By Carla Charter
With the recent wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, many have become fascinated with all things royal. However, if visiting Buckingham Palace is not in the travel plans this summer, the following New England castles may be a more reasonable alternative to consider for a warm weather day trip.
GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK
EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT
This medieval looking fortress is actually a twenty-four-room mansion owned by actor, director and playwright William Hooker Gillette. Gillette was best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on stage and in a 1916 silent film.
The Castle itself is built of local fieldstone supported by a steel framework. It took twenty men five years to complete the main structure. Gillette designed most of the castles contents personally including built-in couches, a moveable table on tracks and carved wooden light switches. The woodwork within the house is all hand-hewn southern white oak and of the forty-seven doors within the castle, no two are exactly the same. Each door also has a handsome external latch carved of wood.
His walking paths were constructed with near-vertical steps, stone-arch bridges and wooded trestles spanning forty feet. Other outdoor attractions include a vegetable cellar, the railroad station (Grand Central), and Gillette’s goldfish pond. The 184-acre property is now owned by the state of Connecticut.
More information can be found about Gillette Castle State Park at www.ct.gov/deep/gillettecastle
Castle Tucker, which overlooks the Sheepscot River and Wiscassett Harbor, was built in 1807 by Silas Lee, a Chief Justice of the court of Common Pleas in Lincoln, County and a U.S. Congressman. The home was sold in 1814 after the death of Silas due to spotted fever and debts caused to the Jeffersonian Embargo which Lee had invested in.
Mollie and Richard Tucker bought the house in 1858 and lived there with their five children. At the turn of the twentieth century they redecorated and furnished in the Victorian style. They also created a circular driveway with land and flowers in the center known as the pinwheel garden.
More information on Castle Tucker can be found at www.historicnewengland.org/property/castle-tucker/
HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM
Hammond Castle was built in the late 1920’s by scientist, inventor and art connoisseur John Hayes Hammond Jr. The castle boasts a covered courtyard which is home to a variety of tropical plants with an intricate water system Hammond designed to ensure the right humidity for these plants.
Another unique feature of the castle is a large pipe organ designed and built by a collection of world famous organ builders over 10 years. The organ has 8.400 pipes and is the largest installed in a residence in this hemisphere. Although Hammond himself could not play the organ he did invent a device placed in the organ which would record the music being played so it could be replayed later. Some of the greatest organists in the world have played the organ at Hammond Castle.
Hammond’s castle inspired another famous residence as well, The Cloisters, now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was built and owned originally by John D. Rockefeller who was inspired by Hammond castle.
More information on Hammond Castle can be found at www.hammondcastle.org
CASTLE IN THE CLOUDS/ LUCKNOW ESTATE
MOULTONBOROUGH, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Castle in the Clouds, located high in the Ossipee Mountain Range, was built in 1913-1914 by Tom and Olive Plant. Originally known as the Lucknow Estate, since opening to the public in 1959, it has been known as the Castle in the Clouds. The estate is an example of Arts and Craft Architecture in New England expressing the movements philosophy of being in harmony with nature.
Plant made his fortune in the shoe manufacturing industry and retired a millionaire at age 51 in 1910. In 1913 and newly married he focused on the creation of Lucknow Estate, purchasing land known as the Ossipee Mountain Park and accumulating land from the Ossipee Mountains all the way to Lake Winnipesaukee, a total of 6,300 acres.
The house also features a number of technological innovations of the early 20th century including central vacuuming, ammonia brine refrigeration, and intercom systems. and vintage apparel adorns the house in closets.
After a series of failed investments, from the mid-1920’s to the great depression, Plant attempted to sell his mountaintop estate. No buyer was found and the couple continued to live at the estate until Tom Plant’s death in 1941 when it was sold.
More information on Castle in the Clouds can be found at www.castleintheclouds.org
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
Chateau-Sur Mer, one of the famed Newport mansions was the most palatial residence in Newport from its completion in 1852 until the Vanderbilt mansion was built in the 1890’s. The mansion was built for China Trade Merchant William Shepard Wetmore.
Among the special events held at the mansion was the “Fete Champetre” an elaborate country picnic for over 2,000 guests held in 1857 and the debutante ball for Miss Edith Wetmore in 1889.The parties held at the mansion ushered in the Gilded Age of Newport.
Wetmore died in 1862, leaving the bulk of his fortune to his son, George Peabody Wetmore, and an allowance to his daughter Annie Derby Wetmore. George who served as Governor of Rhode Island and a United States Senator, married Edith Keteltas in 1869. The couple had two daughters Edith and Maude who never married.
The house was purchased by the Newport Mansion Preservation Society in 1969 and was named a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
More information on Chateau-Sur-Mer can be found at www.newportmansions.org/explore/chateau-sur-mer
Wilson Castle was originally built by Doctor Johnson, a Vermonter who went to England to study medicine. While there he met and married a wealthy lady of the aristocracy. After seven-and a-half years of planning and construction the couple’s castle was completed in 1885 for the sum of $1,300,000. The couple only lived in the castle for a brief time. From the 1880’s until 1939 the castle was bought and sold numerous times.
In 1939, a radio engineer named Herbert Lee Wilson, a pioneer in the AM radio industry, who built radio stations all over the world, purchased the castle. He installed radio station WHWB in the old stable, which remained in operation until recently. In 1941, when the United States joined World War II, Wilson enlisted in the Army Signal Corps, from which he retired in the 1950’s as rank of Colonel. He retired to the castle and opened it up for tours in 1962. The home is now owned by Wilson’s granddaughter Denise Davine.
More information on Wilson Castle can be found at www.wilsoncastle.com/