Introduction to Geography of Connecticut

Connecticut, one of the New England states of the United States and one of the original colonies. It is bordered by New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island and lies on Long Island Sound, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. Except for a panhandle in the southwest, Connecticut is roughly rectangular in shape. After Rhode Island and Delaware, it is the smallest state in the nation, with an area of 5,544 square miles (14,358 km2).

Connecticut has beautiful wooded hills, quiet lakes, and lovely small towns with white church steeples rising above green commons. Other parts of the state are densely settled and highly industrialized.

ConnecticutConnecticut state bird - American robin
Connecticut in brief
General information
Statehood: Jan. 9, 1788, the fifth state.
State abbreviations: Conn. (traditional); CT (postal).
State capital: Hartford. New Haven and Hartford were twin capitals from 1701 to 1875, when Hartford became the only capital.
State motto: Qui Transtulit Sustinet (He Who Transplanted Still Sustains).
Popular name: The Constitution State.
State song: "Yankee Doodle." Composer unknown.
Symbols of Connecticut
State bird: Robin.
State flower: Mountain laurel.
State tree: White oak (Charter Oak).
State flag and seal: On the state flag, adopted in 1897, the three grapevines on the shield symbolize the colony brought from Europe and transplanted in the wilderness. The state motto beneath the shield, Qui Transtulit Sustinet, means He Who Transplanted Still Sustains. The present version of the state seal first appeared in 1784. The seal also bears three grapevines and the state motto.
Land and climate
Area: 5,006 mi2 (12,966 km2), including 161 mi2 (416 km2) of inland water but excluding 538 mi2 (1,392 sq. km) of coastal water.
Elevation: Highest--2,380 ft (725 m) above sea level, on the south slope of Mount Frissell. Lowest--sea level along the Long Island Sound shore.
Record high temperature: 106 °F (41 °C) at Danbury on July 15, 1995.
Record low temperature: –32 °F (–36 °C) at Falls Village on Feb. 16, 1943, and at Coventry on Jan. 22, 1961.
Average July temperature: 71 °F (22 °C).
Average January temperature: 26 °F (–3 °C).
Average yearly precipitation: 47 in (119 cm).
Population: 3,405,565.
Rank among the states: 29th.
Density: 680 per mi2 (263 per km2), U.S. average 78 per mi2 (30 per km2).
Distribution: 88 percent urban, 12 percent rural.
Largest cities in Connecticut: Bridgeport (139,529); New Haven (123,626); Hartford (121,578); Stamford (117,083); Waterbury (107,271); Norwalk (82,951).
Chief products
Agriculture: eggs, greenhouse and nursery products, milk.
Manufacturing: chemicals, computer and electronic products, fabricated metal products, machinery, processed foods, transportation equipment.
Mining: crushed stone, sand and gravel.
State government
Governor: 4-year term.
State senators: 36; 2-year term.
State representatives: 151; 2-year term.
Towns: 169 (Towns, rather than counties, are the main units of local government in Connecticut.)
Federal government
United States senators: 2.
United States representatives: 5.
Electoral votes: 7.
Sources of information
For information about tourism, write to: Commission on Culture and Tourism, Tourism Division, One Financial Plaza, 755 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06103. The Web site at also provides information.
For information on the economy, write to: Department of Economic and Community Development, Research Division, 505 Hudson Street, Hartford, CT 06106.
The state's official Web site at also provides a gateway to much information on Connecticut's economy, government, and history.

Physical Geography

ConnecticutConnecticut is one of the New England states that lie in the northeastern United States.

Connecticut occupies the southernmost section of the New England Upland, which is part of the Appalachian system of North America. The upland is relatively low within Connecticut and divides into an eastern and a western section separated by a fairly broad lowland. In general, the land slopes downward from north to south. All of Connecticut was glaciated during the last Ice Age, and many of the surface features are largely or partly the result of glacial scouring and deposition.

