Dundas

The Mason’s Castle – Ghost of the American Renaissance


“The thing that fascinated me about the castle is that everybody thinks that it’s haunted, that people were locked up in the courtyards…None of its true. What did strike me as very unusual is from the time that I’m able to record; no one has ever been able to live on that land. That struck me as bizarre.”
– Dr. Joyce Conroy – Historian

 

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

When I first heard about an abandoned castle in upstate NY I all but booked my plane ticket before even researching it! The prospect of exploring a castle deep in the overgrown woods of NY was irresistible.  I started researching and making phone calls, and in doing so made contact with a local historian who had done extensive research on the castle and its history. Her name was Dr. Joyce Conroy and she not only provided us with useful information, she also gave us a 35 minute interview in person, and also gave us copies of historical images of the castle for us to you in our write up and video. Here is some of what  we learned from her:

 

Before the castle was constructed, a small hunting lodge called the “Beaverkill Lodge” was built on the almost 1000 acre plot of land. This was built by Bradford Lee Gilbert in the late 1880’s. Gilbert frequented the lodge only once or twice a year and only for a few days at a time. When Ralph Werts Dundas bought the land in 1915, he constructed the castle on  and around the original lodge and then expanded it out from that.

 (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

Gothic windows, turrets, towers, and steep parapeted roofs are just a few of the beautiful architectural features that make the castle an amazing oddity to find hiding in  the woods.  R. W. Dundas was a bit of a recluse but he had money, and dreams of being a Scottish laird. He was married and had a child. His wife was very emotionally disabled, and his daughter was taken care of by a number of nannies.  They visited the site  while construction of the castle was going on but they never  lived there for any length of time. A great deal of money was spent on the inside of the castle. Electricity and steam radiators  were installed in almost every room, an  incredible luxury at the  time. In addition to marble floors and countertops, and porcelain tiles,  there were also reports of a gold leafed  fireplace in one of the rooms.

 

 (Walter Arnold)

 

However in 1921, before the castle could be completed Dundas died, leaving a reported fortune to his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, after his death, his wife was then taken  to a sanitarium due to  her existing mental illness. The daughter was suddenly  extremely wealthy and in need of a guardian. The castle caretakers who were watching over the daughter,  basically robbed her blind. She went  on to get married and eventually headed  over to England with her husband on an expedition to find “St. John’s Gold”. The expedition fell apart when eventually they fired the historians and scientists helping in the search, and hired a dowser/mystic with a willow wand. At this point the daughter’s mental health was called into question and she was subsequently placed in a  sanatorium in England.   The castle changed hands a few times over the years and is now owned by the Prince Hall Mason’s.

 

I flew up to NY and met up with fellow photographer A. D.  Wheeler, and his colleague Jon. We set out on our first day of exploration with the castle set in our sights. We made the trip from Elmira to the site of the castle without knowing much about how to get in or even its exact location. We neared the castle and after a few miles of  unmarked back roads we spotted one of the towers of the castle up on a hill buried deep in the woods and overgrowth. After parking our car and gathering our gear, we trudged up a steep ravine and into a clearing which revealed the outer bulwarks of the castle. It’s gothic windows and ‘witch’s hat’ spires that adorned its towers loomed through the trees and immediately hinted at the mystery and fantastical stories that this location might hold.

 

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

 

We quickly ducked in under a beautiful stone archway and into the sprawling courtyard. We all stood in awe of what we were seeing. It was like being transported back to medieval times, as if somewhere in the woods we stepped into Narnia without knowing it. I quickly checked my back to see if any talking beavers or goat-men named Mr. Tumnus were sneaking up on me!  :-)

 

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

 

After taking in the awe-inspiring architecture of the inner courtyard we ducked into the first open doorway we saw, and found ourselves in the kitchen of the castle. Tiled floors and marble window sills surrounded  us. Every window and door we encountered was beautifully peaked, and every corner we rounded and room we entered spoke of mystery  and an untold history.

 

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

 

It was a strange juxtaposition to be exploring the hallways and rooms of what one would imagine to be a castle out of the dark ages and then notice an old push button switch on the walls which was once used to turn on the electric lights. It was like a modern day fairytale gone wrong. I felt like Alice going through the rabbit hole discovering crazy distorted visions of reality that immediately clashed with my senses and perception of what should and should not be.

