Branford has had a rich and diverse land-use history.
Some minor historical accounts will be presented here
to show the changes that have occurred and relate modern
land-use to the last 300 years of settlement. For more
information about Branford's history visit the Blackstone
Memorial Library or contact the Branford Historical
Society (124 Main Street; 488-4828).
After its settlement during the 1600's, Branford remained
a farming community and small town for much of its existence.
It is only during the last half of the Twentieth Century
that much of the land was developed for residential
and commercial uses. Therefore, much of the character
of this Town has changed within the last 100 years.
One of the most important impacts on land-use in Branford
during the last 100 years is the advent of a large transportation
corridor between Boston and New York (Figure
9: Land-use). With the building of the railroad,
the development of Route 1, and the origin of Interstate
95, the whole coast between New York and Boston changed
dramatically. Much of the Town's present character and,
subsequently, its land-use are tied to this corridor.
Residential development and supporting commercial interests
(strip malls and shops) account for the vast majority
of development in Town. Light industrial and commercial
developments are a distant second to residential development
and farming is relegated to a few scattered sites around
The effects of the transportation corridor can be seen
in the distribution of land-uses throughout the Town.
Most of the commercial and industrial development in
Town takes place along the Route 1 corridor. South of
I-95 (which includes both Route 1 and the rail line)
is the highest density of houses. You can almost trace
the position of Routes 1, 146, 139 and 142 by following
the coded symbol noted on Figure
9 (Land-use) for residential/commercial development.
This same approach can also be taken to map out the
Branford Green and the areas surrounded by Main Streets.
The least developed portions of Town are located north
of I-95 where major thoroughfares are fewer. However,
here too, one can follow the path of Brushy Plain Road
by following the increase in housing and commercial
densities. The least developed portion of Town is the
area associated with the steep topography along the
high angle Jurassic fault (Totoket Mountains), particularly
those areas underlain by basalt deposits. The largest
sections of uninterrupted open space are located north
of I-95 in the Supply Ponds subwatershed, and on lands
belonging to the Regional Water Authority (Lake Saltonstall
subwatershed). The next largest tracts of uninterrupted
open space are located along the eastern portion of
the Town along the Branford/Guilford border.
With the exception of Lake Saltonstall, the Supply Ponds
and the undeveloped areas along the eastern Town border,
the forested areas in Town are highly fragmented. Most
of these habitats are secondary growth and recently
disturbed secondary growth deciduous forests. The last
remaining contiguous tracts of coniferous forest are
those located on Regional Water Authority land, some
isolated tracts within the Supply Ponds sub-watershed
and some isolated patches in the east and northeast
corner of Town.
Land-use in and around Branford is tied to the geology
in many ways (compare Figure
3 and Figure
9). For example, farms were most prevalent on the
broader flats that overlie the glacial outwash plains
while mining and quarry activities are more common where
bedrock reaches the surface or glacial debris deposits
are found. Although utilized throughout its history,
the high angled fault region is the least developed
area today because of the steep slopes and rough topography.
Early European settlers to the Town found ample forests
and resources to survive. Like so many coastal areas
of Connecticut, the open salt marshes provided grazing
and other open space for early use in maintaining livestock.
This coastline also provided food (fish, shellfish),
pelts (e.g., muskrat) and other economic opportunities
as the Branford River provided a good harbor and inland
waterway for its early residents. The forests that had
grown since the last glaciation were well developed
hard and soft wood habitats and provided the early settlers
with abundant building material.
As the land was cleared, the glacial tills provided
good drainage to many of the soils and farming was readily
accomplished. The Branford River was a good source of
freshwater and irrigation was possible. The sloping
topography, moderate yet moist climate (regulated by
the proximity to the coast) and the sandy soils were
especially good for the planting of orchards.
Coastal and Off-shore
Due to the Town's proximity to the shoreline, many opportunities
are provided for residents to utilize the coastal and
offshore resources. Early in its history, shellfish
beds, including oysters, were available to the residents
of Town. Commercial fishing in the Sound and near-shore
area was also important. Beaches and access to the water
have long served Branford's residents and in the past
(early 20th Century) made tourism a relatively large
trade. Today, coastal rentals still provide a source
of income for a number of landowners, although most
properties are now year-round residences. Coastal resources
also include boating and access to the water. Branford
has over 10 marinas and yacht clubs along the Branford
and Stony Creek Harbors alone. The Farm River, Lake
Saltonstall and upper reaches of the Branford River
and its tributaries serve a number of purposes including
canoeing and boat launches and rentals for smaller boats.
Today, although access to many of the offshore and coastal
resources are restricted at times due to pollution,
there are still many uses of the offshore habitat by
Town's residents. Lobster and clams (steamers and round)
are still important seafood resources to the region.
Crabs are also locally important. Fish such as shad,
that were probably present at one time in the River,
are now no longer part of the catch. Flounder, fluke,
blackfish, bluefish, porgies (scup) and weakfish are
still taken in the gray and blue waters off the coast.
