An old, broken iron gate leans against a stone pillar and a barely discernable carriage road snakes up through the woods along the spine of a traprock ridge.
Near the top of the ridge, a fieldstone and brick chimney rises into the deep blue winter sky, the remnants of a place known as Bartlett's Tower.
Bartlett's Tower, a former hilltop resort built in 1889, drew the rich and famous to the spot on the boundary of Bloomfield and the Tariffville section of Simsbury. Today, the rusted gate and carriage road welcome hikers along a portion of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association's "Penwood" section of the blue-blazed Metacomet Trail, a path that runs along ridges from the Hanging Hills in Meriden to the Massachusetts border.
My journey to the tower began not in the more popular Penwood State Park or Talcott Mountain State Park, but a place called the Marion K. Wilcox Park in northern Bloomfield.
Several miles of trails pass through the park, including the Metacomet Trail, the "cliff trail" and "chimney trail." All paths diverge from a trailhead at the northern edge of a meadow near the parking area for the park.
The yellow-blazed "cliff trail" takes hikers off to the west on a relatively difficult twisting trail through a deciduous forest to an overlook with spectacular views out to Simsbury and Avon.
The "chimney trail," also blazed in yellow, is an easier romp through a forest filled with hemlock and oak trees. The tree canopy breaks along transmission line corridors, providing views of the surrounding hillsides. At the end of the trail is an abandoned fieldstone chimney. The chimney is only a few feet away from a dramatic drop along the ridge.
Both trails end at the Metacomet. More adventurous visitors can travel south to Penwood or Talcott Mountain. Those who want to continue the chimney tour can travel north for about 2 miles and discover what is now known as the Bartlett Tower ruins.
It's amazing how many chimneys you come across along trails in the state, a testimony to the craftmanship of stone masons in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the Bartlett Tower chimney is the most imposing and grand example I have discovered. No matter if you approach from the north or south, the chimney, once part of a 70-foot tower, is a work of art and built meticulously and still standing against the New England elements.
"The tower is stoutly put together," reads a Hartford Courant article from 1889, "and is additionally strengthened by stout wire cables fastened into solid rock… no one who has not been there can imagine the magnificent sweep of varied New England scenery that it affords."
At the time, the trip by train from Hartford to the tower cost 75 cents, and that included the 25 cent admission to take in the views from "Bartlett's Glass" that reached to Long Island Sound and the hills deep in Massachusetts. Today, visitors can park their cars nearby and take the chimney hike to get their own priceless views.
Take Route 189 or 187 through Bloomfield. Take Tariffville Road exit and follow to Hoskins Road. The park entrance is on the right shortly after passing St. Andrews Cemetery. Visit go here for a map of the park.
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