 

 (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The majority of rooms were completely cleared out of anything that would have resembled human habitation . The only vestiges that remained were bathroom fixtures, and electric heaters, which only furthered the surrealistic perception that what appeared to be something from the dark ages was still indeed a modern ruin.

 (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

 

We explored all three main levels of the castle, poking our heads into every room, and even ventured down into the depths of the blackened basement. We spent hours peering into abandoned rooms and speculating on the stories and history that the castle held.

 

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

 

A few days later we had the  honor of speaking with  local historian Dr. Conroy who donated her time to give us a full interview and history lesson regarding the castle. There are very few websites dedicated to this location and many of them contain historical information that is not entirely accurate. We were able to talk with Dr. Conroy to uncover what was myth and what was factual. She was very generous and donated a number of digital scans of old historic photos of the castle.

 

 (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned Castle (Walter Arnold)

 

The Mason’s Castle was an incredible location and a true gem of American history. Please note that due to the fact that the land is actively owned I am unable to disclose the exact location of the castle or provide any information regarding gaining entry. Please do not attempt to visit this location, as it would be considered trespassing. I hope you enjoy the photography and the history!

 


17 Comments

  1. MInda

    Super!!!! Loved this!!! This property is amazing….Thanks for sharing and for your dedication!!

  2. Carole Savage

    Thank you for sharing this. It is absolutely amazing. I am so glad to have toured via you photos.

  3. Steve Holga

    These images look great with my sunglasses on.

  4. Great work as always Walter.
    I think the castle is fascinating, and very well portrayed both photographically, and in your detailed story….

  5. Absolutely STERLING photography! Complete capture of this castle including passionate response. I loved EVERYTHING about all of it. I
    would so LOVE a BOOK of this! MAGNIFICENT work, Walter! Please continue and thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Walter, I second Farlow, “absolutely STERLING” and a book would be wonderful! You are truly gifted.

  7. Brenda

    this land and the home is own that you know of are there any plans to restore it?

    • B.G

      It is owned by a Masonic Church group based in New York City. They’ve owned it for 50 years and have never done anything with it – a complete waste!

      • (Author)

        B.G.: I tired to contact them to get permission. Called and called, left messages… nothing… Even offered to donate pictures to them as a thank you and for historical preservation… Too bad..

  8. Jackie

    I would love to see that kitchen restored to its original design and be able to cook there.
    Somehow, I thought because of the condition of the outside it would still have looked nicer on the inside.
    Out of all the other videos I’ve watched this one made me cry…silly…

  9. Exciting place you found there. I did not know that there were castles in the United States.

  10. Kyle J McCullough

    And If I have my information correct wasnt that just supposed to be there summer home?

  11. Jean

    This reminds me *very* much of a good bit of the architecture at my undergraduate college–Swarthmore College. Looking through your pictures, it was uncanny, It actually left me feeling a bit sad because I couldn’t shake the idea that I was flipping through images of my old, beautiful campus in decay. Wharton Hall and Bond Hall especially, as far as architecture goes; the final picture of the iron gate reminds me of the one we have outside of our rose garden, and the third and fourth to the last remind me of the top of our bell tower. Stop by if you are ever in the Philadelphia area. It may help you imagine what this castle could look like with a little TLC and habitation! For full effect, make sure you convince someone to let you into Bond Hall so you can walk through the windy, labyrinth-like halls and staircases. ;) Also consider checking out the neighboring campuses of Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. Many parts of their campuses have the same magical feel!

  12. deb

    Oh, that makes me so sad to see it in such disrepair. Wonderful photography though.

  13. Pam Buska

    I am always amazed at what is hidden out there in the world and a huge yet saddened fan on seeing things lost and abandoned and the stories fascinate me. I have over the last few years just in our area developed a habit of going out and photographing old barns and things we see that at one time stood proud. I happened on this place and your wonderful work when I noticed someone had posted something on Chanute which was your work also on a site called I survived KI Sawyer AFB. I envy what you do and admire how you do it as know almost everything I grew up with is either gone or ruined somewhere. So mainly Thank you not only for the beautiful photos but some history also.

  14. Melanie Overaker

    This is really an interesting property. I was especially interested in this since it appears to be in my area. I am located in Elmira, NY and have never heard anything at all about it.

  15. joe jardon

    you didn’t anything about the great trout fishing stream right outside of the main gate and I was wondering what she told you about the summer camp buildings and you missed the carriage house it’s just up past the pool

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