A Great Christmas Drive Destination: Gillette State Park in Connecticut

gc 2©Travel Photo Interact – Place your cursor over any photo to enhance it.

Prelude to Christmas

At the turn of the 20th century, William Gillette was a renowned American actor and playwright. In 1914 he purchased a scenic 184-acre plot of land that overlooked the majestic Connecticut River in East Haddam, Connecticut.

gc 1On a ridge at the site, Gillette constructed a magnificent hand-tooled stone castle where he hoped to enjoy his retirement in the solitude of his estate.

Through the years, the strange-looking edifice on the high bluff became known as Gillette’s Castle. Today the castle is a Connecticut State Park and is open to the public.

Join us on a special tour, at a particularly wonderful time of year — the holiday season in New England.

Christmas in Connecticut

gc 4We arrived at Gillette’s Castle just before it was to open to the public for Christmas. We made arrangements with the state to have the privilege of photographing the castle just after the staff had put the final touches on the holiday trimmings.

gc 6With the exception of a ranger, we were alone in the vast 24-room castle. As we photographed the rooms, we sensed an inexplicable aura of peace and tranquility about the place, possibly actuated by some manifestation of gentle ghosts of bygone Christmases.

Past reasons to decorate

John Gillette had entertained many theater and important holiday guests during his nearly 20-years of residence at the castle.  He passed away while living at the castle three months after the Christmas of 1936. He was 83.

gc 5A most unusual home

There is much to discover here that is not immediately obvious. It is reputed that no nails were used in the construction of Gillette’s Castle – ingenious if true. Beams are held into place with large iron rods, stone is used as an art form as well as an engineering necessity.

gc 7Each room in the castle is like a character in one of Gillette’s plays. Light streams through the fretted windows of every chamber, illuminating each to a warm yuletide mood.

gc 8One curious mystery is why Gillette used hospital style white metal beds throughout his castle. 

gc 59A visit to Gillette Castle during the winter holiday season is a step across the threshold of Christmas past. It’s an introspective experience that we highly recommend.

If you go

gcc 2The park is at 67 River Road in East Haddam, Connecticut. Check out the website *here*

gc 1aFor more ideas about what to see and do in Connecticut check out www.ctvisit.com

For more of our joyous holiday experiences in Connecticut, click here.

Happy travels!

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Travel  travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2018 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © Judy Bayliff

 

 

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How to Plan a Storybook “Christmas in Connecticut”

We originally researched and published this article in 2012, and it has proven to be a winter holiday favorite among our readers ever since. We believe there is magic in the air in the small towns of Connecticut at Christmas time. See if you agree. Here is our story:

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In 1945, Hollywood coined the phrase “Christmas in Connecticut” after the movie of the same name. Since that time, romanticists around the world have dreamed of spending at least one winter holiday in a quaint Connecticut hamlet complete with a town common crowned with freshly fallen snow and carolers strolling by storefronts and elder homes.

The scene that is presently in your mind’s eye is not a figment from a Currier and Ives print – it actually exists – and we found it.

Our research

We spoke with tourism friends and officials in Connecticut and asked for the names of towns that would fit the homey Christmas characteristics of Bedford Falls, a fictitious town in another popular holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Arriving in winter

We landed at JFK airport on a cold day in early December. We rented a car and headed for nearby Connecticut at a time when many small towns and villages throughout the area are preparing for the upcoming holiday season.

Janet Serra, the Executive Director of the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Anne Lee, the Executive Director of the Central Connecticut Regional Tourism District provided us with valuable holiday tips for our project. They also gave us several places to consider. After reviewing what each location had to offer by way of Christmas spirit and activities, we settled on the little town of Madison.

Driving to Madison

First settled in 1650, Madison was renamed for President James Madison and incorporated in 1826. Madison is a pleasant little community along historic Route 1, the Boston Post Road in the “Connecticut Shoreline Area.” The town lies approximately equidistant between New York City and Boston. Yale University is just 20 minutes away.

By the time we arrived in Madison, the small shops that make up the bulk of retailers in the village center were ready for the holidays. Most were sporting holiday decorations and touting special sales – many to benefit local charities and civic projects. 

The Tidewater Inn

Before we walked the entire town, we decided to check into our chosen lodging for our time in Madison. We had searched for a place that was like a relative’s warm and inviting home – an inn that properly fit into our pastoral Christmas picture. The Tidewater Inn (circa 1928) is a bed and breakfast that proved to be exactly what we wanted, and it was an easy walk to downtown Madison.

