The former castle home of actor William Gillette enchants visitors to Gillette Castle, which is now one of Connecticut's most popular state parks.
History of Gillette Castle
Gillette was born in Hartford in 1853 and was descended from the city's founder, Thomas Hooker, who is buried in Hartford's Ancient Burying Ground. His family didn't support his pursuit of acting as a profession, but he went on to make his own fortune writing, producing and starring in plays.
The rather eccentric Gillette, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, first spotted the location where he would build his castle on a boat trip up the Connecticut River in 1912. Gillette Castle, built at a cost of about $1 million and completed in 1919, features a number of peculiarities including hidden mirrors, a lock-protected bar and intricate, hand-carved door latches on each of the castle's 47 doors: No two are alike.
When Gillette died in 1937, his will insisted that the medieval castle he'd built not fall to "some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded." The state of Connecticut acquired the nearly 200-acre estate in 1943, and it has been a public park and one of Connecticut's most popular and intriguing attractions ever since. In 2002, a four-year, $11.5 million restoration project was completed.
What To Do at Gillette Castle State Park
Self-guided castle tours are offered continuously from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily (purchase tickets by 4:30 p.m.) from Memorial Day weekend until the Monday of Labor Day weekend. Allow about an hour to explore this fascinating structure.
While the castle is the main attraction, the grounds are equally spectacular, providing scenic Connecticut River views and opportunities for hiking and picnicking. Food concessions are available during the castle's operating season.
If you're up for a walk, consult this hiking map for options. The coolest path to take is the Railroad Trail, which meanders through the property along the route once followed by Gillette's own Seventh Sister Short-line train. You can even walk through a 500-foot-long rail tunnel drilled into a hill.
On summer weekends, be sure to catch a performance on the outdoor stage by Gillette Castle State Park's theater-company-in-residence: East Haddam Stage Company. For 2018, a four-person cast presents The Professor, penned by Gillette in 1890, at 1 and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from July 7 through August 12.
Where to Stay/Camp Near Gillette Castle
The closest lodgings are in East Haddam, Connecticut, where you'll find the elegant Boardman House, an 1860 mansion turned inn that welcomes primarily adult guests (although children 13 and up are allowed), and the Gelston House, which has just a handful of simple rooms. For family-friendly lodging, look to the Griswold Inn in Essex, Connecticut: one of America's oldest still-operating inns.
Camping at Gillette Castle: You can't sleep inside Gillette Castle, but if you are paddling the Connecticut River in a canoe or kayak, you can reserve a riverside campsite at Gillette Castle State Park from May 1 through September 30. There is nothing regal about these primitive campsites, which have pit toilets and fireplaces as their only amenities. Stays are limited to one night, your application for a camping permit must be submitted at least two weeks in advance.
More Things To Do Near Gillette Castle
While you're in the Connecticut River Valley, consider...
- Riding the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry - This car ferry crosses the Connecticut River near Gillette Castle, just as ferries have since 1769.
- Seeing a show at Goodspeed Musicals - You're in for an engaging experience at Connecticut's historic, riverside opera house, where Goodspeed Musicals stages a mix of new and popular musicals.
- Getting out on the river - A RiverQuest boat tour, departing from Eagle Landing State Park in Haddam, Connecticut, affords a different view of Gillette Castle, as well as the chance to spy on the eagles, osprey, tree swallows and other birds and wildlife that make the Connecticut River their home.
Visit Gillette Castle
Address and Directions: Gillette Castle is located at 67 River Road in East Haddam, Connecticut. From Route 9 North or South, take Exit 7 for Route 82. Follow Route 82 East through Goodspeed Landing, and watch for signs directing you to the park. Parking is free.
Hours and Admission: Gillette Castle State Park is open from 8 a.m. until sunset year-round. While admission to the grounds is free, there is a charge of $6 for ages 13 and over and $2 for children ages 6 to 12 to tour the castle as of 2018. Children 5 and under are admitted free. Call ahead to make special arrangements if you are bringing a group.
For more information: Call 860-526-2336.