Scenically situated on the east bank of the Connecticut River in Middlesex County, East Haddam, CT is a historic town which was established way back in the early 1700’s. Must-see attractions include the famous Goodspeed Opera House, Gillette Castle State Park, Allegra Farm and the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse and Bust.
1.Gillette Castle State Park
The Gillette Castle State Park is a must-see oddity for anyone visiting East Haddam in Connecticut. The park protects and maintains the former estate of the well-known actor and playwright William Hooker Gillette, including his innovative and eccentric “castle” mansion and its surrounding grounds. The stone-built mansion resembles something from the medieval era but contains many surprises like built-in sofas and a moving table on tracks. The grounds surrounding the castle are no less interesting; you can follow several walking/hiking trails through tunnels, steep staircases and wooded trestle bridges. The grounds are free to visit but there is a small charge to take a self-guided tour of the castle.
Gillette Castle State Park, 67 River Rd, East Haddam, Connecticut 06423, Phone: 860-526-2336
2.Devil’s Hopyard State Park
Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts can spend a few happy hours exploring a variety of activities in the Devil’s Hopyard State Park near East Haddam. The park is probably best known for its attractive waterfalls and the prominent potholes which were at one time believed to be the work of the devil and are believed to be responsible for the name of the park. This park is recognized as being one of the best birding areas in Connecticut – birders should allow lots of time and bring their checklists. You can go walking, hiking, picnicking and biking along a network of scenic trails and trout fishing is rumored to be excellent.
Devil’s Hopyard State Park, 366 Hopyard Rd, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 860-424-3200
3.Goodspeed Opera House
© Goodspeed Opera House
Theatre-loving visitors to Connecticut can look forward to enjoying a night of uplifting entertainment at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. The award-winning Goodspeed is the home of American Musicals and has produced several very popular works including The Man of La Mancha and Annie. The opera house produces a full program of entertainment throughout the year and if you live in the area you can buy a season ticket to ensure you miss none of the action. If you have always dreamt of a stage career you can enroll for one of their classes and workshops or sign up for an internship.
The Goodspeed, 6 Main Street, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 860-873-8668
4.East Haddam Swing Bridge
Architecture and engineering enthusiasts should not miss the chance to see the remarkable East Haddam Swing Bridge during your visit to Connecticut. Dating back to 1913, when it was believed to be the longest bridge of its kind in the world, the East Haddam Swing Bridge spans the Connecticut River to join the towns of Haddam and East Haddam. Considered to be an engineering miracle back in the day, the bridge consists of three steel spans (with a total length of 889 feet) which carry US Route 82. What makes this bridge unique is the pin-connected drawbridge (designed by Alfred P. Boller) which allows one span of the bridge to pivot and allow river traffic to pass through.
East Haddam Swing Bridge, Route 82, East Haddam, CT 06423
5.Ray of Light Farm
© Ray of Light Farm
The Ray of Light Farm is an inspiring place to visit for any animal lover. The farm is primarily a sanctuary for rescued and abandoned horses and donkeys which can live out their natural lives in comfort and without stress. However, the farm has another wonderful function – some of the animals are trained to become therapy animals, which play a very special part in assisting humans with various illnesses or disabilities such as autism. Your visit to the farm will assist them to continue with their essential work as well as offer you a great day out. The farm offers riding lessons for all ages (from 18 months) and abilities and children can have a lot of fun feeding and petting the animals.
Ray of Light Farm, 232 Town Street, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 860-873-1895
6.Nathan Hale Schoolhouse
Originally known as the First Society School, East Haddam’s Nathan Hale Schoolhouse was named after Connecticut local teacher Nathan Hale who taught 33 boys and girls there in 1773. The reason that this little single-room schoolhouse is important is that Nathan Hale exchanged teaching for spying back in 1776 and was later caught and hanged by the British during the American Revolution, which has made him something of a local hero. The little red school house has been furnished with the kind of desks and other furniture which would have been used in the 1700’s to give visitors an authentic glimpse of a typical one-room schoolhouse. You may visit the schoolhouse from June to October.
Nathan Hale Schoolhouse, 29 Main Street, East Haddam, CT 06423
© Allegra Farm
At the Allegra Farm on Lake Hayward, East Haddam, you can take a walk down memory lane as you enjoy a romantic horse-drawn carriage or wagon ride around the lake or through the superb New England countryside. In addition to offering carriage rides and hay rides, Allegra Farm is also home to the Horse Drawn Carriage and Sleigh Museum of Connecticut where you can admire a great collection of authentic antique carriages and sleighs. All the vintage carriages have been lovingly restored to their former glory and can be hired for weddings, proms, funerals and other celebrations. You are invited to bring your own refreshments and enjoy a unique day out.
