I think it may have been fate for me to visit The Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Ma. A few weeks a go, I sat down to try to plan out my upcoming weekends in my quest to visit all Historic New England homes, and saw that the Beauport Sleeper McCann home opened Memorial Day Weekend – perfect! This would be my first Memorial Day Weekend off in over 10 years, so a day trip to a gorgeous seaside town within two hours of our home was just what I needed. I researched the area, saw that the Hammond Castle was only 2 miles away, buuuut I thought that finding a restaurant with good cocktails and an ocean view would be more the laid back speed I was looking for, and kept the castle on the back burner for another day.
Turns out I apparently can’t read, as while the Beauport Sleeper McCann home did open Memorial Day Weekend, it was only open on Saturday. I went Sunday. Stood outside for 25 minutes with another couple, peeking over the ivy covered wall and couldn’t wait to get inside. A neighbor walked by and mentioned they weren’t open on Sunday…….so off to the Hammond Castle we went! And I’m so glad we did.
This post ended up being more heavy on the Favorite Spots vs. the Historical Highlights. John Hays Hammond Jr. was a wei—-ah, quirky guy, and I found the antics he played on family & friends throughout the mansion much more interesting than the home itself.
(As an FYI and the lobster roll at Minglewood Harborside was fantastic. And the frosé wasn’t too bad either ;0)
- John Hays Hammond Jr. grew up in San Francisco, and spent time in South Africa & Europe with his parents. Through the travel with his parents, he grew a fondness for history & the arts, which would eventually play out in the castle he built years later.
- At his core, John Hays Hammond Jr. was an inventor. While the exact number is not known, they have found over 439 patents that he filed for throughout his lifetime. He had mentors such as Thomas Edison & Alexander Graham Bell – which is pretty extraordinary. He is most well known as the “Father of Radio Control” serving on the board of RCA for over 25 years. However, visiting what they call the “War Room” in his home is truly astounding – he invented bombs, the precursor to QVC, magnetic bottle openers and these cool RV looking “house pods” which have been expanded on and are currently being used in China. He was far and away a genius – but we all know what comes with genius. And boy, was John Hays Hammond Jr. a quirky man.
- It took three years for John to build The Hammond Castle, finishing in 1929 and was a combination home for him and his wife, Irene, a place to showcase his amazing collection of historic artifacts (similar to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) and also played headquarters to Hammond Research Corporation.
- While the couple had no children, they hosted many guests here which even included Walt Disney. John and Irene lived in the home for the remainder of their lives, leaving the house to be turned into a museum after their deaths in 1959 and 1965 respectively.
Our guide told us moments before stepping into this Great Hall that it was built as a gift for Irene, John’s wife….but that she hated Gothic Style. This is a hall that you would expect to see on an episode of Vikings or Outlander – it looks straight out of a 14th or 15th Gothic Castle. It’s a huge 2800 feet (larger than my entire house!) with soaring 65 foot ceilings with flags hanging from it, giant fireplaces, a suit of armor, a 15 foot tall Bishops chair and an organ featuring over 8,000 pipes. I mean….if my husband gave me a “gift” as over the top of this one, knowing that I despised the style it was made in…..there would be a long discussion to be had after. But – it is exactly what you would expect to see inside a castle, and is a show stopping part of the home.
John was encouraged by his famous mentors that he would get his best work done during the night, so he completely transitioned his lifestyle, and he would stay up all night, and sleep all day. There is an amazing(ly uncomfortable looking) marble throne where he would prop himself up on pillows and read through the night. It’s said that John & Irene would communicate mostly thru letters, as their schedules were complete opposites. Wild.
A truly gorgeous space with tons of welcome light (especially considering the Great Hall was so dark). John designed this to be his version of a medieval village with an archway from Mt. Vesuvius, an actual wood & stucco storefront of a century old Bakery, a statue of himself as a bronze Greek God (that his wife forced him to put a fig leaf on….if you catch my drift) and a pool that he had dyed a particular color so you couldn’t tell how deep it’s was. I would have thought that his “quirks” were in full effect in this room, but that was before I visited other rooms in the home, so stay tuned for that, but here are some of the weirder stories from this room:
- He had plumbing & pipes installed in the atrium, just below the glass, which you can still see today. This was so he could control the “weather” inside the courtyard. He also could control the “moonlight” too. He was a prompt man, and if dinner was at six o’clock, showing up later than exactly 6:00 pm meant you were late. So at 6:01 pm he would change the “weather” and create a torrential downpour. With no other way to get to the dining room besides through the courtyard, guests would be drenched, and left banging on the dining room door (which he of course locked for effect).
