Gillette Castle State Park is a 184-acre park with meticulous walkways, covered bridges, tunnels, camping, and a medieval-style castle. It sits on top of the Seven Sister Hills in western Connecticut, and William Hooker Gillette, its designer, was a famous American actor renowned for his stage-role of Sherlock Holmes.
The park’s main feature is the castle, Gillette’s former home, which sits on the Seventh Sister Mountain and has a marvelous bird’s-eye view of the river valley far below. Constructed of local fieldstone and supported by a steel framework, it is complete with an array of peculiar features that reflect this character's role as the crime solving detective. It was designed by Gillette, took five years to build, and was completed in 1919.
The grounds were originally designed to entertain guests with hiking trails, goldfish ponds, and even a narrow-gauge railroad with both steam and electric engines. While the tracks have since been removed and replaced by gravel walking paths, the engines have been preserved and remain on display at the park. Today, a visitor center, picnic shelter, and concession stand (weekends and holidays) are open from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Access to the castle is only available at this time, but the park grounds remain open throughout the year from dawn to dusk.
Gillette died in 1937, and the executors of his will sold the castle and adjoining properties to the State of Connecticut in 1943. His will specifically did not want the property to come under the ownership "of some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded," so this transfer of ownership is believed to honor his wishes.
There is a designated public camping area for those traveling along the Connecticut River that is available from May 1st through September. Reservations are required and must be made by mailing an application form to the Gillette State Pak at least two weeks before the intended stay. There are also more camping areas at the nearby Hurd and Selden Neck State Parks for those continuing their river journey.
Families who would like to make regular visits can purchase a Heritage Passport. This seasonal pass allows two adults and up to four children unlimited access to this park as well as Dinosaur and Fort Trumbull State Parks.
The geology of this park has been shaped by the nearby Honey Hill fault. Distinct boudinage formations that look like pinch-and-swell features make up much of the pegmatite that is a direct product of this old fault. This rock, however, is different than the schist that was primarily used for building the castle and the surrounding structures.
Gillette Castle was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.