The Uplands consist mainly of rolling hills, rounded low mountains, and long ridges separated by narrow valleys. The western upland is the higher of the two sections, though it rarely reaches elevations of more than 1,500 feet (460 m). The highest point in the state is 2,380–foot (725–m) Mount Frissell, an outlying peak of the Taconic Mountains, in the northwestern corner of the state. Along the coast, in an area sometimes called the Seaboard Lowland, the terrain becomes smoother and slopes gently toward the sea. Compared to the rest of the state, most of upland Connecticut is sparsely populated; much of it is wooded and scenic.

The Connecticut Lowland is a relatively flat area, up to 20 miles (32 km) wide, that separates the two upland sections. It extends from Massachusetts through Hartford to New Haven on Long Island Sound. In places, the flatness of the land is broken by prominent ridges and bold outcrops of trap, an ancient volcanic rock. The lowland has long been the most heavily populated area of the state and the most important in agricultural and industrial production.

Forests, occurring mainly in the uplands, cover about two-thirds of Connecticut. They consist largely of deciduous trees, primarily red oak and other oaks. Other hardwoods include sugar maple, birch, poplar, beech, ash, and hickory. Among the coniferous trees found throughout the state are hemlock, pine, and cedar.

The forests are valuable to Connecticut, not so much for the wood they yield as for the erosion control and recreational use they provide. They are also scenic attractions, particularly during autumn. A sizable portion of the forested area is preserved in state forests and state parks.

ConnecticutConnecticut state flower - mountain laurel

Virtually all of Connecticut is drained by rivers that flow to Long Island Sound. Most of them pass through valleys aligned roughly north-south and enter the sea in tidal river mouths and estuaries.

The Connecticut River, which drains much of western New England, is the chief river in the state. It flows through the Connecticut Lowland as far as Middletown and then veers southeastward through a section of the eastern upland to enter the sound. The Connecticut is wide and deep but is little used for navigation, mainly because shifting sand bars obstruct its mouth.

Most of eastern Connecticut is drained by the Thames River and such tributaries and headstreams as the Quinebaug, Shetucket, Natchaug, and Willimantic. The principal rivers of western Connecticut are the Housatonic, the Naugatuck, and the Farmington, a tributary of the Connecticut.

Well over 1,000 lakes and ponds, most of glacial origin, dot the state The largest is Lake Candlewood, the center of a resort area. It is a man-made lake whose waters are used for generating hydroelectric power.


Connecticut has a highly variable climate with distinct seasons and ample precipitation during the year. Air masses and storms from the North American interior largely determine the day-to-day weather. The ocean's influence is mainly limited to areas near the coast.

Temperatures tend to be somewhat lower in the uplands, especially in the far north-west, than in the lowlands; on the whole, however, they differ little throughout most of the state. Average January temperatures range from about 24° F. (-4° C.) in the northwest to 29° F. (-2° C.) along the coast. During July, the warmest month, temperatures average from 70° F. (21° C.) to 73° F. (23° C.); the warmest area is on the coast.

Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year and averages about 44 to 48 inches (1,120 to 1,220 mm). A few areas receive slightly more, some slightly less. Snowfall usually varies considerably in depth from year to year. Floods occasionally occur, particularly when the melting of a deep snow cover coincides with heavy rains during spring.

Among the storms that strike the state are northeasters, which bring strong winds and heavy snow or rain; ice storms; and thunderstorms. Tornadoes and hurricanes are rare.

ConnecticutConnecticut state tree - white oak
Interesting facts about Connecticut
The first telephone exchange in the world opened in New Haven on Jan. 28, 1878. The exchange, which had 21 subscribers, was developed by George W. Coy. Its customers placed their calls through an operator.
The Hartford Courant, one of Connecticut's chief newspapers, has been published continuously longer than any other newspaper in the United States. The Courant began publication in 1764.
The first cookbook written by an American was published in Hartford in 1796. The book was American Cookery by Amelia Simmons.
The first accident insurance policy sold in the United States, was issued on April 1, 1864, by James Goodwin Batterson of the Travelers Insurance Company of Hartford. Batterson sold the policy to James Bolter of Hartford as the two of them walked out of the Hartford post office. The policy covered only Bolter's two-block walk that day from the post office to his home on Buckingham Street. The $1,000 coverage provided by the policy cost Bolter 2 cents.
The football tackling dummy was invented at Yale University in New Haven in 1889. Amos Alonzo Stagg, its inventor, was a divinity student and a football player at Yale. He later became one of the most successful coaches in the history of college football.