Allegra Farm, 69 Town Rd, Colchester, CT 06415, Phone: 860-537-8861
8.Staehly Farm Winery
© Staehly Farm Winery
Staehly Farm Winery forms part of the Staehly Farm plant center and tree nursery on Town Street East Haddam. The winery has been producing a range of delicious fruit wines since 2014 and now offers visitors the chance to taste eleven different wines, seven of which are in regular production. If you are not familiar with fruit wines you will be in for a treat when you visit the Staehly Farm Winery Tasting Room where unique and innovative wines made from a variety of farm-grown fruit and berries can be sampled. The farm also offers fruit and vegetables for sale (in season) and you can buy cheese to enjoy alongside your wine.
Staehly Farm Winery, 278 Town Street, East Haddam, CT, Phone: 860-873-9774
9.St. Steven's Church
© Brian Jackson/stock.adobe.com
Visitors who would like to attend a church service while they are in East Haddam will always find a warm welcome at St. Steven’s church, the first Episcopal Church established in East Haddam back in 1795. The current St. Steven’s church occupies a relatively “new” building completed in 1890 using local fieldstone and a combination of Victorian styles, featuring both Shingle and Gothic Revival elements. The main altar features elaborately carved panels and there are seven beautiful stained-glass windows to admire. Later additions to the building added a bell tower, Rectory and Fellowship Hall. Sunday services are held at 8am and 10am and all are welcome to attend.
St. Steven’s Church, 31 Main Street, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 860-872-9547
10.Nathan Hale Bust and Schoolhouse
© Nathan Hale Memorial Chapter DAR East Haddam, Connecticut
Nathan Hale is something of an East Haddam celebrity, having once taught school lessons in the town’s original one-room schoolhouse in the 1700’s. However, these days Hale is remembered as a great American patriot who swapped teaching for spying in his country’s interests and was eventually captured and hung by the English. To honor his memory a bust has been erected in his honor on the original site of his little red schoolhouse (which was subsequently moved to a different location). You will find the monument in a small park located at the intersection of Main and Norwich Roads. You will need to walk a little further to 29 Main Street to visit the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse which has been turned into a small museum.
Nathan Hale Bust, Main/Norwich Roads, East Haddam, CT 06423
11.East Haddam Historical Society Museum
© East Haddam Historical Society Museum
Visitors who would like to know a little more about the historic town of East Haddam should set aside an hour or two to visit the East Haddam Historical Society Museum. Although the museum is quite small it is packed with interesting information about the history of East Haddam and the rise and fall of the town’s fortunes during the Industrial Age. Of special mention are two photographic displays documenting the Industrial Age and the building of the town’s famous East Haddam Swing Bridge. Those interested in Native American history will find a large collection of objects and artifacts dating back to the 1300’s. The museum is very child-friendly and is suitable for the whole family.
East Haddam Historical Society Museum, 264 Town Street, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 260-873-3944
12.The Shearer Library of Musical Theatre
© Stephen Coburn/stock.adobe.com
Forming an integral part of the famous Goodspeed Opera house in East Haddam, the Shearer Library of Musical Theatre is a unique library which is entirely dedicated to American musical theatre. This unique resource center is open to the public every afternoon from Tuesday to Friday (by prior appointment only), and it protects a remarkable collection of original musical scores, sheet music, scripts, programs and other musical memorabilia. Viewing and listening equipment is available to visitors and the library is fully accessible. Musicians and other interested persons who are unable to visit in person may access the library’s extensive online catalogue.
The Shearer Library of Musical Theatre, The Goodspeed, 6 Main Street, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 860-873-8668
13.Hurd State Park
A visit to the Hurd State Park near East Haddam will reward you with wonderful views of the Connecticut River and the surrounding landscape. The park is a firm favorite with East Haddam locals who come to enjoy hiking, biking, camping and boating. You can explore several hiking trails, enjoy picnicking right on the banks of the river or even set up camp and spend a few nights enjoying the great outdoors. The Connecticut River offers excellent boating opportunities – if you do not have your own boat you can book a river cruise with River Quest. The biking trails offer a fun and challenging ride for mountain bikers.
Hurd State Park, 67 River Road, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 860-523-2336
14.Brainard Homestead State Park
The Brainard Homestead State Park is an undeveloped green space which was once home to the Brainerd family who lived on the estate for several years. Although the homestead, from which the name derives, has long since been dismantled, the park now belongs to the state and is open to the public. If you are looking for a quiet and lightly-trafficked outdoor area suitable for walking, hiking and bird watching this park is ideal. Although there are no marked trails the rather flat landscape makes it easy to explore on foot. The park is reported to support a good variety of birdlife which attracts many bird watchers. You can bring a picnic and enjoy the solitude.
