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A Country Estate In The Heart Of The Litchfield Hills

Peter Marteka

Nature's Path & Way To Go

7:58 AM EDT, May 3, 2013

LITCHFIELD --

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This column is for all of you who dream of having a little country estate. A place where you can walk along stone walls braced by giant maple trees every few feet.

A place where you can roam across seemingly endless fields with views of the surrounding hillsides with nearby farm silos poking out of the forests.

And almost everywhere you turn, your estate keeps a watchful eye on you. Welcome to Topsmead State Forest, former estate of Edith Morton Chase. Her father Henry Sabin Chase ran the grand brass mills of Waterbury – once known as the brass capital of the world. And a visit to Topsmead will bring a slice of England to the Berkshires.

According to the history of the property, Chase's English Tudor-style home - with its slate roof, cypress walls and lead downspouts - was built in 1923. A visit will transport you to jolly 'ol England, even if you've never traveled abroad before. With its surrounding gardens and abundance of grand trees, Chase's goal of creating a "pocket of serenity" has been reached, even by visitors who come nearly a century later.

My favorite part of the visit is walking up the old driveway to the estate. The rolling asphalt driveway resembles a wagon trail with huge ruts created by the root system of the giant trees that hang over the road. But with blades of sunlight illuminating the ground and nearby stone wall in places and the home making an appearance through the boughs, visitors may feel like they are arriving by horse or stagecoach.

The forest reminds me of Gillette Castle State Park, with its historic structure and plethora of trails to seek out as the home keeps constant watch over you. There are several miles of flat paths and old farm roads across the estate. Several paths to the west of the home will take visitors through a wetland forest and along the banks of a picturesque estate pond.

My favorite trails run to the south of the home. There are plenty of opportunities to birdwatch or picnic. A trail leads to a wildlife viewing stand and butterfly garden where visitors can watch the natural world.

In Chase's will, she gave the house and land to the state with a request that it "be kept in a state of natural beauty." Most of us can visualize ourselves retiring to a place like Topsmead to live out the rest of our days. A place where we can watch the seasons go by under an old maple or sitting on top of a rock wall in the shade of a huge pine. That dream can be realized at a place called Topsmead. You just have to leave when the sun goes down.

Route 8 to exit 42. Follow Route 118 west and turn left on Clark Road and right at first stop sign. Take left at next stop sign on Buell Road. Visit http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/stateparks/maps/topsmeade.pdf for a hiking map. Tours of the home take place every other weekend starting June 8, 9 and running to Oct. 26,27.

Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at pmarteka@courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.