The Connecticut quarterThe Connecticut quarter features the Charter Oak tree. In 1662, the Connecticut Colony received its charter from England. In 1687, an agent of the English king arrived at a legislative meeting and demanded the charter, and, with it, control of the colony. Candles in the room went out. When they were relighted, the charter was gone. According to tradition, Joseph Wadsworth took the charter and hid it in a nearby oak tree, which later came to be known as the Charter Oak.

Connecticut, with limited farmland and few natural resources, has, for more than a century, concentrated on manufacturing and commerce. Services, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail trade are the leading sources of employment in the state. Federal, state, and local government are also important sources of jobs.

A large number of major insurance companies have their headquarters in Connecticut, chiefly in Hartford, which is often called the "Insurance Capital of the World." Also significant in the economy is tourism; people flock to the state's historic, scenic, and recreational attractions.

The strength of Connecticut's economy is reflected partly by the state's high per capita income—one of the highest in the United States. Fairfield County, especially in the extreme southeast, contains a number of particularly wealthy communities, such as Darien, Greenwich, and Weston. Many of the residents are executives or professional persons. Some work in New York City, while others work nearby; some of the nation's largest firms have their corporate headquarters and executive offices in this area, especially in and around Greenwich and Stamford.


Connecticut is especially noted for the manufacture of precision products requiring high-quality workmanship. The manufacture of defense-related products is especially important.

Metalworking—a legacy, in part, of colonial times and the early 19th century—accounts for most of the employment in the manufacturing sector of Connecticut's economy and most of its production. Items range from needles to the most technologically advanced machinery and equipment. The chief products are transportation equipment, mechanical and electrical machinery, fabricated metal products, and precision instruments. Connecticut ranks high, in some cases leading the nation, in the output of such items as aircraft engines and other aerospace parts and components, helicopters, bearings, machine tools, silverware, and hardware. The principal nonmetallic goods manufactured here are chemicals.

The main manufacturing areas are the cities and towns along the coast and in the Connecticut Lowland. Some of the cities, even though their production is usually diverse, are known for one or more specific products. New Britain, for example, is particularly noted for hardware, Meriden for silverware, East Hartford for jet engines, and Groton for nuclear submarines.

Some of Connecticut's traditional industries have greatly declined in recent decades because of outside factors. The watch and textile industries, for example, have suffered from severe competition; the felt-hat industry, from changing fashions.


Farming has steadily given way to other economic activities in Connecticut for many decades and is presently of limited importance. Only about 10 per cent of the state is occupied by farms. Farm products, for the most part, are those readily marketable in nearby urban areas.

Crops are the chief source of farm income. Especially important are greenhouse products and nursery stock (trees and shrubs for landscaping). Various kinds of fruits and vegetables are also produced. Cigar-wrapper tobacco, long a valuable specialty crop, has declined in importance.Dairy products and poultry make up the chief source of income derived from livestock. Since these products do not require good agricultural land, they are well suited to conditions in the state, especially in the upland areas.

Other Economic Activities

Connecticut's fishing industry has been declining for some years and is now quite small. The pollution of coastal waters has been one of the chief causes for the decline; it has especially affected the supply of lobsters, oysters, scallops, and clams, which, nevertheless, are still the most important part of the catch (by value).

Lumbering, too, plays a small role in Connecticut's economy. Most of the timber that is cut consists of second-growth hardwoods and is used by industries within New England. Until well into the 19th century, the state's forests provided abundant wood for buildings and ships and for use as fuel.

