There are really two parts to Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam, Connecticut. There is the castle itself and then there is the 184 acre estate that reaches the shores of the Connecticut River. Parking is free at the park, but there is a $6 fee for adults and $2 fee for children ages 6-12 if you want to explore inside the castle.
William Gillette, most known as Sherlock Holmes, designed the castle and over saw it’s construction from 1914-1919. It has a steel framework that is completely covered with local fieldstone. Gillette’s idea behind the castle was to have it appear to be like a medieval castle overlooking the Connecticut River. The woodworking inside the castle is amazing. Hand-hewn southern white oak was used throughout the castle and it could take you hours to examine all of the details. For example, none of the 47 doors is the same. Each includes wood latches and designs including one door knob that looks like a Colt 4 Chamber gun in honor of Gillette’s hometown of Hartford. You have to have the door open, looking at both sides to recognize the gun. It took a little while but we also figured out that all of the light switches were made of wood.
Gillette Castle also acts as a museum showcasing letters Gillette wrote, paintings of the actor and playwright, and other collectibles. There is now even a room dedicated to Gillette’s beloved houseboat Aunt Polly where he lived while the castle was being built. Unfortunately, Aunt Polly succumbed to fire, but some of her relics were saved and restored.
After touring the castle we headed out on the trails in search of the remains of Aunt Polly. We did get a little distracted and decided to follow the carriage road down to Ferry Rd and marvel at the stone work lining the carriage road. Near what would have been the entrance to the carriage road there was a beautiful walkway that visitors would have taken had they walked over to the castle for a visit.
We got back on track and headed down to the banks of the Connecticut River. The river was running high and we were not able to see any evidence of Aunt Polly. There were some picnic tables and charcoal grills making this spot great for watching the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry and other boats make their way along the river. We ventured on a little more and found large cliffs that appeared to be were the fieldstone for the castle came from. Running low on time we headed back up the trail and then carriage road to the visitor’s center for some ice cream. Across from the visitor’s center and food stand is the old vegetable cellar built right into the hill.
Not wanting his house to be the only exciting thing, Gillette also built a 3 mile long narrow gauge railroad on his property. Most of the railroad is gone today and replaced with hiking and walking paths. You will get to go through tunnels and over trestles. Mosey back toward the castle and enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the tables inside the old railroad station (Grand Central Station). Their are an abundance of nice shaded areas to enjoy a picnic and take a walk with the family.
Gillette Castle State Park
67 River Road
East Haddam, CT 06423