- He dyed the color of the water in the pool a specific greenish color so that you couldn’t see the bottom, and as such simply assume its shallow. He would then give guests a shock when he dived from his bedroom window on the second floor into the pool.
This room is over the top pretty, and all the historic architectural details are incredible.
It is said that John determined which of the two guest bedrooms you would stay in at dinner time, when he observed whether you were a righty or a lefty. As a righty I would have been placed in this room, and I don’t think I would have found John’s sense of humor funny at 3 am.
John wallpapered this room, including over the three doors, making them impossible to see if you didn’t know they were there as he also ensured that there were no interior doorknobs. One led to a spiral staircase, one to the bathroom, and one to the closet. You also had three gorgeous gothic windows overlooking the courtyard & pool. At bedtime, a maid would lead you to your room. Then, as instructed by John, a few hours later while you were sleeping she would go back into you room, undetected, and close all three doors, so when you woke up in the middle of the night you would be completely caught off guard, unable to find a door, and would have had to shout out the window to a servant for help. And, since he was up all night, would thoroughly enjoy hearing you yell for help.
It was also said that as John was essentially nocturnal, he would show up unannounced (and from seemingly nowhere, as the doors were hidden) in your room in the middle of the night and just start talking to you about the latest book he read…..
This room was simply gorgeous. Built into one of the round towers, the room at one point held over 4000 books. With tons of inlaid trim detail, a huge mantel and most importantly to me huge windows that show off the cliff that the castle is perched on with sweeping views of the ocean.
The room has a rounded ceiling, and is known as the “whisper room”. The rounded ceiling allows for some interesting acoustics in the room, where if you were whispering to your friend after dinner about what weirdo John was, John would hear it clear as a bell across the room and would whisper back “I know”. It seems that you always had to be on guard at the Hammond Castle!
This room was the only room Irene Hammond was allowed to decorate, with little input from John. The ceiling is amazing, 15th century Spanish coiffured and was actually a wedding present to the couple.
One decor detail that John insisted on was a large piece of art, showing the martyrdom of St. Romanus who is depicted in the painting getting his tongue cut out. John would insist on serving boiled beef tongue with a cherry sauce for one course of the meal, entertaining his guests up until this course with trivial conversation. Then, once the tongue was served and guests were enjoying it, he would stand up and launch into a very descriptive rendition of the story of St. Romanus. Gross.
- The draw bridge feature on the outside is pretty neat, because how often do you see an actual draw bridge on a castle in New England?
- The bell tower is also a unique feature, unless of course you had the “pleasure” of being a neighbor. This giant bell was rang on the hour, every hour, every day, 365 days a year. Yikes.
- As one would imagine, there are many gargoyles perched about the castle – all different, and all watching!
- Irene’s “sun room” just off the Great Hall is gorgeous – featuring large stained glass windows that you just glimpse the gorgeous ocean views from, along with a large fireplace. It’s a sunny and bright part of the home.
- Make sure to take the treck up the spiral staircase to the servants quarters to the Ministrels Gallery, which gives a birds eye view of the Great Hall. Hammond is known to have snuck away here to enjoy a cigarette, and as you can hear conversations from below clear as a bell, also hear exactly what his guests thought of their visits.
- It goes without saying that the grounds and location of this castle are amazing; the rocky seashore of Gloucester is gorgeous. Plan to spend the day and explore the rocky coast!
- It was very busy when we visited – which is admittedly not my favorite. I would always recommend trying to visit any of these historic homes (or, any attraction for that matter) off peak hours to truly enjoy it.
- This would be a tough place to visit with a stroller, so just a word to the wise if you have little ones!