Haddam and Lyme, Connecticut in the United States, sitting high above the Gillette Castle State Park, spreading over 200 acres, is located in the towns of East Connecticut River on the seventh hill of a chain of seven summits called the Seven Sisters. The focal point of this park is a twenty four room mansion reminiscent of a medieval castle surrounded by fine
woodlands, trails, and the most amazing vistas was built by the noted actor, director, and playwright William Hooker Gilette. State of Connecticut bought it from the executors of Mr. Gillette’s will and turned it into a State Park. The park has turned into one of the biggest and most interesting tourist attractions of the state.
During my last visit to Connecticut just this Summer I had taken the time to visit this wonderful place and was truly surprised by the history and construction of the Castle like retreat, and the vista that is second to none.
A little history before we move on to the real castle. Gillette was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1853, the son of former U.S. Senator Francis Gillette, a staunch crusader for the abolition of slavery, and his wife Elizabeth Daggett Hooker Gillette, a descendent of Thomas Hooker, the founder of Hartford, a major city in Connecticut. He had personally designed the castle and most of its contents. It was built using local fieldstones supported by a steel framework that cannot be seen from outside and took five years to complete the main structure.
Gillette is most famous for his portrayal of "Sherlock Holmes". He had also written books and invented many trick stage props and lighting techniques as part of producing and directing plays, what really separated him from others and made him famous was writing a play based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and portraying the beloved character, more than 1300 times. The success made him famous and richer, eventually allowing him to build this interesting and mysterious looking castle with sign of excellent craftsmanship all over the place. The castle is built of chalk white and gray local fieldstone, supported by a steel frame that can’t be seen from the outside.
There are couple of ways to get to the Castle - by car or via the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry across the Connecticut River in Chester. The recommended choice is obviously the Ferry for the majestic view that it offers of the Castle tucked into the woods high above the sparkling water of Connecticut river.
There are several interesting oddities in the Gillette Castle reflecting eccentricity of its designer and owner.
The entrance of the castle leads to a poorly lit dungeon-like room. Next to that is a staircase that leads to the rest of the house. There is a secret door from which Gillette is known to emerge unexpectedly and startle his guests, who mostly were his good friends among who were Albert Einstein, Calvin Coolidge, Mark Twain, Helen Hayes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
There are 47 doors in the castle, each different from each other, among other built in wooden furniture.
There are also beautifully crafted cat toys in various rooms. He was known to love cats and had as many as 17 cats living in his castle.
There’s a secret room in the castle but that is unfortunately made inaccessible to the public by the Fire Marshal as there’s only one way in and one way out.
There’s a interesting mirror combination positioned in the main hall room which allowed Gillette to see who his visitor was right from his room at the first floor and decide whether he wanted to meet or skip.
He also had crafted a wine cabinet with a tricky lock system which he used to play trick on his unsuspecting friends, who not knowing the system would feel embarrassed for not being able to open the cabinet door. He had known to made the great Einstein a fool too.
I would definitely recommend this place for a visit if you are in the area and specially if you have young kids.