THERE is no shortage of warblers in Southbury, but it was the birds of prey that drew Judith Stevens to this town rising gently from the banks of the Housatonic River.
Chief among them are bald eagles, which return in December to the Shepaug Dam. Its waters, which don’t freeze in cold weather, attract fish, providing the eagles with a considerable four-month-long winter buffet.
“What’s special about this town is that you have so many different habitats in one place,” said Ms. Stevens, who volunteers at the 690-acre Bent of the River preserve owned by the Audubon Society. About 16 percent of Southbury’s land — including pieces of eight sizable working farms — is preserved as open space, according to the local land trust.
There are, of course, animals other than birds. In fact, a moose and several black bears recently turned up in Heritage Village, the 2,622-unit condominium complex where Ms. Stevens, a retired science teacher, owns a two-bedroom. When she moved to Southbury three years ago, she said, she paid $185,000 for the condo, which has 1,200 square feet and a patio.
But for all its natural assets, the town has an ample share of asphalt and concrete. Interstate 84 cuts across its 40 square miles; two enormous shopping centers flank the highway.
Commuters make up a majority of Southbury’s 19,722 residents, traveling to and from places like Hartford, Stamford or New York City. They have little choice but to do so by car, because Southbury does not offer rail service. During rush hour some days, long lines can form at traffic lights on Main Street North, especially if I-84 is backed up.
The mix of rural and suburban appeals to residents like Jenna Murphy, who moved to the area three years ago from a two-family house in densely settled South Norwalk, in part because she “wanted a country lifestyle with the convenience of shopping close by.”
Today, she shops at the Kmart in Southbury Plaza and the Gap at the newer Southbury Green mall. The locally owned Newbury Place, which sells jewelry, is also a favorite, she said.
But the area held an additional enticement for Ms. Murphy, a school psychologist. She had been looking for an antique home, and all the ones she had seen in the town of Fairfield, where she had first looked, either cost a prohibitive $1.5 million, or “were really small and required a total rehab.”
Her husband, Chris, had discovered Southbury in passing, on road trips to visit clients for his food-distribution business. They ended up with a 1790 colonial in one of the town’s historic districts.
Despite additions and renovations, the four-bedroom home, with three and a half baths and 3,200 square feet of space, retains its wide-plank chestnut floors, 12-over-12 leaded-glass windows and a three-opening fireplace that’s tall enough to stand in.
It cost $700,000, though the Murphys have spent $100,000 on upgrades, including paving the driveway so their three children can ride bikes on it.
Their property, bordered by a stream, covers nearly three acres — plenty of room to run around. “Playing outside really teaches them to respect the environment,” Ms. Murphy said, “and all that it has to offer.”
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
Most homes, according to brokers, are primary residences, despite the fact that this New Haven County town abuts Litchfield County, a popular second-home destination, and that the terrains are similarly rugged.
In the town’s northwestern Purchase section, roads with “Cattle Xing” signs loop past pine-covered hills and horses; on Spruce Brook Road on a recent afternoon, by a farm with red barns, drivers slowed to let three wild turkeys cross the road.
Orchards have sprouted subdivisions in the past decade. Older and newer dwellings often coexist, as on West Flathill Road, where recent colonials with Palladian-style windows offset houses with fieldstone foundations, built much nearer the Colonial period.
Lake Lillinonah, the dammed-up portion of the Shepaug River, is nearby. Many sizable contemporary homes have their own docks there. (Most of Southbury’s newer homes are zoned for two acres.)
The best-preserved 19th-century properties are found along Main Street North, set back behind low stone walls, and in South Britain, where the fancy Greek Revivals by the Pomperaug River serve as a reminder that Southbury once prospered from the mill trade.
The area used to be known as a second-home haven. The television impresario Ed Sullivan, who had a weekend retreat on North Georges Hill Road, helped put it on the map for New Yorkers. And after dams started deepening parts of the Housatonic, summer-cottage communities sprang up — though most are now lived in year-round. One of them, Lakeside, has A-frame houses terraced into slopes.
Another is known as Russian Village, for the émigrés who settled an artists’ colony founded by Ilya Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy’s son. The onion-domed St. Sergius Orthodox chapel endures, its scarlet door topped with a religious painting, but few Russian residents remain.
Southbury’s population is older than the state’s over all, with 30 percent over the age of 65, versus 14 percent in Connecticut, according to the last census.
The town also has a far greater proportion of attached housing units than the state as a whole. Most — about 2,900 — are condominiums; they account for 25 percent of the housing stock, brokers say.
The trends converge at Heritage Village, an age-restricted community whose first phase was completed in 1967 and was among the East Coast’s first condos. When it opened, said Henry J. Paparazzo, the chairman of its development group, “we virtually doubled the size of the town. But it’s still managed to regulate development well.”
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
Still, like the rest of Southbury, Heritage Village is suffering from current market conditions. Only 130 units there will change hands this year, down from the typical 200, and prices are off 10 percent, according to Mr. Paparazzo.
That is in line with the numbers for single-family homes. From the end of May through November this year, for example, 47 properties sold, versus 70 over the same period a year earlier, according to the Consolidated Multiple Listings Service.
Similarly, the average price has dropped, to $462,008 from $495,838. Yet homes seem to be selling faster, as the average market time has shortened to 112 days from 135.
“If they’re priced well, they will move quickly,” said Donna Matula, an associate broker with William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty.
WHAT TO DO
Unlike many Connecticut communities, Southbury lacks a green and many older commercial structures — though there is the South Britain Country Store, where a sausage sandwich costs $6.95.
But the town does have three parks, including Southford Falls, once the site of a Diamond Match Company factory. Another is the 605-acre Kettletown Park, with an inlet and a wading beach.
The new 90,000-volume library — which doesn’t charge for overdue books — has three librarians dedicated to children and teenagers.
Most elementary students attend either Pomperaug or Gainfield. For sixth through eighth grades, there is Rochambeau Middle School, which has an enrollment of 570.
At Pomperaug High School, about half of the 1,400 students take at least one of the 18 offered Advanced Placement classes. “This allows kids an opportunity to try rigorous courses before going to college,” said Frank H. Sippy, the superintendent. About 95 percent of seniors attend college, he added.
SAT averages last spring were 555 in reading, 565 in math and 541 in writing, versus 507, 503 and 506 statewide.
Southbury hasn’t had trains since 1948, when the Danbury-Plainville line had three stations in town, said Joyce Hornbecker, a local historian.
Commuters take Peter Pan buses to New York daily, but this month, the company reduced its subsidy to the Southbury Travel Center, a waiting-room facility on Main Street, forcing it to close, said Nancy Devine, a clerk there. Tickets will now be sold at a Mobil station nearby.
Buses depart three times between 6:05 a.m. and 9:05 a.m. on the two-hour trip to Port Authority, with a stop in Danbury. A 20-ticket pass costs $260.
The Southbury Training School, a campuslike complex on 1,600 acres along Route 172, has been open since October 1940. Its mission is to teach job skills to the developmentally disabled.
Today, 490 people live at the school, with its striking collection of red-brick buildings and a greenhouse for growing poinsettias to sell at Christmas.