East Haddam was never a sought after destination, but quickly became one after I first stumbled across this town while driving through. The winding country roads showcase historic homes, scenic river views are plentiful, and charming historic businesses can be seen scattered around. And of course, as a New England town, it wouldn’t be complete without its own little slice of history.
Crossing over a local landmark brings stunning views of the Connecticut River and the beautiful opera house that sits on the edge of the water. Built in 1913, the East Haddam swing bridge spans 899 feet long and is reputed to be the longest of its type in the world. Today, the bridge swings to accommodate river traffic.
The victorian-style Goodspeed Opera House was built in 1876. It was originally designed for passenger and freight service from the basement river level, with a store, offices and a theatre on the upper level. Goodspeed’s death marked the decline of the theater and when river commerce waned, the building was put to a variety of commercial uses including a militia base during World War I and a storage depot for the Connecticut Highway Department in the 1950-60s. The building was acquired by the Goodspeed Opera House Foundation in 1959 and after extensive restoration, it was rededicated as a theatre in 1963. [www.easthaddam.org]
One local piece of history that I loved to see was the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse. Built in 1750, Hale taught here as schoolmaster for the winter session from 1773-1774. After, Nathan Hale moved on from East Haddam to teach at the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse in New London, where he was working when he joined the Continental Army. He was captured and hanged by the British as a spy in September 1776.
The schoolhouse has been relocated and now rests at its present site on a hill overlooking East Haddam village and the Connecticut River. It is now a museum operated by the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. We stumbled across this during the off-season, so we were not able to go inside (although I did get a small peek through the window). Inside are displays of Nathan Hale’s possessions and items of local history. The coronavirus has since followed our visit and it still remains closed for their regular operating season.
Perched high above the Connecticut River Valley, a magnificent castle built of local fieldstone captures the eye of anyone from all angles. Once the private residence of William Gillette, the castle and its surrounding grounds were taken by the Connecticut government after his death and restored to a park with a museum and hiking trails. But it’s not just the odd shape of the castle that gains attention. It’s also the number of oddities that can be found inside, including weird doorknobs, locks, and a system of hidden mirrors for spying on public rooms from the master bedroom. It is unfortunate that we discovered this one in the off-season for tours as well and it remains closed indoors due to the coronavirus. However, the outside of the castle itself and the surrounding views are open and worth a trip!
Gillette’s father was a former U.S. Senator and a staunch crusader for the abolition of slavery. Instead of politics, the younger Gillette was drawn to the stage, where he excelled. By the 1880’s he was a successful playwright, actor and director. He was also an innovator behind the scenes and was known for devising realistic stage settings and special sound and lighting effects. But his most influential role was yet to come. In the mid 1890’s Gillette was approached by Arthur Conan Doyle and asked to adapt Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ stories into a play. Gillette agreed and wrote a play based on Doyle’s character, he also starred as Holmes. Gillette’s portrayal of Holmes was widely successful and brought the actor more fame and significantly more fortune. When he had Gillette Castle built he designed it in a way that would make Holmes proud; it’s described as “a modern madhouse full of mystery, intricate designs, fine craftsmanship and beauty”.
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!