I must have passed the Norfolk, Connecticut library on U.S. Route 44 hundreds of times on my way to an Appalachian Trail hike, a meal at Collin’s Diner in nearby Canaan or even a concert around the corner at Infinity Hall. But I was always on my way somewhere else and too busy to stop. A few weeks ago my longing was at last satisfied when I gave a Deep Travel book talk in the library at the invitation of Great Mountain Forest.
Like any unusual place, it has a history that leaves you hungering to know more. Opened in 1889, it was the gift of Isabella Eldridge, a well-to-do and publically spirited local woman. Designed by nationally renowned Hartford architect George Keller, he had a few years earlier completed the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Hartford’s Bushnell Park, perhaps the first triumphal arch errected in this country.
Despite its miniature grandeur, the building is accessed through a relatively modest gothic arched portal at the southwest corner. I stepped into a hushed cathedral quiet that belied the structure’s size. Shelves of polished oak rose to a second floor gallery with spindled railings and carefully carved details. Despite the sturdy strongbox exterior, all was bright and airy, a place clearly designed to promote contemplation and lofty thought.
I spoke in the Great Hall, a spacious room that rose to a high barrel-shaped wood ceiling below which was a narrow walkway running along the walls at the second story level. Light poured from tall windows along the side and a bay at the front of the room. In the apex of the ceiling arch was a round stained glass window.
This setting of country elegance proved perfect for talking about how time and space can be magnified through the lens of a canoe trip, how each moment can be amplified by more conscious awareness of our surroundings.
My only disappointment was that I’d waited so long to enter. We may be enamored of the great outdoors and the cinematic quality of riding in a car, but sometimes taking a minute to stop and step inside even a small place enlarges the rest of the world.