Meet the Innkeeper

Congenial Victoria Kolyvas, is the owner of the Tidewater Inn, and she was the perfect personality to help us with an itinerary that would give us a flavor for all the seasonal activities and events that would be taking place in and around Madison during our brief stay. She pretty much planned our visit for us, and we could not be more grateful. We will also mention right here and now that Viki is a superb host and cook!

Innkeeper Kolyvas already had the Tidewater spruced up for the holidays. A beautifully decorated tree sat next to a cheery fire in the hearth in the dining/tea-room.

We ate some bountiful breakfasts and had friendly afternoon chats accompanied by local wines and cheese at a large table in that same room.

Staying at the Tidewater Inn is very much like going to grandma’s house for Christmas. It provides a feeling of sanctuary – of returning – coming home. Each of the nine guestrooms is pleasantly decorated with beautiful antique furnishings and other tasteful décor. Our room was cozy and warm, and we slumbered each night in luxurious comfort.

The events of Madison

After a sumptuous gourmet breakfast at the Tidewater, we took our air with a brisk walk to the center of Madison. We visited a number of shops and craft fairs and found one event particularly delightful – the “Décor Encore” at St. Margaret’s Church. It was advertised as the place to find “previously loved Christmas decorations revived and ready for a new home.” The fair also featured beautiful homemade quilts for sale. What a treat!

Parade day

In early December, the Madison Chamber of Commerce has a homespun Holiday Parade that brings out the entire citizenry.

Some colorful participants and unusual costumes and floats gave us big smiles. It was a wonderfully crisp winter day, perfect for this wholesome family entertainment.

Santa, his wife, and a comely elf stopped by a local café to chat with the kiddies. Donations for the needy of non-perishable food items were accepted to help the Madison Food Pantry.

We also dropped by the local bookstore to watch Santa Letter Writing – great fun.

Tour of Madison historic inns

During parade day, the Tidewater Inn, along with one other local inn, provides a Christmas Open House and Tour of Madison’s Historic Inns via a horse drawn wagon that clops from place to place, and stops for passengers to imbibe on Christmas cheer and sweets – all for the benefit of local charity.

On to the Shoreline Soul Concert

Later that afternoon, we enjoyed the “Soul Concert” at the local First Congregational Church. It featured holiday songs sung by an accomplished volunteer choir in a beautiful church. The entire scene was truly inspirational.

The singers were led by a highly talented conductor who had the choir and audience hand clapping and singing along. This is an annual event you do not want to miss. Any freewill offerings from the event went to support the Village Mountain Mission. 

The tree lighting

As dark descended on the expansive town green, it was time for the annual Christmas tree lighting. Three, two, one – Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

Families and friends gathered around the lighted tree to drink complimentary hot cocoa and watch the children wonder at the magnificent tree and colors.

Everyone was holding candles and having fun talking with their neighbors. It was a scene right out of Norman Rockwell, and we could not help thinking that once upon a time, much of America celebrated Christmas in just such a grand manner.

Saving the best for last

Victoria told us that we would run out of time before we ran out of things to do in and around Madison – at any time of year. We found that during the holiday season she was most certainly correct. Fortunately, she planned enough time in our itinerary for a wonderful event.

Ahavah: A Christmas Story

We had never heard of Ahavah, which is the Hebrew word for love, and we soon learned that it was also an original ballet about a young girl’s search for the true meaning of Christmas. It is performed annually in early December by the Christian Academy of Dance at the Morgan High School in nearby Clinton. Do not be put off by the venue. This is excellent entertainment professionally written, choreographed, and directed.

The talent that appears in this ballet is exceptional. We found this Psalm written in the program handout:

“Let them praise his name in the dance: Let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp. For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people.” The young performers in this ballet seemed to take the ancient words to heart.

A bittersweet farewell

We hope we can return to Madison and the Tidewater Inn for another holiday season one day very soon. It was everything we had hoped.

If you go

The website for the Madison Chamber of Commerce is www.madisonct.com

Look *here* for more information about the Tidewater Inn.

To learn more about Ahavah – A Christmas Story, click *here*

Happy Travels – Happy Holidays – Remember our troops!

To read more of the journalists’ articles about Connecticut and great places to stay, click on the abbreviated titles below:

Enjoy the fall colors of New England

Visit Kent Falls, Connecticut

A family budget hotel in Shelton, Connecticut

A historic inn in fashionable Westport, Connecticut

An intimate B&B on the backroads of northwestern Connecticut

The countryside elegance of the Mayflower Inn and Spa

The Delamar luxury hotel in the Greenwich harbor

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Ahavah photo by Christian Academy of Dance

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.