South Central Connecticut: Castles and Submarines

South Central Connecticut: Castles and Submarines

Drive through the country side of South Central Connecticut. The country is very rolling, with many field stone fences. In East Haddam is St Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which has a bell dating from 815 A.D. It is said to be the world’s oldest church bell still in use. The Spanish monastery, from which it comes, was destroyed by Napoleon and the bell was salvaged. It arrived here on a shipload of metal and found a home in this parish church to toll again.

Also in East Haddam is the Goodspeed Theater, in which are performed musicals. Victorian in architecture, the theater overlooks the Connecticut River.

Also overlooking the river is the Gillette Castle. Built between 1914 and 1919, this building built entirely of fieldstone (six million on the property) is an example of the post Victorian Movement, reminiscent of the Prairie School of Chicago. William Gillette (no relation to Gillette Safety Razor Company), once a neighbor of Mark Twain in Hartford, ignored the wishes of his father and became an actor. During his career he wrote and stared in over twenty plays, most notably bringing the role of Sherlock Holmes to the stage. Around the turn of the century he was earning over 0,000 per year. He fell in love with the overlook of the river, which he called the Seventh Sister and proceeded to build this home. Consisting of 24 rooms, the house contains many ingenious inventions thought up by Gillette. Every door and lock is of a different design. He had a special lock on his liquor cabinet that even Albert Einstein or Mark Twain could not figure out how to open. He would silently laugh at them by viewing their frustrations in strategically placed mirrors. He had a small scaled railroad erected on his grounds with over three miles of track, including trestles and a hundred yard tunnel. The house itself has undergone extensive reconstruction and has now reopened to much of its former glory. At five dollars per person it is a bargain to see the tribute of William Gillette. Did I mention the view? Overlooking the Connecticut River and the surrounding countryside, you can see the small ferry crossing the River with passengers and cars.

Old Saybrook is at the tip of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. Once the home of Yale University before it moved to New Haven, it is now a quiet community. In the memorial park are the remnants of an old train roundhouse, a building in which maintenance was performed on the engines. A boardwalk leads out to an estuary and marsh lands with a description of the flora and fauna found there. An interesting plaque gives the history of the Pequot Wars. The tale told that the Pequot started the war with the British and the British finished it off. Is there a third side to the story?

Across the river is Old Lyme, purported to be the home of many ship captains. There is no map designating the historical homes. The locals claim that the town residents want to live in anonymity and keep the tourists away. On the Northern edge of town is Florence Griswold Museum with a collection of American Impressionists. Adjacent is an art academy and museum, which accepts tourists.  Today Lyme has the dubious distinction of being the name of Lyme disease carried by the deer tick.  There goes anonymity.

Further East is Groton, the home of the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, launched in 1954. She and her crew were the first ones to sail under the North Pole. Audio guided tours are available for free aboard the sub. She is the only nuclear submarine on display in the world. Groton is also the home of the Coast Guard Academy.  

On the grounds is the submarine museum, with displays of submarines used since Bushnell invented the Turtle during the revolutionary war. Hand propelled he drove the sub into New York Harbor to blow up the English ship Eagle, but was unable to attach the charges. The museum has many hands on displays on life in a submarine, from the attack room, the conning tower with periscope, torpedo room, sonar and radar. Outside are one man and two man subs used by Italy, Japan, and other countries in war.

John Pelley is a Geriatric Gypsy. He is retired from the rat race of working. He is a full-time RVer, who ran away from home. He began our travels on the East Coast and, like the migrating birds, seek the warmth of the seasons He has discovered volunteering with the National Park System. He has a CD he has recorded of Native American flute music., A Day with Kokopelli. For pictures, links, and more information visit http://www.jmpelley.org.