67 River Road
East Haddam, Connecticut
This, truly unique residence was commissioned and designed by William Gillette. Gillette was an actor who is most famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on stage.
Gillette’s estate, called Seventh Sister, was built in 1914 on a 184-acre parcel on top of a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette’s wife died long before he designed this castle, so it is the ultimate Man Cave. When he died he specified in his will that it not be purchased by any “blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded”. The relatives agreed that they would sell for less than it was worth as long as they could abide by his wishes. Fortunately, in 1946, the state of Connecticut was able to come up with the money, and only $4000 less than asking. The state renamed the home Gillette’s Castle and the estate as Gillette Castle State Park. The estate was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
The wood work was all designed by Gillette himself, although actually carved by others. The wood carvers must have thought they had tripped into their dream jobs.
The grounds once had a railroad track with a working steam engine and an electric engine that visitors could ride on. The train system was also designed by Gillette. The track was eventually pulled up and converted into walking trails.
Built of local fieldstone supported by a steel framework, it took twenty men five years (1914-1919), to complete the main structure.
The woodwork within the castle is hand-hewn southern white oak. Of the forty-seven doors within the structure, there are no two exactly the same. And each door has an external latch intricately carved of wood.
Gillette was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1853, the son of former U.S. Senator Francis Gillette and his wife Elizabeth Daggett Hooker Gillette, a descendent of Thomas Hooker, the founder of Hartford. He attended classes at numerous colleges including Trinity, Yale, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and College of the City of New York, but never received a degree. In addition to his successful stage career Gillette wrote two novels, invented many trick stage props and lighting techniques, and often produced and directed the plays in which he appeared. His last performance was at the Bushnell in Hartford in 1936, one year before his death.