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Bringing Connecticut's Coastal History To Your Phone

Seth Eastman
New London's Fort Trumbull, as constructed in the mid-19th century.

Researchers at UConn are teaming up with local history groups to create a state “Blue Trail.” The idea is to build an interactive outdoor museum on Connecticut’s coast, that’s accessible through your phone.

As I stood on the banks of the Thames River, a quick scan of the horizon yielded a view encompassing centuries of history.

In the distance was Fort Griswold, which fell to Benedict Arnold in 1781, before his British troops burned New London.

Behind me was the Egyptian-inspired Fort Trumbull. And across the river was Electric Boat: site of many naval firsts, including the U.S. Navy’s first commissioned submarine.

“What is the story of the Thames River?” asked Syma Ebbin, an associate professor at UConn.

That’s the motivating question behind an app she’s helping to create.

"It’s that trail idea," she said. "Now there’s lots of wine trails and art trails and this would be, we’re calling it a 'Blue Heritage Trail.'"

If you’ve ever been to a museum where they give you headphones for the audio tour, that’s kind of what’s going on here.

Credit Patrick Skahill / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Undergraduate Colleen Franks, left, with UConn's Syma Ebbin and historian Glenn Gordinier. The group posed for a photo outside of New London's Fort Trumbull.

Undergraduate student Colleen Franks, who has done a lot of work on the program, took out her cell phone and demonstrated how the app worked.

“These are all the individual points of interest so once you approach, say, site one: it will automatically start playing,” Franks said.

Right now, the app, called the IZI Travel App, can be geolocated. So as you travel through a historic site, it automatically updates narrations.

Franks touched her phone, which filled up with supplemental information.

“You can tap on the photos here. And there are some archival images of people who are pertinent to whatever text I’m reading at the moment,” Franks said.

UConn is working with local history groups to get the app off the ground.

There are already chapters for the Thames River Heritage Park, including walking tours on whaling, the Navy, and the American Revolution.

Credit Patrick Skahill / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Historian Glenn Gordinier said Fort Trumbull's entrance shows influences of Egyptian architecture. Today, the site is close to a nearby Coast Guard Station. Fort Trumbull is managed as a state park.

Historian Glenn Gordinier said the Thames River has lots more stories to tell.

“It’s the deepest protected harbor between New York and Boston. It’s at the Eastern end of Long Island Sound, which means access to the open sea, protection for vessels of all sizes,” Gordinier said. “And because of that, there’s a lot of other history that goes along with it.”

Eventually, UConn’s Syma Ebbin said, the hope is for Blue Trail signs to pop up at landmarks all around Connecticut’s coast, prompting you to scan a QR code with your phone.

Then you can let the audio play and get lost in the many stories steeped into the history of the Thames River.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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