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William Hooker Gillette, Gillette Castle

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Visiting Information

The park is open daily from 8 am to sunset year-round, and the castle is open from 10 am to 5 pm between Memorial Day Weekend and Columbus Day; there is an entrance fee but the public is encouraged to visit.



About the Artist/Site

Born into a family that included a U.S. Senator (his father), and one of the founders of Connecticut’s major city, Hartford (his mother was a descendant of founder Thomas Hooker), young William had always been interested in the theatre, but his patrician family did not share his enthusiasm. Nevertheless, after leaving home he studied acting at various eastern colleges, including Yale and Harvard, but never received a degree. He did have some success, and earned some renown for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in Boston. He was also known as an author, playwright, and inventor of special lighting and stagecraft techniques. He continued to act until the year before his death, although he had “retired” almost twenty years earlier (he staged four revival tours during the interim).

Gillette is probably now better known as the creator and inspiration behind Gillette’s Castle, a twenty-four room mansion constructed on his 184-acre estate. The building is in the style of a medieval castle; it and most of its furnishings (including built-in couches, a movable table on tracks, and light switches of carved wood) were designed by Gillette himself, and he apparently kept a close watch on the twenty men who worked for five years (1914-1919) to construct it. The building is of local fieldstone supported by a steel infrastructure. He moved in shortly after his semi-retirement began, and continued to supervise the final details of the meticulous craftsmanship of the interior. Of particular interest is the southern white oak hand-hewn woodwork; of the forty-seven doors, none is the same, and each has an intricately-carved wooden latch. Other quirks include hidden mirrors from which Gillette could watch the castle’s public rooms from his master bedroom.

Gillette never married and had no heirs. Following his death and the somewhat lengthy probate of his estate, the property was purchased by the State of Connecticut in 1943, and has become a state park. His will had given specific instructions to make sure that the property was not purchased by “some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded,” so no doubt Gillette would have been pleased at this public appreciation of his efforts.  The estate was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Between 1998 and 2002 the park was closed for restoration valued at 11 million dollars; enhancements included a museum, hiking trails, and a picnic area.

The park is open daily from 8 am to sunset year-round, and the castle is open from 10 am to 5 pm between Memorial Day Weekend and Columbus Day; there is an entrance fee but the public is encouraged to visit.

~Jo Farb Hernández





 



Map and site information

67 River Road
East Haddam, Connecticut, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 41.427166 / -72.428672

Visiting Information

The park is open daily from 8 am to sunset year-round, and the castle is open from 10 am to 5 pm between Memorial Day Weekend and Columbus Day; there is an entrance fee but the public is encouraged to visit.



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