Mar 10, 2014

Castles in the United States, Part One

Sussex, UK
Castles are familiar across the landscape of Europe, some still standing and renovated, while others mere shells of their former splendor or the shell used to build new structure. Designed to be a fortress as well as home to feudal lords and kings and their servants, fascination with castles, their construction and history, still continues today.
Most of the descendents of the first Americans, as well as many today, came from Europe. Some visited Europe in the 19th and early 20th century and were inspired to build their own castles in the United States. There are more castles than one would imagine here in the USA, some looking like castles and others just mansions with castle characteristics – and huge.
I have combed the registry of castles in the United States and chose those that look more like the fortresses they mimic, and not the huge mansions built in the Victorian Age and early 20th century. There are a couple that were built more recently by folks who wanted to live in a castle, many built by their own labor. The following is a list of my favorite out of the list, one that no longer stands because it was torn down ...
Bancroft Tower
Not really a castle, but a 56-foot high stone and granite tower in feudal design located in Salisbury Park, Worcester, Massachusetts. It was built in 1900 by Stephen Salisbury III as a memorial to George Bancroft. It looks more like a facade for a film setting. It cost $15,000 to build and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. [registered March 5th, 1980] A plaque at the site reads, in part …
Born at the foot of this hill, he rose to the posts of Secretary of Navy, founder of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland and U.S. Minister to Great Britain and Germany.
Bannerman Castle
This castle is now in ruins because of abandonment and neglect, located on Pollepel Island on the Hudson River, 50 miles north of New York City. It is/was a military surplus warehouse built in the style of a castle by its builder, Francis Bannerman VI, who arrived in the United States in 1854 from Scotland. He became quite wealthy by selling military surplus, especially after the Spanish-American War of 1898, when he acquired 90% of the Spanish military equipment abandoned by the Spanish when retreating from Cuba.
He built it on the island that he purchased because New York City officials considered a warehouse and storerooms that has more than 30 million Spanish cartridges would be a danger to the neighborhood. The island is 6.5 acres of rock and one thousand feet from the shore of the Hudson River. When it was being built, Bannerman had the builders cast huge lettering on the wall facing the river – Bannerman's Island Arsenal.
When Bannerman died in 1918, his business, castle, and armaments as well as the big house became abandoned. Construction stopped at his death and two years later several hundred pounds of shells and powder exploded, destroying half the building. It was determined that lightning had hit one of the flagpoles and caused the explosion.
In 1950, a passing freighter, the Pollepel, got caught in a terrible storm on the Hudson River and smashed into the island, exploding on impact. More damage was done to the building and because of the fate of the ship, the island has its modern name, but locals still call it Bannerman's Island.
But more disasters would befall the historical building. After the 1950 disaster, the house became vacant and the island was bought by New York State in 1967. Two years later, a major fire destroyed the roofs and floors, making the rest of the building unsafe, so the island was off limits by local authority and state of New York. Vandals, trespassers, and tourists wearing hard hats continued to visit the site. In 2009, about 40% of the front wall and 50% of the east wall collapsed. No one came to the aid of this poor historical building, probably beyond restoration, and if it could be restored – too costly for overtaxed New Yorkers. 
Thus, in much less time, Bannerman's Castle lies in ruin, soon to crumble to dust and European castles lasted longer than this one. While the Bannerman Castle Trust was formed in the 1990s, one can see from the pictures, they have not been able to save much of it. Today, hard-hat tourists still walk tours of the area with guides provided by Castle Trust historians from May through October.

Beacon Towers
Built during what is called the Gilded Age on Sands Point, Long Island, New York from 1917 to 1918. The mansion was build for Alva Belmont, ex-wife of William Kissam Vanderbilt and widow of Oliver Belmont. It was designed by Hunt & Hunt, the last Long Island house designed by that firm. It is described by architectural historians as a Gothic fantasy mansion, some design elements of Spain and designs from medieval manuscripts. The entire structure was coated with white stucco and had 60 primary rooms totaling to 140 in all. To obtain more privacy for the estate, Alva Belmont purchased adjoining property in 1924 at auction for $100,000 (value today is $1.4 million). Three years later, the estate was sold to William Randolph Hearst. Renovations was made, the roof was raised and dormers added with windows expanded or removed, and the entrance remodeled, changing it to a recessed doorway.
Hearst sold it in 1942 and it was demolished in 1945, but scattered structural remains and the original gatehouse still remain. Scholars believe that F. Scott Fitzgerald was inspired by the mansion when he published The Great Gatsby in 1925.

