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Green Acres?

Leaving the big city for a small town

Published 10/08/2010 12:00 AM
A New Yorker settles into country life in Lisbon

After 11 years of living among more than eight million people in New York City, my husband, Bob, and I packed up our cats and belongings and moved to Lisbon, population 4,234, this year.

The town doesn't have a post office so our new street address, on the Internet at least, puts us in Jewett City.

Until June, we were paying $1,950 a month for an 800-square-foot apartment on Austin Street in Forest Hills, Queens: not a bad deal in the city. But it was too expensive after we lost our jobs. Luckily, a friend in Norwich, a contractor, found us a house in Lisbon that could be renovated and that we could afford to buy on our fixed incomes. Our new home, a 1,200-square-foot cape, is on a dead-end street above the Shetucket River.

On Austin, the noise level could be deafening. Across the street, a 32-unit apartment building was going up. Backhoes and jackhammers broke up the pavement every morning as workers finished the utility connections.

It was a one-way street, and drivers stuck in traffic honked and yelled at each other. Behind our apartment, the Long Island Railroad trains shook the walls as they roared past. We were also on approach for airplanes coming into LaGuardia Airport.

Here, the auditory environment is a bit different. We hear chirping birds. At night, insects sing and there's a low hum of truck traffic at a warehouse across the river.

Nature at night wasn't one of the usual sounds in Queens. But if you had a hankering for ice cream at 2 a.m., you could satisfy the craving at the brightly lit Austin Farms convenience store across the street. The light pollution in the city doesn't block the glow of the moon, though only the brightest stars were visible at night on Austin Street.

When darkness falls over our new home, the Milky Way fills the sky.

We didn't need a vehicle in the city but here we do. Mark Walston, the finance manager at the dealership where we bought a car, lives in Lisbon, too. He praised small-town life, the school system and the one voting district at Town Hall. Every Saturday morning he picks up a standing order from the landmark Arremony's Quality Bakery in Jewett City.

Like Walston, everyone we've met has been willing to talk about the town.

I took some advice on how to transition from the city to country life from a book published in 1996 by Wanda Urbanska and Fred Levering, "Moving to a Small Town." It recommends orienting yourself by learning about the history of the area. I met Urbanska a few years ago, before a reunion of Glamour magazine's Top 10 College Women. She was an alumna and I coordinated the competition at the magazine where I was reader services editor.

Following her suggestion, I visited the John Bishop House on Route 169 in the village of Newent, which is the governmental center of town. A Lisbon Historical Society docent, Catherine W. Hill, took me on a tour of the Federal-style house that Bishop, a prosperous farmer, built in 1810. She showed me the indoor well off the kitchen, the "casket" door in the living room that faces the Newent Congregational Church across the green, and mentioned the smokehouse on the third floor.

The Bishop house was once a focal point of the community. Now, the de facto center of town is the Lisbon Landing mall on Route 12 and the Crossing at Lisbon One, shopping areas of mostly big- box stores. The two centers are the town's top two taxpayers.

Down the road on Route 12 is the town's only locally owned breakfast spot, Just Breakfast & Things!!!! (The last exclamation point on the sign is an ice cream cone.) The owner, Mary Thompson, is celebrating three years in business.

Another local business is Wildowsky Dairy on Nygren Road. It was quiet when we pulled into the farm yard on a Monday afternoon. One of the Holsteins, Barbie, was poking her head out of a barn door. At the dairy store, we bought chocolate milk, butter, ice cream and two kinds of steak, all from the farm. The Wildowskys, Sonny and his son, Randy, opened the business in December.

Our new neighbors are friendly, welcoming. Our city neighbors were the same. Anthony's Hardware in Jewett City reminds us of Housewares World on Queens Boulevard. Both are piled floor to ceiling with products. You can just step in and tell the clerk what you want.

Friendliness in Lisbon extends to Town Hall where we stopped to ask about recycling. We got a "Dos and Don'ts" sheet on recycling, a copy of the annual town report and registered to vote. The report features a photo and biography of a native son, Aaron Dwight Stevens, "a brave man and an abolitionist." Stevens was John Brown's second in command during the raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859. They were arrested, tried and hanged. Stevens was 29 when he died.

As we settle in to our rural life - there's a corral of long-horned Red Devon cattle a mile from our house - two mysteries remain. The first: A sign on Route 12 says Lisbon was incorporated in 1719, while another on the Route 169 bridge near our street says 1786. (The town report says incorporation was May 1786.)

The second, more personal, mystery: Why in this state of rock upon rock, ledge everywhere, is there not a single flat rock to be found on our lot? I could use a few for my gardens.