Most of the coastal fisheries are almost exclusively
an offshore resource. Near shore and coastal resources
are now limited to clamming and some limited crabbing,
although these too are subject to closure depending
on the tide and storm activity (see Figure 10 - Recreational
Shellfishing in Branford; reprinted from Branford Shellfish
Commission Brochure, January 2002). Other shellfish
include blue mussels, oysters and razor clams (Figure
10: Shellfish Beds). Some important commercial and
sport fish include sunfish, trout (rainbow, brook and
brown), wide-mouth bass, striped bass, flounder and
sea trout. Bait-fish such as killifish and silversides
are also part of the resource (for more information
see Biological Communities Chapter).
Within Stony Creek Harbor there is a collection of over
350 islands that form the Thimble Island chain. These
islands, the result of a fault line scarp (thrusting),
range in size from just a half acre to 12 acres and
support a variety of land-uses including residential
development and habitat conservation. While some of
the islands do support houses, most are too small for
residential use. Many of these smaller islands are home
to birds and seals and some are part of the Stewart
B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Tour boats offer
sight-seeing tours of the Thimbles and many smaller
private crafts come here for recreation and fishing.
Scenic and Unique Resources
The Town of Branford has some unique resources (both
natural and man-made) that make the area a destination
for tourism. The Thimble Islands (noted above) are home
to a number of celebrities and many people come here
each year to tour the islands and possibly get a glimpse
of some of the more famous individuals. The island tours
also provide a unique opportunity to see harbor seals
in their natural environment in the winter and unique
bird nesting sites on the outer islands in the summer.
At times, whales have even been spotted near the outer
islands. Folklore has it that the pirate, Blackbeard
used the area for stashing his treasure and eluding
State Route 146 is a State-designated scenic highway
and includes some of Branford's most spectacular views.
The Town Green is a quaint reminder of New England's
past complete with churches and open land (historically
used for grazing). South of the Green, Route. 146 passes
along the shore providing views of the coast, Long Island
Sound and the Thimble Islands. Off of Route 146 is the
old Stony Creek Quarry. There is still an active quarry
on the site, although much of the property is now used
for hiking and passive recreation. The rock from this
site was once used to build such places as New York
City's Grand Central Terminal. The pinkish coloration
to the granite is still considered some of the nicest
example of rock of its kind.
The oldest continuously operating trolley line in America
is in the western portion of Town. Although the Shore
Line Trolley Museum pavilion is located in East Haven,
much of the museum and the entire trolley line are located
in Branford. This includes a fully restored 2.5-mile
roundtrip ride through Branford's Farm River marshes.
Areas along Shore Drive (Route 142) and Johnson Point
also provide scenic views of Branford Harbor and open
waters of the Sound.
Branford's utilities are served by a number of companies
including Connecticut Light and Power (a division of
Northeast Utilities) for electricity, Southern Connecticut
Gas Company for natural gas, South Central Connecticut
Regional Water Authority for potable water and a variety
of communications and private home heating oil companies.
At present none of these companies maintain records
for individual towns on a per capita basis. Rather the
records are kept on an account basis and the information
is not available for public use.
Commercial and industrial resources in Town are varied
and range from small shops and services to large manufacturers
such as the Dana Corp. Recently Branford has seen an
increase in the number of biotechnology and research
and development firms. For example Curagen, Inc., a
genetic research company, has plans to consolidate its
offices in the eastern portion of Town and may one day
employ upwards of 1,100 employees.
Commercial (retail & wholesale) establishments are found
throughout the Town. These range in size from single
structures in isolated areas (i.e., Pine Orchard Market
on Route 146) to large shopping plazas (i.e., Branhaven
Center with 17 business including Kohl's and Foodmart).
Many of the larger shopping plazas and smaller retail
businesses are located along the Route 1 corridor (Table
4: Commercial Resources). Although not directly located
on Route 1, the Cherry Hill Center does meet Route 1
at the I-95 connector and includes Walmart.
In addition to the Route 1 corridor, there are clusters
of businesses scattered throughout the Town. For example,
a number of small service and retail establishments
can be found in Stony Creek near the Town Dock, on South
Montowese Street (Route 146) near Linden Avenue, and
along Shore Drive (Route 142) in Short Beach. There
are concentrations of establishments surrounding the
Town Green on Main Street and Montowese Street and elsewhere
in the center of Town, and a number of stores are located
on Cedar Street/Brushy Plain Road near Exit 54, and
on Leetes Island Road on either side of I-95.
Many manufacturers and industries are concentrated in
industrial and business parks in the eastern portion
of Town. The major areas include the business and industrial
parks along Route 139 (Commercial Street and Thompson
Street), the industrial and manufacturing parks off
of Route 1 (Sycamore Way, Northeast Industrial and School
Ground Roads (behind the Chowder Pot)), and the cluster
of businesses off of Leetes Island Road near Exit 56
on I-95 (East Industrial Road and Business Park Road).
There are some smaller clusters of businesses that are
scattered throughout the Town such as the establishments
located on Meadow Street north of the train station
(i.e., Atlantic Wire) and the area between Bradley Street
and Elm Street (i.e., future home of Cherry Hill Glass
Co. at the old Nutmeg Steel plant).