Visit to: Gillette Castle State Park, Essex CT
(This is not strictly CG, but hopefully everyone will enjoy the photos below!)
During a recent East Coast trip - thankfully before the current crippling heatwave/storms! - we visited the NY/CT area. We drove from USMA West Point (highly recommended) to Old Lyme CT where our friends live. For fun, we took the tourist excursion Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Cruise in Essex CT. This area is about 2 hours (120 miles) west of Boston MA.
The train follows, and the riverboat cruises on, the Connecticut River. Called the last unspoiled river in the state (it was too shallow for commerce), the vistas are scenic - must be fabulous in autumn when the trees change color! The boat goes by Gillette Castle high on one of the seven hills.
Intrigued, the next day we drove into the state park to visit the Castle. If you have never been there, or have not visited since it reopened in 2002 after a major restoration, this is a wonderful stop to combine with anything else in the southeastern part of CT, such as Mystic Seaport or the incredible Peyquot Museum. You can reach the park by car, bike, or hiking. If you need to cross the river, a ferry takes cars and passengers for a very modest fee, and you then make your way up the hill to the Castle itself.
The new Visitors Center is nicely done, and you shouldn't miss the outstanding 15 min. film introducing William Gillette - actor, playwright, and inventor. In his day he was the iconic Sherlock Holmes of the early 20th century. Many of the mannerisms we identify with this fictional detective were actually created by Gillette, not by author Arthur Conan Doyle.
Gillette made a great deal of money and bought a 184-acre estate with views of the river, in 1914. The house, which took five years to build, was his own design, meant to evoke a romantic ruin. The woodwork inside is marvelous; every one of the 40 doors is unique with its own decorative yet effective wooden locking mechanism, all of them designed by Gillette. It's not large overall, so doesn't take a lot of time to walk through. You can't go backwards, however; the traffic pattern is designed to move people forward only. So take your time to look at the rooms you're in, before you move on!
Outside, there isn't a lot of landscaping but there are many good hiking trails. Some of them use the route of Gillette's second love, a quarter-scale working railroad that brought visitors up and down the hill. The railroad tracks were mostly taken out when the cars were sold to another railway line after Gillette's death. But the rustic open-air rail station he built just ouside his home remains standing, and is photographed below.
The beautiful archway by the stone pond, bottom of the hill as you approach the Castle:
Gillette Castle exterior, with kalmia in bloom:
Stone wall detail. The walls are extensive and dry-stacked. Not sure if the mortar holding the top vertical stones was added later to keep kids from walking on top of them!
Arched gateway to one of the hiking trails and outbuildings:
Gillette's little railway station:
Close-up - notice the plaque with the station's name!
View of the Connecticut River, from inside the train station (which is now empty except for a few picnic tables):
Outside the house, just off the main terrace, was this colorful foliage planting:
Another view of the river, from an upstairs balcony:
Lastly, a gorgeous view of the Connecticut River from the main terrace: