This past Saturday was one of my favorite days in the state of Connecticut… it was Open House Day! What is “Open House Day”? It’s a day when museums and attractions all over Connecticut offers discounted or free admission. Some museums and attractions also have giveaways or special activities. It’s a fun day to explore so off to East Haddam I go! East Haddam is a small town that lies on Connecticut River in Middlesex county. It’s actually only 15 minutes up the river from Essex.
The first stop was the Goodspeed Opera House. I’ve always been intrigued by the historical white house that sits right next to the river. They offered free tours, so I decided to grab the opportunity to see the inside. Walking up to the house was breath taking, with the details of the historical house. It was built in 1836. The tour started in the main lobby, moving into the member’s lounge (while we were there, I saw a man working on costumes in the adjoining room and that was cool to watch!), then we went in the theater. It was unusual for the theater to be on the very top two floors of the venue. Imagine the difficulty for the orchestra to carry their large musical instruments up there as well the props for the plays! The Goodspeed Opera House had 6 floors, it is very tall house. It was built to be a play house but there were a few years when it wasn’t successful so the U.S. Army took it over. They used it as a base during World War I to protect Connecticut River, in fears of German U-boats coming up the river to raid Colt Armory (firearms manufacturing factory) that is based in Hartford, Connecticut. It also was a storage facility at one point. The Goodspeed Opera House definitely is full of history, you will hear more interesting tidbits if you ever take the house tours offer on the weekends. I enjoyed walking around the grounds after the tour, to take in the views of the beautiful Connecticut River. It was lively with many people on their boats and jet skis. There’s also a swing bridge next to Goodspeed Opera House which adds to the majestic view of the river. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like the swing bridge operates often! I asked a few East Haddamites how often it operated but they all said that they have never have seen it swing. There were a few spots to enjoy the riverfront views. One area is next to Goodspeed Opera House, where there are picnic tables if you want to eat with a view! Another spot was across the river in the area where the ferry is, this is where you can see more of the Goodspeed Opera House and the swing bridge.
There was a cute country store on the other side of the swing bridge called Goodspeed’s Station Country Store. It was a train station country store filled with unique gifts and home decor. There even was a room full of nostalgic candy! The store is a perfect stop for local souvenirs!
Another attraction participating in the Open House Day was the Gillette Castle State Park. They offered free admission for the day! The tours are regularly $6 per person opened 7 days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The castle was once owned by William Gillette who is best known as Sherlock Holmes. He built the castle in early 1900’s, its perched up high on the hills overlooking Connecticut River. The castle originally was named Seventh Sister but changed to Gillette Castle when the State of Connecticut purchased it in 1943. The medieval castle was covered in field stone and had a lot of woodwork on the inside. There was 47 doors all made of oak, no two doors were exact same. It was interesting detail to see! There were 24 rooms in the mansion. Another tidbit that I learned from the tour is that William Gillette had a lot of mirrors around the house to spy on the incoming guests. This allowed him to decide whether he wanted to make a dramatic entrance or stay in his room. He also spied on his guests struggling to open the bar that was created with a special latch that only Gillette himself could open. Gillette would eventually come into the room and help the guests by opening it himself. I thought this was funny! The castle also had hiking trail on the grounds to enjoy the nature and Connecticut River.
If you’re in the mood for more hiking, be sure to visit Devil’s Hopyard State Park which is also in East Haddam. It has a lot of waterfalls! I went camping there one Memorial Day weekend years ago and had a fun time exploring the beautiful state park.
When I was driving to Gillette Castle State Park, I spotted a farm stand so I made sure to stop there after the tour. It had looked liked a vegetable stand but it actually was a winery and greenhouse called Staehly Farm Winery! The building in the front that you see as you drive into the parking lot is where the winery tasting room is. They had mostly fruit wines such as blueberry, apple, cherry, rhubarb, peach, and many more. Their greenhouse was full of beautiful plants. I brought a few hydrangeas, my favorite flower! The staff there are super helpful with recommendations for the area since I wasn’t familiar with East Haddam. There was a refurbished barn on the grounds that is currently under construction to be hard cider & cheese tasting room opening this upcoming fall. I am looking forward to making the trip back to see the barn!
There were many scenic routes around East Haddam so I took the time to enjoy some. There are so many beautiful homes! Some homes were very historical looking, similar to Goodspeed Opera House. After a bit of driving around, I ended up in Hadlyme, Connecticut which is just a town over from East Haddam. Hadlyme Country Market grabbed my eye! I’m a huge fan of country/general type stores. This store had a deli so it made the perfect stop for a quick lunch. The sandwiches were named after local attractions like Gillette, Selden III (the ferry), Sherlock, etc. It was very creative! There were local artisan goods to purchase as well a small grocery store if you’re in need of snacks or necessaries! I highly recommend the Selden III panini sandwich - it was delicious!
Right next door to Hadlyme Country Market was a french inspired boutique shop called Royalties. I had no idea what to expect when I walked inside but it was a colorful entrance! There were floral decor everywhere making the shop very happy and welcoming. The shop had french inspired candles, tea, books, bags, soaps, home decor, and many more. I’ve never been to France but I felt like it was the closest that I could be! The owner shared few stories of her travels to Europe so she definitely brings the details from her experience into the shop. Be sure to stop in this petit amour boutique shop!
Black Whale Antiques at Rattleberry Farm was across the street from Hadlyme Country Market. I was drawn to the name, anything with nautical reference always gets my attention! It was a huge house filled with American and English antiques. Each room had a theme so it was fun exploring. I loved the murals on the walls in the shop, and it turned out that the owner is a muralist. Thomas Rose painted all the murals as well the Doggone Old Masters collection, you can see several of them all over the store. I was obsessed with the nautical painting of a dog dressed in old fashioned seafaring uniform with a whaling ship in the background. Black Whale Antiques is on the list of favorite antique shops!
East Haddam doesn’t have the typical main street with shops and restaurants but it was so much fun driving all over and exploring. It is a beautiful town filled of nature related activities with many state parks to visit. I was fascinated with the history behind the opera house even through I’m not typically a musicals fan. I still was able to enjoy the architecture and the details. I definitely found East Haddamites to be so friendly! They were very welcoming and willing to help or share stories. It was a fun day exploring and I already look forward to my next visit back there!
Recommendations of places to visit in East Haddam, Connecticut:
Goodspeed Opera House 6 Main Street
Gillette Castle State Park 67 River Road
Devil’s Hopyard State Park 366 Hopyard Road
Staehly Farm Winery 278 Town Street
Goodspeed’s Station Country Store 22 Bridge Road
Recommendations of places to visit in Hadlyme, Connecticut:
Hadlyme Country Market 1 Ferry Road
Royalties The Cottage at 1 Ferry Road
Black Whale Antiques at Rattleberry Farm 5 Town Street