High over the Connecticut River sits an estate that is probably the closest anyone in the continental United States will get to 221B Baker Street.
It’s the former estate of William Gillette, a Hartford, Connecticut native, who became famous for portraying Sherlock Holmes onstage in the early 1900s. He’s the one who began using the curved pipe that’s become so prevalent in our collective image of Holmes.
After spending a great deal of time directing the building of his castle and the surrounding grounds, and then enjoying it, Gillette died in 1936. The castle was then purchased by the state in 1943 and made into a state park.
As someone who bought The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by W.S. Baring-Gould at the age of thirteen, once I found out this place existed, I had to visit.
I was uncertain if the four kids would like it, however. They’re not the Holmes geek that I am.
Happily, they had a great time.
The grounds of the castle are gorgeous and the view of the Connecticut River Valley below is spectacular. I can only imagine the glorious foliage in the fall.
Walking paths dot the one-hundred-eighty-four acre estate, many of them part of what used to be a railroad that Gillette had specially built to take visitors around his estate. The steam engine has been preserved and displayed at the on-site visitor’s center.
But the biggest and most fascinating surprise is inside the castle.
Gillette designed it and most of its contents and it certainly has the unique flavor of male eccentric. Holmes himself would be proud.
All the woodwork is hand-hewn southern white oak. There are forty-seven doors in the castle, with no two exactly the same.
And on the third floor, there is a library where visitors can “meet” the owner in the form of an actor portraying Gillette.
The kids, from teens to nine-year-olds, loved this, especially since they had a chance to ask him questions. The actors are not there full time, however, so I’d recommend calling ahead to find out when they’re available.
The castle is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Memorial Day through Columbus Day and the grounds are open year-round. There’s also a snack bar, picnic area, and the visitor’s center.
Additional information is available at the official website: