a castle by the river

6.23.21 ~ Gillette Castle State Park
East Haddam, Connecticut

Another gorgeous day of mild temperatures and low humidity presented itself on Wednesday, so off we went to visit a small castle in Connecticut. The last time we were there was in 1981, when the gypsy moth infestation was in full swing. 40 years ago — where does the time go? My memories are of trees stripped of their leaves and our three-year old son stomping on every single caterpillar in his path. And there were many. It was slow going…

Wiliam Gillette as Sherlock Holmes lithograph
1900 Library of Congress Collection

The castle sits high above the Connecticut River. It was designed by William Gillette (1853-1937), an American stage actor who famously portrayed Sherlock Holmes in multiple productions. He lived in his castle from 1919 until his death. We couldn’t get any indoor pictures but it was a very enjoyable and informative tour. (We were required to wear masks inside the castle and the visitor center.) The man owned 15 cats and had designed many built-in features to entertain them, like a round table with wooden toys dangling off the edge.

Connecticut River, viewed from the castle

Looking at the river we spotted the ferry crossing from Hadlyme to Chester, which brought back another memory. One day when the caterpillar crusher was a teenager he wanted to visit a certain obscure comic book store, far from home and on the other side of the river. We went by the interstate but I decided we would take a side trip on the way home to locate an ancestor’s gravestone at a cemetery on this side of the river, and that we would take the car over the river on the little ferry. It was an adventure!

Chester/Hadlyme Ferry

Gillette also designed a short-line, narrow gauge train with three miles of track on the grounds of his 184-acre estate.

From the 1920s through the ‘30s, Gillette’s personal railroad amused visiting dignitaries from Albert Einstein to Calvin Coolidge as it carried them across bridges, trestles, and through a tunnel Gillette designed himself. The 18-inch-gauge railroad included electric- and steam-powered locomotives, two Pullman cars, and an observation car. In the 1940s the tracks and train engines were sold to Lake Compounce in Bristol. They were donated back in the 1990s and a restored passenger car is currently on display at the castle’s visitor center.
~ Connecticut History website

“Grand Central Station”
???mysterious substance hanging from ceiling of train station???
looking out from the train station towards the river
Gillette Castle from a different angle
stone wall along a driveway
entrance to ???
stone wall along a walkway

Tim spotted a bird high up in a tall tree and I did the best I could with the telephoto lens and no tripod! My first pictures of an indigo bunting!!! A lovely way to end the visit.

indigo bunting

But that wasn’t the end of the outing. On our way to the castle I had spotted a picturesque body of water and Tim had spotted a place where we could pull off the road to look at it. So on the way back we stopped. There were no signs so it took a bit of investigating when I got home to identify it.

6.23.21 ~ Whalebone Cove
Lyme, Connecticut
freshwater tidal marsh
dome-shaped beaver lodge of sticks and wood
lovely summer colors
more summer colors

And then I spotted what looked to be part of the bark on that dying tree in the first picture above. But when I zoomed in it turned out to be a bird! The bird never moved, except to turn its head, the whole time we were there. Flitting around it were two other birds who never landed for more than a second, but I managed to get the last picture below of one of them. I was able to steady my arms by leaning on the car. With help from the good folks at the What’s This Bird? Facebook group it seems to be a fledgling barn swallow and its parents.

juvenile barn swallow
barn swallow

We stopped at our favorite restaurant on our way home again and wondered how many more of these delightful days we will have before the heat and humidity return and settle in…

24 thoughts on “a castle by the river”

  1. This castle is fabulous. Such a pretty location, too. I like the train with three miles of track idea. That’s unique. I, too, wonder about that stone arch entrance to… the woods? Heaven? A lovely place to visit, thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. You’re welcome, Ally. The arch seemed to be an entrance to a woodsy walk, perhaps down to the river, but having bad luck with poison ivy lately we decided not to explore, although it was so tempting. It was so nice having so much lush greenery to enjoy from the sidewalks.

