In Great Barrington Massachusetts, along main street, lies one of the great gilded age mansions of America, Searles Castle, aka Barrington House or Kellogg Terrace.
Commissioned in 1883 by Mary Hopkins, widow of the railroad tycoon Mark Hopkins, the French chateau- style castle was designed by the firm McKim Mead & White, and was completed in 1888 under the oversight of interior designer Edward Francis Searles. Searles was also responsible for the interior design of Mary’s Nob Hill home in San Francisco .
Its speculated that Edward (22 years Mary’s younger) had tried for years to win the hand of the widow Hopkins, now the richest woman in America, with little success. One popular story claims that while seeing Mary off for a train trip to New York, Edward boldly grabbed Mary by the waist and kissed her. This of course was a scandalous act in the late 1800s, especially when the better part of Stockbridge society was standing there watching. It is said that when faced with the prospect of scandal, Mary quickly announced to everyone within earshot that Edward was her fiance. Edward and Mary were married on November 7th 1887. This is just one of the many stories associated with their “courtship” and the only thing that seems certain is that some years after the original proposal Mary wrote to her adopted son Tim, that the “proposal made 4 years ago will be accepted”.
However, this topic has been covered by a variety of blogs and articles over the years as well as the “mysteries and intrigue” surrounding the couple and the estate. My focus in this story will be on the house itself.
The mansion was built on a 155 acre parcel of land which was the former home of the Kellogg School for Girls and was owned and operated by Mary’s aunts. Mary attended the Kellogg school as a child, and when her aunts died the property and its buildings transferred over to her. Mary spent a fair amount of money restoring and refurnishing the original house on the property, but in the end she found the residence to be unsatisfactory and decided to have an entirely new house designed and built on the site, for this task she approached the prestigious architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Stanford White designed for her a massive 7 floor, 68,000 square foot French chateau-style castle, to be constructed with blue dolomite quarried on the property.
There is a little confusion about the actual design, a more recent book claims that Stanford White’s designs were not up to the standards of Mary Hopkins, and she (or Searles) then engaged the ecclesiastical architect Henry Vaughan to complete the design of the residence. Henry Vaughan was the favored architect of Searles, and later designed the Searles Castle in New Hampshire as well as collaborating with him on several other projects. Vaughan’s architectural style was English Gothic revival, but there are some examples of his work in other styles. The national register of historic places notes McKim Mead & White, but their records for Searles Castle have yet to be digitized, and at this time I can only find two sources that claim Vaughan as the architect.
The house features 40 rooms, 14 Bedrooms, 36 fire places, 6 turrets, dungeon and housed one of the largest residential pipe organs in the country. The interiors, designed by Searles, were decked out in the finest woods, imported marble and elaborate wood and plasterwork ceilings, and was one of the first residential houses in the country to be fully wired for electricity, it even had its own generation plant on the grounds.
Another feature of the house has helped to develop the intrigue surrounding it, namely that there are many “secret passages” and staircases. These clandestine features can be easily dismissed as common servant’s passages and do not necessarily indicate any nefarious intent on the part of their designer, but they do make for a good story.
Over the years the house has seen several owners and is currently the home of the John Dewey Academy, a boarding school for troubled teens. In that time little has been done in terms of modifications to the existing decor, and even with the ravages of time, the interiors remain in fairly good condition, at least in the areas that can be seen by the general public. The Castle is not generally open to the public, however you can see most of the ground floor during the annual antiquarian book fair which is now in its 24th year. This year (2013) the fair will be held on Saturday July 27th.
When visitors arrive at the massive entryway of the castle they are met with a grand arched colonnade nestled between the two front turrets, supporting a second story balcony, and topped off with a third story dormer.
Flanking the entrance are two exquisitely carved marble lions, who perpetually stand silent watch over the castle and its inhabitants.
These intricately carved beasts are the first clue to the treasures that lie beyond the heavy oak double doors with their finely detailed ornamental hardware. Just past the lions you enter a colonnade that supports the second floor balcony.
The heavy oak doors are sadly not the original bronze doors that Searles had imported from Germany. The originals were removed from the house by Searles some time after the death of Mary along with the silver banister from the main stairway and many pieces of gold ornament from the 18th century French period room.
The interior vestibule just past the front doors is richly adorned with carved red and green marble.
To the west is the main staircase which cuts into the north western turret, providing a little niche on the first landing.
The upper stories are off limits to visitors but you can get a sense of what lies above from drawings done in the late 1890s and published in the Architect and Building News.
Continuing south from the great hall we enter the atrium with its 16 marble columns, which is said to be modeled after the Erechtheum in Athens. The walls are decorated with rose marble panels that were quarried in the Atlas mountains of Africa. The atrium serves as a central hub for the ground floor, with the great hall to the north, the back porch to the south, the music room to the west, and the dining room to the east.
To the west is the music room which was built to house one of the largest residential pipe organs in the country. It features the most ornate ceiling on the ground floor.
Off to the side of the music room and atrium is a spectacular 18th Century French period room which serves as the head master’s office, and while stripped of its more expensive accoutrements, it is still a remarkable example of French interior design.
On the east side of the atrium is the castle’s main dining room with oak paneling and ceiling and a massive marble fireplace.
Finally our tour comes to the back porch and terrace that overlooks the water feature and folly that provides a focal point to the view of the grounds.
The castle is currently on the market and has been for many years, in that time the price has fallen from 12 million dollars to around 9 million dollars, so if you’re shopping for your dream castle, Searles Castle may be just the thing you’re looking for.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of Searles Castle, thanks for looking!