Published May 30. 2010 4:00AM Updated May 30. 2010 7:50AM
Few short rivers are more varied and have such a lengthy history as the Thames, and because the 15-mile waterway flows through the heart of southeastern Connecticut many of us see it, drive over and alongside it, or take boats on it every day.
Yet however familiar a sight, few fully appreciate how much the river has influenced and continues to be a part of our lives.
This weekend The Day launches "The river that shapes us," a series of articles, videos, slide shows and an interactive map highlighting what once was known as The Pequot River.
Over the course of the summer there will be features about the people who live, work and play along the banks, as well as about the old mills and still-thriving businesses, and what we can expect in the future. We also will focus on the Thames' wide recreational appeal for fishing and boating, and will take you by kayak from the source in downtown Norwich to the mouth on Long Island Sound, capturing the river's sights and sounds, up close and personal.
Once home to a Native American tribe tracing its roots to the 16th century, the river became a major trading route for colonists, and then a whaling port and industrial hub.
Though the old mills have closed, the Thames is still home to major manufacturers including Electric Boat and Pfizer in Groton, Thames Shipyard in New London and Dow Chemical in Ledyard. Also along its banks are the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Connecticut College, Mitchell College and Adm. Harold E. Shear State Pier in New London, and the Mohegan Sun casino, NRG power plant and Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. in Montville.
Thousands of cars and trucks cross the Thames every day on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge between New London and Groton, and the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge between Montville and Preston. They also drive along or close to the banks on Route 12 between Groton and Norwich and on Route 32 between New London and Norwich.
Freight trains from the Providence and Worcester Railroad rumble on tracks on both sides of the river; and passenger trains on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor stop at New London's Union Station. Ferries carry passengers and cargo from New London to Long Island, Fishers Island and Block Island. Cruise ships tie up on the Thames in New London, along with barges carrying lumber, steel, copper and other commodities.
The river also is home to numerous marinas and boat moorings for vessels ranging from tiny rowboats to luxury yachts. The Harvard-Yale Regatta, an annual rowing race that took place Saturday on the Thames between the Ivy League universities that dates to 1852, remains America's oldest collegiate athletic competition.
Along the banks, and among its many coves are hundreds of private homes ranging from elegant mansions to summer cottages.
Yet through all this stream of activity there are quiet coves and surprisingly serene sanctuaries along the Thames, where osprey and, in winter, eagles dive for fish and where muskrats and turtles make their homes.
We're sure you'll find "The river that shapes us" informative and entertaining, and hope the series inspires more people to appreciate and preserve a precious legacy.