  2. Love your and Tim’s willingness to get up and go on these day trips. I’m curious about the eccentric Gillette and wondering where the money came from. Same family as Gillette razors? Nice pic of the bunting!

    1. He may have been distantly related to the Gillette razor family. His father was a lawyer and a US senator, a Yale graduate, so I imagine the family had some money. Wikipedia states, “Early in his career, Gillette realised that it would be in the triple role of playwright, director, and actor that he could make the most money.”

    1. It was a journey into the past, even inside the castle you could imagine him entertaining his guests with his creative gadgets and unusual interests!

  3. Brought back of my many visits to this castle, on lovely sunny days like the one you enjoyed. Thanks also for the birds you capture and share with us. Love, Liz

    1. So happy this post brought back so many pleasant memories for you, Liz. I have to thank Tim for spotting the indigo bunting! It was its song that made him look up. 🙂 Much love to you and hugs!

    1. Thank you, Donna! It’s funny how the birds seem to show up when I’m not expecting to see any, and then when I go looking for them I come away with nothing. 🙂 I’m happy Tim was being so observant that day!

  4. What a fun outing taking advantage of this delightful spell of cool, dry weather. Sadly, all too soon it’ll change as we head into yet another heat wave and it is still only June. Remember when we only got one or two a year and they were in late July or August? Now it is every other week!
    We went to Gillette Castle when our boys were small as well, though I don’t remember much about it!
    I loved that you spotted an indigo bunting, a rare sighting around here. And that juvenile barn swallow is adorable with its short, stubby tail. 🙂

    1. I do remember… this June is on its way to be the hottest June on record so far, in spite of the cool days we had. We put on the air-conditioning yesterday and are doing our best to enjoy the great indoors, but it’s hard to know how ominously hot it is out there. We had our first heat wave June 5-9. Incredible. Not looking forward to August. And we’re not in as bad shape as they are out west. I wonder how climate change will be affecting the birds? This was the first indigo bunting I’ve ever seen, and my whole being is still humming with the excitement of it! 🙂 We had a flock of about 10 barn swallows at the beach Friday, another thing I haven’t seen before.

  5. Ooh, I’ve never seen an Indigo Bunting before — what a beauty! When my son was little, he LOVED trains, and we visited many railroad museums, road trains, and such. We’d have loved seeing this one you’ve featured here. Fifteen cats??? Bet this guy didn’t have any mice, huh?!!

    1. I had never seen an indigo bunting before, either. I couldn’t believe how deeply blue it was! Our sons would have enjoyed talking trains. My grandfather set up a model train village in his office after he retired, much to my son’s delight. Did you ever go the Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire? I love cats but I can’t imagine paying attention to 15 of them!

      1. I’ve never been to NH!! However, there’s a railroad museum, complete with a steam locomotive, not far from here, and my son loved riding that. As well as zoo trains. And one of our downtown merchants keeps a model railroad display up year-round — it’s a huge draw!

        1. Sounds like all the railroad stuff we have around here, from model railroad displays to living history railroad museums. One year we even took the Amtrak train from Connecticut to Disney World in Florida. What parents do to fulfill their kids’ dreams. 😉

  6. What a nice day-long getaway for you and Tim. I liked this castle and all its stone buildings that surround it, especially “Grand Central Station” which was the most-unique to me. All this stonework in the modern age we live in seems incredible to me – you too Barbara? You’re like me and taking advantage of those days devoid of heat and humidity to get out and enjoy yourself. We’ve had a horrible spate of rainy days, even severe weather and will have storms overnight plus rain daily and storms every afternoon through this coming Friday. Thank goodness for our nature walks to be interspersed with what is not Mother Nature’s finest work. I’ve never seen an Indigo Bunting. I did recognize the juvenile swallow (even with no tail) as the parents nest in the rafters of the covered bridge at Heritage Park. They zoom and buzz around so fast, it is rare for me to get a shot of them resting.

    1. I have to admit, after visiting Blarney Castle in Ireland this one seemed very small and less remarkable, although it was a lot newer and had more modern ammenities, like bathrooms. 😉 It must have been fun for Gillette to let his imagination run wild and he must have enjoyed the beautiful scenery surrounding him. I wonder what it’s like in the fall.

      I heard there was some flash flooding in your area — I hope you’re safe and sound. What crazy weather!

      It’s funny, all winter long I was hoping to see a snow bunting and never did, but summer decided to send me an indigo bunting instead. 💙 Thanks for confirming the identity of the juvenile barn swallow. The tail was confusing the Facebook group but because the parents were flitting around it they decided it had to be a barn swallow. Busy bird parents! Stuck inside for now, hope to get out again by Friday…

      1. We have no castles around here that I know of so seeing yours was a treat Barbara. I hope you get back there in the Fall when the leaves are turning colors.

        I’ve not seen a snow bunting or indigo bunting either – it was your lucky day for sure. I try all the time to get pictures of the barn swallows. They are very quick and dive and swoop around the covered bridge at Heritage Park, then build their nests in the rafters. I finally got a picture recently of a barn swallow sitting on a rope securing a racing shell used by the local rowing club down on the Detroit River. Usually I come home with shots of the sky and no swallows.

        Thanks for thinking of me Barbara. We have had some really horrible weather and I have been lucky to remain unscathed by damage, though we have been on the fringe. A week ago Sunday we had three severe storms and a tornado in my region. Then just this past Friday we had this all-day rain on Friday and it continued into the overnight which flooded many roads as several pumping stations failed. People had seven inches of water in their basements and it flooded the expressways with thousands of vehicles bobbing around in the water. The water has still not receded as of tonight despite the pumping stations all being online again. Our Governor has declared a state of emergency. I sure don’t like this new norm for weather at all. We have a storm brewing right now and if it gets any worse with the rumbling, I’m going to pull the plug on the computer and shut down for the night. Good luck with getting your inside ancestry research projects done.

        1. 🤣 That just happened to me. Some swallows showed up at the beach the other day and I had to delete about 40 pictures of the sky. (I’ve never seen them there before…)

          I’m relieved to hear that you’re okay. It was disconcerting seeing the video on the news of those cars bobbing around in the flooded streets… But I told myself you probably weren’t out there driving in bad weather in the first place… I also unplug my laptop during thunderstorms.

          1. Thank you Barbara – we had another storm yesterday afternoon. Our area was NOT supposed to have more than just rain, but I was sitting here at the table and the lights dimmed then flickered. I thought they were reducing the power – not good for appliances. We’d not had any power issues from any of these storms, so I was worried. I raised the themostat to shut off the A/C before it quit in mid-cycle from no power or reduced power and e-mailed my boss I was shutting down as the weather radio came on for a severe storm warning, not just a watch – that quickly!. As the laptop was shutting down the internet went out. That was a bad storm but I didn’t lose power, but many did and they’re still restoring power for those that lost it last Friday! And a DTE lineman was electrocuted yesterday after he fell off a ladder onto a live wire. A woman at that house had just opened the window and called out to him to be careful as there was a severe storm warning and rain on the way and he said “thanks ma’am, I’m used to it, I’ve been a lineman a long time and am a seasoned pro.” She said “okay” then heard a thud as he fell a minute later. That scenario would play over and over in my mind – how terrible. I feel badly for her and the lineman’s family/co-workers.

            We had storms again last night and I shut down and went to bed. I didn’t walk this morning as it’s oppressive and wanted to catch up here.

            Those barn swallows are not only fast but they are somewhat iridescent, so if you get a picture of them in the sun, you often get a glare … can’t win for losin’!

          2. Sometimes it seems like we have just as much trouble with summer weather as we do with winter weather! What happened to that lineman is horrifying! And the woman who saw it, I feel so badly for her, too. How a life can be ended so suddenly…. I hope the oppressive humidity departs for a while so we can get back outside for a few days.

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