A few days ago James, Bennett, and myself took the long ride back to Sullivan County to visit the Dundas Castle. Perched on a small hill overlooking the Beaverkill, this abandoned manor is a fine example of Neo-Gothic architecture, a movement that appeared in the late nineteenth century in North America. To our surprise, we bumped into many passersby walking the castle’s corridors that afternoon. Its three turrets visible from the road and good structural integrity have made this mountain hideaway a popular stop for families and young couples alike. In retrospect, said couple was probably on its way to the dungeon — sorry for the interruption. If you are a fan of Gothic arched doors and heart shaped pools that fill with blood on a full moon, read on, as I’m about to show one of these two.
More photos below. Click on any of the thumbnails to open a larger view, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow if you have Flash installed.
Foreword: there isn’t a lot to read about the Dundas Castle — also known as the Craig-E-Claire Castle — the tidbits of information I’ve inserted below were excerpted from two good reads, a post by Jane Sokolow for the Friends of Beaverkill Community and a well-documented article by John Conway for The Times Harold-Record, reproduced on the Castles of the United States website.
The castle is, unfortunately, empty; many rooms have been vandalized or adorned with uninspired graffiti. The arched porte-cochère leads into a large courtyard, seen above. There is a lot of marble still intact though and some interesting stone work like this fireplace below.
Built by Ralph Wurts-Dundas in the early 1900′s, the castle was never fully completed by the time of his death, in 1921. He had come to Sullivan County back in 1907, when he purchased some 1,000 acres from silk manufacturer Morris Sternbach, then set out to build a mansion inspired by late nineteenth century interpretations of medieval European castles. Ralph, you beautiful rule-breaking moth, we have a lot of castles in Europe, you should have just asked and we would have given you an extra one, seriously.
A raised, iron-fenced walkway leads to a pair of crenelated twin towers separated from the castle, seen above. One of them serves as a gazebo looking down the streams at the bottom of the hill. The other leads to a creepy basement, an area we affectionately called The Dungeon, which also doubles as a very hazardous ice rink.
Ralph was the grandson of William Wurts, one of three brothers who built the Delaware & Hudson Canal. He married Josephine Harmar of Philadelphia, daughter of a prominent family as well. She was committed to a sanitarium in Riverdale a year after Ralph’s death. There are stories about her being kept locked away because of her deteriorating mental state, locals seeing her either riding horse-back through the town, tossing gifts to the children, or haunting the place at night; I’m confident the masterminds behind Ghost Hunters International are working on it.
The castle, property and fortune passed on to their daughter Murial. The Masonic Order purchased the property from her in 1949. The original plan — to establish a Masonic home for the aged and indigent — never materialized and for many years the property was used as a rural vacation retreat. The castle was retrofit as a hunting and fishing resort in the 1950s, and by 1964 the masons had expanded the property and established Camp Eureka, a summer camp for inner-city youth.
In 2005, the Masons and the Open Space Institute, Inc. (OSI) announced an agreement to protect Camp Eureka and the Dundas Castle property. According to Sokolow this agreement was not only meant to preserve the property, but to also insures that generations of inner city youth would continue to enjoy Catskill summers and learn about the environment. It is unclear to me how long this goodwill lasted after 2005.
I had read that three heart shaped ponds had been built outside the castle, but I failed to find any, unless they were covered by the snow (remember, the snow?). We didn’t stay long enough to verify the rumor that, as I mentioned earlier, they’d fill with blood on a full moon — pshhh, big deal, isn’t that only once a month? You can’t miss the rusting iron fence and gates beside the rural road, or the line of tall pine trees leading to the castle, but if you decide to pay a respectful visit make sure to climb the hill up the road to avoid disturbing the caretakers.
I have to be honest, I’m ambivalent about these attempts at Gothic Revival and romantic medievalism, they look a bit fake to me. I understand why you would call this castle historical but I can’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t look so out-of-place at Disneyland. There is something here about the choice of stones and masonry that stands out to me, but not in a good way. Give it a shot, it isn’t too far from Albany. I’m trying not to sound too snobbish here, not everybody in Frenchland is a fan of compatriot and Neo-Gothic giant Eugène Viollet-le-Duc for example — he screwed up restoring Carcassonne, according to my mom (more on that later this summer when we visit the city).
You might be unfamiliar with Roscoe, NY, a hamlet in Sullivan County, population 541 in 2010. It is named for New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, because why not. It also calls itself “Trout Town, USA”, after its location at the intersection of two rivers popular for trout fishing, the Beaverkill (below) and the Willowemoc (source: Wikipedia).
Now if you are wondering where to eat on a Sunday in Roscoe, NY, wonder no more — it is either Roscoe Diner or Buffalo Zach’s. On our last trip to Sullivan County with Bennett and James, I made the classic mistake of ordering fish at a diner, then add insult to injury by sending the creature back. I survived to tell the tale but the trauma is still fresh (as opposed to the fish). Considering the most popular review for Zach’s starts with “Dogs are welcome here, so it’s pretty cool in my book”, we had to try the place (the interior, below).
What ended in front of B and myself couldn’t be described with any other word than outrageous. The biggest hot dog I had ever seen, a foot-long battlefield defiantly waiting to be conquered. Mine was stuffed with onion rings and BBQ sauce, his with beans, sour cream, and whatnot. Add a huge serving of fries to that, for less than $10, and this may have been the best part of the day.
Above, yet another arched door, managing to photobomb me! They were everywhere!
James (dbfoto on Flickr, thanks for organizing this trip, buddy) processed his shots in record time:
Bennett has photos online too:
Urban Explorations in Print
Are you looking for more? I have assembled a hundred photos from 10 abandoned locations in my first photo book, “The Unnoticed”, available online and at different branches of the Albany Public Library. Find more about this 136-page volume, available in hard cover, soft cover, and eBook format for iPad/iPhone, in the book section.
More abandoned buildings are listed under the “Urban Exploration” category.