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Gillette Castle & The Connection With Bristol

Electric Locomotive from Gillette Castle State Park to Lake Compounce in Bristol | Photo courtesy
Jonathan Lewis

Gillette Castle State Park straddles the towns of East Haddam and Lyme, sitting high above the Connecticut River.

The castle was originally a private residence commissioned and designed by William Gillette, an American actor who is most famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on stage.

Gillette lived at this estate from 1919–1937. The estate was purchased by the state of Connecticut in 1943.

Gillette was particularly fond of his 3-mile-long narrow gauge railroad with an elaborate system of switches, trestles, bridges, turnouts, and a tunnel.

Visitors, which reportedly including Albert Einstein, Helen Hayes, and Charlie Chaplin, could ride the railroad around the estate and speed along the 100-foot-plus cliffs of the Connecticut River.

Johnson City Press reports after Mr. Gillette passed away in 1937, at the age of 83, his train was moved to Lake Compounce in Bristol.

There it operated for nearly 50 years. Since then, the locomotive has been returned to the park grounds and is on display at the castle visitor center.

The remaining tracks were pulled up and the roadbed converted into walking trails.

The engines were donated to the park in 1992, and are now on display at the Visitors’ Center on the grounds.

Gillette’s “Grand Central Station” train stop still remains along with a replica on its roof of a metal cat figure.

The grounds also contained a root cellar, walking paths with near-vertical steps, a two-story gable-ended vernacular dwelling for servants, a small period barn, stone-arch bridges, wooded trestles spanning up to 40 ft, and fish pond.

Gillette park is located at 67 River Road in East Haddam and consists of the castle –located in Lyme — and its grounds.

It receives 350,000 annual visitors. It reopened in 2002 after a four-year, $11 million restoration. It now includes a visitors’ center and museum, hiking trails, and a picnic are

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