In the late 1970s, South Norwalk’s downtown business section, including
the historic buildings centered on Washington Street, had been slated
for demolition. But starting in 1977, a group of progressive minded
citizens, including newly elected mayor Bill Collins, turned South
Norwalk’s fortunes around and created Historic SoNo. Now, well into to
twenty-first century, SoNo thrives in a way that no one could have
imagined, truly a lesson and legend in what far sighted thinking will
SoNo, with its delightful mixture of classy and tasteful or just plain
homey restaurants, shops, and clubs, combined with museums and
galleries, has become integrated with greater Norwalk as well as the
harbor and Long Island Sound beyond. SoNo is anchored by the Maritime
Center, which invites visitors of all ages to become immersed in sea
life. Exhibits, educational programs, research cruises, and a boat
building shop, are topped off by the spectacular IMAX Theatre.
The Norwalk Museum on North Main brings Norwalk’s past into a very sharp
focus: The Norwalk Hat Factory comes back to life along with locks, 19th
century pottery and a traditional hardware store. On the corner of Main
and Washington, climb up a flight of stairs to the SoNo Switch Tower
Museum, also of 19th century vintage.
Adjacent to the Aquarium, on a bluff overlooking the Norwalk River, is
Oyster Shell Park (originally named Oyster Shell Point for the thousands
of oyster shells discarded there by Native Americans making Wampum)
where trails and walkways wind through marsh grasses, reeds and
wildflowers. The park abounds with migratory birds, fiddler crabs and
other aquatic life. From this bluff is a view of Norwalk Harbor, “The
Jewel of Long Island Sound,” where, besides fifteen marinas, there are
2,700 commercial vessel trips to and fro every year including those of
the thriving oyster businesses.
And then there are the festivals.
In June, the festival season kicks in with a bang, or rather a splash.
The Norwalk Harbor Splash emphasizes fun in and around the water with an
accent on family and youth with a capital Y. A few sparkling examples:
Have your face painted and join in the Cub Club activities at Black Bear
Saloon; Help assemble a life-size humpback whale, great white shark or
harbor seal at the Aquarium; Come face-to-face with life-like dinosaurs
then board an amazing 3-D simulated adventure ride on Dinosaur Island;
For a celebration of seafood, there’s the Annual Chowder Cook-Of; For a
celebration of sounds, music acts with an emphasis on rhythm and
adventure. Then, to top it all off, The Annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat
Race! Let the good times roll!
Also in June, the Norwalk Jazz Festival features the best in
traditional, contemporary and Latin jazz.
The Annual Sono Arts Celebration actually pre-visioned SoNo in that
bi-centennial year of 1976. Climaxing with a parade of giant puppets,
this feast of talent brings together the creations of over 150 fine
artists and craftsmen surrounded by an atmosphere of music and dance.
And finally, the Norwalk Oyster Festival, as venerable as SoNo itself,
with internationally known music acts as well as hundreds of arts and
crafts booths, sky divers, environmental displays, children's activities
and rides, oystering exhibits, vintage vessels, harbor cruises, and
food, food, food!
Not to far from Sono is The Lockwood-Matthews Mansion located on West
Ave. This beautiful Historical Victorian Palace is open to the public.