Brainard Homestead State Park, 22 Landing Hill Rd, East Haddam, CT 06423
15.Venture Smith Grave
© Erin Cadigan/stock.adobe.com
Venture Smith was a remarkable man and one of a mere handful of former African slaves who ever wrote an account of his tumultuous life, which was published in New London Connecticut in 1798. His tombstone stands in the First Church Cemetery in East Haddam, where Venture Smith lived out his days as a freed man, and offers an interesting insight into his life and times. At the time of his death in 1805 Venture Smith had become an astute businessman and a respected member of the East Haddam community. Archaeological evidence has been unearthed at the site of his farm which tells of a man of bravery, integrity and thrifty habits. His beautifully engraved tombstone is certainly worth a visit.
Venture Smith Grave, First Congregational Church Cemetery, East Haddam, CT 06423
16.Two Wrasslin' Cats
© Two Wrasslin’ Cats
If you are looking for a warm welcome alongside a good breakfast or coffee you need look no further than Two Wrasslin’ Cats on Town Street. This quirky coffee/breakfast/lunch/ice-cream restaurant is hard to miss – the bright blue and green façade and the two six-foot high cats simply cannot be ignored. Inside you will find a cozy place decorated with local art and offering a warm Connecticut welcome to both visitors and locals. The coffee shop sources their beans from Saccuzzo Coffee in Newington and all the delicious breakfast/lunch ingredients come from local suppliers. A decadent ice-cream from Salem Valley Farms is the perfect way to round off your meal.
Two Wrasslin’ Cats, 374 Town St, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 860-891-8446
17.La Vita Gustosa
© La Vita Gustosa
Conveniently located directly opposite the Goodspeed Opera House in Goodspeed Landing, La Vita Gustosa is the perfect place to enjoy a pre or post-theatre meal or snack. The restaurant started out as a small home-run catering business but soon needed to expand due to local demand for their delicious food. You can choose from a wide variety of tasty starters, salads, light meals, entrees and thin-crust pizzas and there is an open-air area for summer al-fresco dining. In addition to delicious food you can also enjoy a variety of entertainment; Tuesday is Open Mic Night, Thursday is Trivia Night and the restaurant hosts live music on the weekends.
La Vita Gustosa, 9 Main Street, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 860-873-8999
© Gelston House
Historic Gelston House is located right next door to the famous Goodspeed Opera House and boasts wonderful views out over the Connecticut River and the famous East Haddam Swing Bridge. The hotel/restaurant has stood on this spot since it was first built in 1736, when it was known as the Riverside Inn. If you visit on a pleasant day you can enjoy your meal and cocktails out on the terrace. The restaurant serves a selection of popular dishes on their Pub menu, Dinner menu and their Fixed-price Theater menu. Gelston House is open from 11am to 9pm from Wednesday to Saturday and 11am to 8.30pm on Sundays.
Gelston House, 8 Main Street, East Haddam, CT 06423, Phone: 860-873-1411
18 Best Things to Do in East Haddam, Connecticut
- Gillette Castle State Park, Photo: jgorzynik/stock.adobe.com
- Devil’s Hopyard State Park, Photo: Vinoverde/stock.adobe.com
- Goodspeed Opera House, Photo: Goodspeed Opera House
- East Haddam Swing Bridge, Photo: Vinoverde/stock.adobe.com
- Ray of Light Farm, Photo: Ray of Light Farm
- Nathan Hale Schoolhouse, Photo: /stock.adobe.com
- Allegra Farm, Photo: Allegra Farm
- Staehly Farm Winery, Photo: Staehly Farm Winery
- St. Steven's Church, Photo: Brian Jackson/stock.adobe.com
- Nathan Hale Bust and Schoolhouse, Photo: Nathan Hale Memorial Chapter DAR East Haddam, Connecticut
- East Haddam Historical Society Museum, Photo: East Haddam Historical Society Museum
- The Shearer Library of Musical Theatre, Photo: Stephen Coburn/stock.adobe.com
- Hurd State Park, Photo: pixs4u/stock.adobe.com
- Brainard Homestead State Park, Photo: naka/stock.adobe.com
- Venture Smith Grave , Photo: Erin Cadigan/stock.adobe.com
- Two Wrasslin' Cats, Photo: Two Wrasslin’ Cats
- La Vita Gustosa, Photo: La Vita Gustosa
- Gelston House, Photo: Gelston House
- Cover Photo: jgorzynik/stock.adobe.com