September 19, 2021

Chester-Hadlyme Ferry Opens; Friends of Gillette Castle Plan Celebration at Hadlyme Landing

Gillette Castle can be seen in the background on a foggy morning as the 65-foot diesel-run Selden III prepares to depart the Chester ferry landing. The Chester-Hadlyme ferry, which is scheduled to re-open April 1, is one of the oldest continuously operating ferries in the United States. All photos except the final one in this article are courtesy of Kelly Hunt, Cherish the Moment Photography.

HADLYME — When the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry makes its inaugural 2021 round trip across the Connecticut River at 7 a.m. Thursday, April 1, its supporters intend to make the occasion festive.

“We’ve all missed the view from the river during the long winter, so we want to hold a ‘First Ferry Celebration’ to rejoice in its return and admire the state’s recent improvements to the landing area near Gillette Castle,” said Lynn Wilkinson, who chairs the communications committee for the Friends of Gillette Castle State Park.  

“Several members of our organization plan to make that morning’s first round trip together, and we imagine others might want to join us,” she added. 

The Chester-Hadlyme ferry sits at the Chester Landing dock.

John Marshall, the ferry’s master captain, said the boat will load first on the Chester side and make its five-minute run east to the Hadlyme landing adjacent to the park, where the Friends’ group will gather. 

“Free refreshments will be served, and we can promise convivial conversations with members of the Friends,” Wilkinson said. “They’ll be eager to talk about the castle, its history and our own activities.”  

“This winter was tough on everyone,” Marshall said. “Even though we still have to be careful, the ferry opening is a celebration for everybody. It’s like turning a page. People will be able to get outside more, and I look forward to it.” 

The ferry ‘under sail’ from Chester to Hadlyme.

Access to the western landing is on Rte. 148 at Ferry Rd. in Chester. The eastern landing is on park property at the base of Seventh Sister Hill, with a road and footpath leading up to the castle, the eccentric, century-old home of the late actor William Gillette. 

The park itself is in the towns of East Haddam and Lyme along the Connecticut River, and is open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset.

“In addition to being a continuation of scenic Rte. 148, the initiation of ferry service is an important lifeline between Chester and Hadlyme,” said John “Jack” Hine, supervisor of Gillette Castle State Park. “It also gives castle visitors a really fun and ‘photo-friendly’ way to get to the castle.” 

View of the Chester Landing with the ferry in the foreground.

The Friends’ celebration is being held free of charge. Ferry passengers will be charged current rates to ride the 65-foot diesel-run Selden III, which include a walk-on charge of $2 to pedestrians and bicyclists, $5 for vehicles on weekdays and $6 for vehicles on weekends. A $3 commuter rate requires pre-purchased coupons priced in a book of 20 for $60.

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the boat will begin the season with a five-vehicle capacity, an increase since last year when the boat was allowed to carry three vehicles at a time.

“That very well may change,” Marshall said. “We’ll watch what the Centers for Disease Control and the governor say and we’ll figure out if we can change that.” Under normal conditions, the boat has a nine-vehicle capacity. 

Because the boat is a public conveyance, federal law requires all persons to wear a mask when boarding, disembarking and for the duration of travel on the vessel. Face shields are not compliant under current law.

Recent improvements to the eastern landing include new benches and fencing, a newly leveled parking area and a historic display describing the river and its cleanup, undertaken by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Department of Transportation, Hine and Marshall said. 

A view of the Hadlyme-Chester ferry on the Connecticut River taken from the ramparts of Gillette Castle. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Gillette Castle State Park and DEEP.

“The landing has been renovated with upgraded materials to match the esthetics of the castle,” Wilkinson said. “It was a thoughtful and wonderfully collaborative effort that has made the landing welcoming for visitors, and now seems like a special entrance to the castle grounds.” 

The Chester-Hadlyme Ferry began service in 1769 as Warner’s Ferry, and is one of the oldest continuously operating ferries in the United States. It is also Connecticut’s second-oldest ferry service, after the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry, which began in 1655. 

A steam-powered barge began to serve the ferry crossing in 1879 and was named the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry in 1882 while it was operated by the town of Chester. In 1917, the Connecticut Department of Transportation took over the service, and the current boat has been in operation since 1949. 

The ferry is expected to operate through Nov. 30. Additional ferry information may be found at this link

The Friends of Gillette Castle State Park is a nonprofit, all-volunteer group dedicated to the preservation, conservation and educational activities of the building and its grounds. For further information, visit www.gillettecastlefriends.org