The Damned Story: When it comes to castles in Connecticut, it is often thought that the list starts with and ends with Gillette Castle in East Haddam -- well, that's what I thought for years. As it turns out, there's another lesser-known castle in the state, one that probably doesn't merit the recognition or visitations quite simply because it has fallen into disrepair.
The once-proud Hearthstone Castle sits abandoned in Danbury's scenic Tarrywile Park, a forgotten edifice now boarded up and home to tangled weeds and various opportunistic critters. Seeing it today, you'd be hardpressed to believe that it once was shiny and new -- yet it was over a century ago.
In 1897, E. Starr Sanford, a very successful New York City-based portrait photographer from an affluent Danbury family, decided to have a lavish summer home built. For whatever reason, the family only lived there for five years before selling it in 1902 to industrialist Victor Buck, who renamed it Buck's Castle -- you know, because turn-of-the-century industrialists named everything after themselves (see Hearst, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, etc.). In 1918, Charles Darling Parks, a self-made millionaire who was president of the American Hatters and Furriers Co., bought it from Buck for his daughter Irene Parks, and renamed it Hearthstone Castle -- conjecture is that it got that name from the eight fireplaces found throughout the structure, all made of stone. It stayed in the Parks family for nearly 70 years.
In 1985, the castle, neighboring Tarrywile Mansion and the surrounding acres were bought for $4.7 million by the city of Danbury. Unfortunately since then, the town has not been able to maintain -- let alone renovate -- the castle, letting it tumble into its current state of decay. Walls have crumbled, ceilings have fallen; to put it succinctly, it's a mess. In May 2008, five Ridgefield teenagers were arrested for vandalizing the castle after they brilliantly posted a video of themselves wrecking the place on YouTube.
As you might imagine, in its heyday, the castle was quite the showplace. The three-story structure had 17 rooms, including nine bedrooms, a library and a billiard room. (No mention if there was a secret passage from the study to the kitchen, or if anything untoward happened to Colonel Mustard with a candlestick.) Although the exterior was fashioned from local stone, the interior wood was all imported from Italy. Apparently the entire castle was also capable of producing its own electricity.
It is on the National Register of Historic Places as well as the Connecticut Register of Historic Places. Various local groups have tried to rally to save it, but as of right now, there are no concrete restoration plans.
A more detailed history of Hearthstone Castle is available here.
Sidenote: The castle's first owner, E. Starr Sanford, apparently died an odd death -- in 1914, while on a ship to visit his son in Texas, he was sent into severe shock when the vessel was struck by lightning. The arteries in his eyes were badly damaged, an injury from which he never recovered, dying three years later in 1917. While not as bad as being mauled by a chimp, it's still pretty nasty.
Our Damned Experience [Updated]: We took a trip to Tarrywile Park and visited Hearthstone Castle on a quiet summer day in July 2013.
As you can see from the pictures below, the castle is in a terrible state of disrepair, and is quite overgrown with all sorts of vegetation, including a significant amount of poison ivy. Also, being the Connecticut woods, there are plenty of ticks to be found. Yay!
The castle is surrounded by a fence and the front door is boarded shut, so we didn't go inside. We did get close enough to take a bunch of pictures, and it is kind of eerie to see this once-amazing edifice sitting abandoned in the woods, not all that far from suburbia; actually, the castle is only a few hundred yards from Southern Boulevard, at the end of a gravel road. The park itself is a beautiful and quiet place, which makes having an old castle in the middle of it even more unusual.
Anyway, the decades of neglect and vandalism are abundantly evident, and it's sad to see it in such a state. We didn't have any unusual experiences, although we didn't really to expect to. We do hope that the town of Danbury eventually realizes what a treasure it has and decides to restore it to its former glory.
If You Go: Hearthstone Castle is located in Tarrywile Park in Danbury, the entrance of which is located 70 Southern Boulevard. The park is open to the public year-round from sunrise to sunset every day.
As mentioned previously, the castle is in great disrepair and is cordoned off from the public with a fence. As it is quite dangerous inside, it's not recommended for anyone to enter.