There are few mineral resources of commercial value in the state. Stone, and sand and gravel, used primarily by the construction industry, account (by value) for nearly all mineral production. Also important are the production of feldspar, clays, and granite.


Connecticut is situated in the midst of one of the most densely settled parts of the nation and has a well-developed transportation system. Because of its location and numerous transportation routes, Connecticut is often called the "Gateway to New England."

The road and highway network includes several high-speed expressways and segments of three Interstate routes. Expressways include the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways and Connecticut and John D. Lodge turnpikes.

Railways serve most urban centers of the state. Some Connecticut cities, such as New Haven, Stamford, and New London, are served by high-speed Amtrak trains running between Boston and New York. Thousands of Fairfield County residents commute by rail to and from work in New York.

Bradley International Airport, north of Hartford in Windsor Locks, is the largest and busiest air terminal in the state.

Maritime shipping is relatively small in volume. There are major ports at Bridgeport, New London, and New Haven. Smaller ports are at Stamford and Norwalk.

The People

In rank among the states Connecticut moved from 27th place in 1990 to 29th in 2000. The overall population density was 702.9 persons per square mile of land (271.4 per km2), the forth highest density in the nation and slightly more than 8 times that of the United States as a whole. Whites formed 81.6 per cent of the population and blacks, 9.1 per cent. People of Hispanic origin made up 9.4 per cent.

Annual events in Connecticut
Eagle Watches on the Connecticut River (January-February); Connecticut Flower and Garden Show in Hartford (February); Daffodil Festival in Meriden (April); Dogwood Festival in Fairfield (May); Lobsterfest in Mystic (May); International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven (June); Farmington Antiques Weekend in Farmington (June); Travelers Championship in Cromwell (June).
Blessing of the Fleet in Stonington (July); Connecticut Jazz Festival in Moodus (July); Riverfest in Hartford and East Hartford (July); Sailfest in New London (July); Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival in Mystic (August); Farmington Antiques Weekend in Farmington (September); Norwalk Oyster Festival in Norwalk (September); Walking Weekend in northeastern Connecticut (October); Manchester Road Race in Manchester (November); Celebration of American Crafts in New Haven (December).


Connecticut's commissioner of education is appointed by the state board of education for a four-year term. The commissioner directs the department of education. Many local school districts have combined into supervisory unions, in which several towns share a superintendent. School attendance is free and compulsory between the ages of 7 and 16.

Dame schools—primary schools conducted by women in their own homes—existed in 1651 at New Haven. A state board of education was established in 1838 through the efforts of Henry Barnard, who later (in 1867) became the nation's first commissioner of education.

The University of Connecticut at Storrs is a land-grant school established in 1881 as Storrs Agricultural School. Its present name was adopted in 1939. Regional campuses are located at Avery Point, Hartford, Stamford, Torrington, and Waterbury. The schools of medicine and dental medicine are at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Hartford; the school of law, at Hartford; and the school of social work, at West Hartford.


Connecticut's state capitolConnecticut's state capitol is in Hartford. New Haven and Hartford functioned as twin capitals from 1701 to 1875, when Hartford was named the only capital.

Connecticut is governed under its second constitution, adopted in 1965; the first constitution was adopted in 1818. The legislative power is vested in the General Assembly, composed of a Senate of 36 members and a House of Representatives of 151 members. Members are elected for two years.

The elected executive officers are the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, comptroller, and attorney general (all elected for four-year terms). The Supreme Court is the highest state court. Among other courts are an appellate court and a superior court.

The state has eight counties but they have no governmental functions, serving only as administrative subdivisions. The major units of local government are incorporated cities and unincorporated towns. (In Connecticut and other New England states, the designation "town" usually includes both urban and rural portions of a given area, much like a township in other parts of the country. While many Connecticut towns are small, some have populations equal to those of large cities.)

Connecticut sends two senators and five representatives to Congress.