By Kelly Marino
Most shoreline residents are familiar with the expansive restaurant and hotel at the Saybrook Point Resort and Marina and the nearby historic markers that explain the area’s significance to the Pequot War. Fewer state residents realize that another key historical location exists on the opposite end of the coastline just a short ride down the street. Cornfield Point, a rocky scenic area bordering the Long Island Sound—once the location of a busy upscale inn and eatery—is often overlooked but is significant in the state’s maritime and prohibition histories.
Farmland and Cornfields
In 1636, Lt. Lion Gardiner, a British engineer and soldier, traveled to present-day Old Saybrook with the order to build a fort at Saybrook Point to protect colonists from the Dutch and Native Americans competing for the area. Not far from the fort, the colonists constructed a windmill to grind corn—the first development at Cornfield Point. Soldiers guarded the grounds as they farmed corn on the land to feed the local population.
The farmland at Cornfield Point changed hands several times. In 1639, George Fenwick, governor of the colony, gained control of the area, which he eventually passed to his sister Elizabeth Cullick, who passed it to her daughter, Elizabeth Batten. In the late 17th century, the Battens sold the land to Simon Lynde, who passed it down in his own family. Three families—the Jarvis, Hart, and Lynde families—farmed the land near the point for decades.
Cornfield Point became a key site in Connecticut’s maritime history. A dangerous rocky bank below the waterline in the nearby waters created a potential hazard for boats at a moment when the state’s shipping industry was a staple. In 1856, the coast guard stationed a lightship with a reflector light, fog signal, bell, and horn in the area to alert sailors. While a lightship remained until 1957 to protect travelers in the Long Island Sound, the coast guard replaced it several times due to various incidents, such as hurricane damage in the 1930s. One of the lightships (LV-51) sank after being struck by a barge—pieces of the wreck remain underwater.
The last lightship (LV 118)—which the coast guard placed in 1939—became a well-known sight among those passing through. The coast guard eventually replaced the vessel with more modern technology, including radio signals from Falkner’s Island and Saybrook Point as well as warning buoys with lights and sound devices. At the time of its deployment at Cornfield, however, the red vessel was one of the most sophisticated lightship models produced in the United States. It lasted 20 years until being moved to Cross Rip near Martha’s Vineyard.
By the turn of the 20th century, Elizabeth Colt Jarvis Beach (niece of the gun manufacturer, Samuel Colt) and her husband George Watson Beach (a wealthy New England businessman) owned hundreds of acres around the Point. While their permanent home was in Hartford, the couple built a large, elaborate dwelling on the Point property known as “Hartlands” (named after William Hart, a relative of Elizabeth) around 1906.
The Hartlands emulated a Newport mansion and served as a summer retreat for the Beaches and their children starting around 1908. Alfredo S. G. Taylor, a New York architect known for constructing several properties in Connecticut, designed the home. Hartlands cost around $350,000 and builders used stone from the Point’s oceanfront in the construction. The structure, produced in two years, had 40 rooms throughout its 15,000-square-foot space, designed in English Tudor-Revival Style. The building had a clock tower with German chimes that rang every half hour and played, “Don’t Say Goodbye, Say Au Revoir.”
Not long after, George retired, making Hartlands a retirement home for the couple. Popular among locals, George threw large summer parties on the property, supposedly inviting the entire town. Unfortunately, they found the upkeep of the building and their elaborate lifestyle difficult to afford and struggled with debt. Looking for options to assist with bills and management, they rented the property to the army for $1 a year around the time of US involvement in World War I. The army kept weapons and a small group of 40 officers on site, using the property as an artillery training site. It is unclear if George and Elizabeth stayed or moved out, perhaps back to Hartford.
After WWI, the family attempted to sell the property at Cornfield Point with no luck. To help pay off thousands of dollars of tax debt, they offered pieces of land to different buyers over several years. Gilbert Pratt, a wealthy New Yorker, purchased Hartlands and some of the land surrounding it. Pratt sold the land to a developer in 1921 who offered lots to the public for building cottages.
Ye Castle Inn and Prohibition
In 1923, Otto Lindbergh (uncle of the aviator Charles Lindbergh) and his wife, Margaret, purchased Hartlands for $75,000 and renamed the structure “Ye Castle Inn.” The Castle became a fancy hotel with a restaurant for wealthy patrons, including actors employed at the Ivoryton Playhouse and the Old Saybrook Town Hall Theater. Celebrities including Ethel Barrymore, Howard Hughes, Helen Hayes, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Ann Sheriden, Don Ameche, and Doris Day all stayed at the establishment. Even the Rockefellers allegedly visited.
The 18th Amendment outlawing liquor was unpopular in Connecticut in the early 20th century, and state politicians voted against ratification. The inn became entangled in Connecticut’s prohibition story because the Lindbergh’s daughter Jenny’s husband, August “Augie” Campbell Strusholm, was a well-known agent of the illegal liquor trade and used the inn as a base for his operations. Strusholm negotiated the purchase, transport, and distribution of liquor and cigarettes and had high-speed cruisers that supposedly could outrun US Coast Guard boats. Merchandise came from Nova Scotia, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Cuba to Cornfield Point until 1933. Management hid contraband in closets, storage rooms, and false walls in the building. Rumors of liquor at the inn attracted patrons but eventually led to Margaret’s arrest and conviction for violating federal prohibition laws. The Lindberghs owned the Castle and Point until 1950.
Cornfield Point Today
After 1950, the property changed hands—and names—multiple times. At various times, different owners called the property “The Inn at Cornfield Point,” “The Castle Hotel,” and “The Castle Inn at Cornfield Point.” They restructured the building to include modern features such as a rooftop deck eatery and a pool. When these establishments failed, sections of the former inn were leased as apartments in the 1980s and early 1990s. From 1994 to 1999, new owners used the structure once again as a restaurant and banquet facility before its sale to a beach developer for potential use as condos.
As new parties acquired the building, more of the land was sold for houses and cottages. Parts of the old inn were demolished, and the main building was eventually abandoned for almost a decade. In 2007, Maria Foss-Rand and her husband purchased the building and started renovations to restore some of the structure’s historical appearance but also convert it into a private home. Today, the Point immediately around the home, overlooking the Long Island Sound, is open to the public to enjoy the view and scenic rocky shoreline. A nearby marker explains the location’s early history, and the site is known among photographers for its beautiful sunsets.
Kelly Marino is an Assistant Lecturer of History at Sacred Heart University.