sat – Sun, Noon – 4pm

Admission is free.

860-642-6100

www.lebanontownhall.org/trumbulljuniormuseum.htm

Lebanon Farmers Market

Lebanon Town Green

Sat, 9am – Noon

860-402-5999

http://www.lebanontownhall.org/department.htm?id=ept0pfzv

There is plenty of free parking convenient to all the attractions in Lebanon. Everything listed above is within walking distance, but note that while walking paths surround the Green, they do not go through it.

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