Beardslee Castle
This castle was built in 1860, inspired by an Irish castle by the same name by Augustus Beardslee using craftsmen and masons from Ireland and Switzerland. Limestone from local quarries were used. It is located in Little Falls, New York and now an elegant restaurant that features Murder Mystery Dinner Theaters. The estate included a working farm, cheese factory, and sawmill as it passed from son to grandson of Augustus.
In 1919 there was a fire that nearly destroyed the building and much of the stonework had to be redone. The oak paneled floors and ceilings were replaced anew. It occurred while Guy Beardslee and wife, Ethel Beardslee, were vacationing in Florida at their winter home. Newspapers reported that it was arson to cover up theft because a mysterious man has been seen in the area a few days before the fire. Guy Beardslee died in 1937 and was survived by Ethel who had no children. Ethel died in 1941 and was placed in the family mausoleum at East Creek. After the fire, only the main floor was rebuilt and the back of the building was turned into a garden. Two of the original tunnels that connected the estate buildings were closed off and the rooms they led to were sealed.
Gertrude Shriver, Ethel's sister, sold the estate to Adam Horn who lived there with his wife for one year. They then sold the building and the Carriage House to Anton Christensen who opened the estate to the public as The Manor. When Anton, “Pop” got older he became terminally ill and after several failed attempts committed suicide by hanging himself in the ladies room of the Castle, not the side entrance foyer. Christensen's daughters sold the Beardslee furnishings that remained when he had purchased the estate and the building was also sold at auction to Herkimer restaurateur, John Dedla. He operated the business until 1876 and then sold it to the owner of The Lakehouse, Joe Casillo. Joe renamed it Beardslee Manor and finished the basement area as a pub in 1977 and rebuilt the second floor in 1982.
In 1983, Casillo hired a professional ghost hunter who spent the night recording faint voices on tape played for skeptical reporters. Of course, the ghost story made business boom and the staff spent time entertaining and telling ghost stories. The food quality began to decline as Casillo became more absent from the business and they castle began to decay as well.
In 1989 another fire gutted the kitchen area and the building stood vacant for three years. After two years of restoration, the original restaurant reopened in 1994 under present ownership with the changed name of Beardslee Castle out of respect for the builder. The new owners tore up the carpet and restored the original flooring of oak parquet, as shiny as they looked when installed. The stonework interior with Gothic arches were hand cleaned to remove 140 years of grime and soot. The wood paneled ceilings have been restored to original luster and the second floor banquet room features floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows that provides a beautiful view of the valley. The new kitchen serves three floors.

Castello di Amorosa
Nestled in the vineyard
Ultimately the most magnificent in the list, (and my favorite) truly a castle, the Castello di Amorosa is located in Calistoga, California, the heart of Napa Valley so famous for its grapes and wine; and that is what this castle is – a winery. It first opened in 2007, being a project of Dario Sattui, owner and operator of V. Sattui Winery named after his great-grandfather who established a winery in San Francisco in 1885. The winery is on property once part of an estate owned by Edward Turner Bale.
Front Entrance
This castle is amazing … with 107 rooms on eight levels above and below ground, it is approximately 121,00 square feet! It has a moat (no self-respecting castle should be without), a drawbridge, defense towers, interior courtyard, a torture chamber, a chapel/church, a knight's chamber, and a great hall that is 72 by 30 feet with a 22-foot coffered ceiling. And yes, I said it has a torture chamber with an authentic 300-year-old
iron maiden which cost $13,000 in Pienza, Italy, a replica rack, prison chambers and other medieval torture devices. The Great Hall has frescoes painted by two Italian artists who took one and a half years to complete with a 500-year-old fireplace from Europe.
The masonry, ironwork, and woodwork was built by hand using old world craft techniques. Te castle took 8,000 tons of locally quarried stone for paving stones as well. The roof is covered with terra cotta tiles and 850,000 bricks imported from Europe. Next to the castle and extending into the hillside is a labyrinth of caves, some being 900 feet long. Beneath the castle is a 2-acre barrel cellar and tasting rooms so visitors can sample wines sold only at the castle. This is truly a national treasure which provides the atmosphere of the Old World before explorers and settlers came to the New World. Several types of animals can be found roaming the property, like sheep and turkeys.
Great Hall
Unfortunately, Napa County local ordinances (what is it with California and their draconian, intrusive laws!), the castle and its ground cannot be used for renting out to wedding or receptions, but corporate gatherings and fund raising events can be held there for a fee. And since I mentioned the ridiculous laws in California … In May of 2012, the county ordered the winery to cease holding a weekly Catholic Mass in the chapel because it did not meet required permit regulations and review by the county socialists, as well as traffic and building code ordnance. Locals enjoyed it because it was few spots that had the traditional Latin Mass. Christians are not considered to have rights like homosexuals and Muslims; it is no wonder that so many Californians, those with any sense, move to another state – to include businesses who cannot afford the high taxation. Imagine what the castle's real estate tax is!
Wine Cellar
The following YouTube video is a great way to get a private tour if you cannot (or don't want to) visit California …

There are other castles I will spotlight in a part two, featuring the Vikingsholm Castle and the Hearst Castle.

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