Windham, New Hampshire
Searles Castle Windham Reviews
Tudor style castle in New England Jun 12, 1993
It might surprise some people to learn that New England in the USA is home to a number of beautiful castles. Although not as large or grand as some in Europe, the scaled down sizes still offers some old world charm. One such place is Searles Castle in Windham, New Hampshire. It was built by Edward Francis Searles and took 10 years to construct between 1905 and 1915 for an estimated cost of over $1,250,000. It was meant to be a 1/4 scale replica of an English Tudor manor. It is built of cut granite, fieldstone, and dark red sandstone, most of which apparently came from Searles' own quarries that he purchased in nearby Pelham, NH for the project.
Edward Searles was born on July 4, 1841. He was an interior and architectural designer, but his vast wealth he inherited from his wife Mary Francis (Sherwood) Hopkins, more than 20 years his senior, who he married in 1887. The assets of Mary Hopkins included 25% ownership of the Central Pacific Railroad, a large amount of real estate holdings in San Francisco, New York and Great Barrington and $30 million, all of which Edward inherited when Mary died in 1891. Edward spent the remaining 30 years of his life devoted to pursuing his love of architecture during which he financed many structures in New England in collaboration with architect Henry Vaughn. Edward Searles traced his ancestry to the Oxfordshire Harcourt family in England, so the castle was originally called Stanton Harcourt Castle since the design was based on the Stanton-Harcourt manor which once stood in Oxfordshire County, England. I am not sure when it was renamed, presumably after Searles’ death, but today it bears the name Searles Castle. This is not to be confused with a place of the same name in Great Barrington, MA, a castle-styled house, whose interior was also designed by Edward Searles. In fact, the design of the house in Great Barrington is how Mary Hopkins met Edward Searles, who she commissioned to design the interior.
The property was inherited by his male secretary, Arthur Walker, who left it to his heirs. It was eventually sold to real estate broker Frank M. Andrew in 1930 for $2,000,000. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews lived in the castle from 1943 to 1952, when it was sold to the Religious Order of the Sisters of Mercy, who have owned it ever since that time. Actually, when Searles built the castle he left one of the towers uncompleted, which the sisters completed to perfection in keeping with the original design. It has been used as a novitiate for young women entering the Sisters of Mercy; a retreat house; and administrative offices. Castle College held classes in the castle for over twenty-five years beginning in 1962. Because the building needed extensive repairs, Castle College eventually moved to a wing of the Sisters Of Mercy motherhouse on the property, and the castle was closed for five years. During those five years, repairs were made to the roof and building. Beginning in 1991, the interior of the building was also refurbished. Since that time, the castle has been available to the public for social, cultural, spiritual and business events, including weddings & receptions, beginning in 2001 to raise additional funds for charitable programs of the Sisters Of Mercy.
As Bradford R. Dinsmore says of Searles in his 2003 Images of America book: Windham, “In Windham, he created a medieval fantasy world, with an English castle, bridges, arches, ponds stocked with fish, barns, and lodges. It was a place where the eccentric Searles could be lord of the manor.” The castle itself sits high atop a 175 acre estate, nestled in the woods, which takes you back in time to the days of the Tudors with its splendid English inspired landscapes, stone walls, bridges, ponds and walkways. There are even two gates that lead up to the castle itself. All this right in New England! It is really quite an inspiring place to visit and a tribute to Edward Searles legacy. Well worth a visit just to see the grounds or attend an event, although these are mostly of the specialty type now. The castle itself used to be open to the general public for a few weekends in late October and early November for the annual Christmas open house. I am not sure if this still goes on every year now. It might have become over commercialized in recent years since the Sisters of Mercy leased it to the events company, which is a shame.
For other castles in New England to explore, see: http://www.boston.com/travel/explorene/galleries/castles_of_new_england/
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