“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
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I stayed in the castle during camp for 2 years, it started when I was 6. I am 71 now
after that we moved down the hill to camp roscoe. I remember the beautiful marble bathrooms, and extremely large fireplaces. we called it the kiddie cool castle in the catskills
The Prince Hall Masons are not a church group. They were founded in 1784 by Prince Hall and a group of fourteen other free black men who were rejected when they tried to join a white Masonic Lodge.
Thank you Mark! I don’t see where I wrote about them being a church group, but if I did in error, I will fix it!
It is not true that the original Prince Hall Masons were “rejected” by a “white” Masonic lodge. They were accepted, and initiated. That is, after all, how they BECAME Masons in the first place. They later formed their own lodge, primarily for men of color, and then later formed other similar lodges.
I have been here. So sad and beautiful. Big trouble if you are caught there. We loved it though. Just an incredible place and interesting history. My granddaughter and I were looking at photos and I researched it and it was only an hour from me so off we went. I have some awesome photos thankfully.
When I was younger… a few friends and I visited this property at about 3 in the morning. This place is haunted. I have a very chilling story about what happened and a picture of what I am convinced are spirits surrounding me. I have had very bad luck since visiting this place about 14 years ago…. you could not pay me enough to go back.
Beautiful location, just toured by motorcycle. Luckily the Beaver kill covered bridge was closed, it detours you past the castle, coming in from the Pepacton reservoir side. To bad they couldn’t set up a foundation to fund the restoration, via donations. Like the Jewish hotel’s, a beautiful artwork to be lost to time. Definitely Catskill history. Love the Catskills!
These photographs are both beautiful and heartbreaking. I first became interested in the value of architecture when I learned of Chicago’s Richard Nickel who photographed old buildings in the 1950s, 1960s & 1970s. They were to be demolished. He also died in one of them. The value of his photography is priceless for those structures are long gone. The Masons Castle is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen and we are fortunate to have a visual record of it through Walter Arnold’s wonderful photography.
Apparently, the castle has now been covered in graffiti inside, as of Winter 2013. This is a shame.
Below is the source. (It is referred to as Ravenloft Castle)
Thanks for sharing Amber. So sad to see all the graffiti. This is why the owners who have sat on it for 40 years and done nothing, should have taken action to preserve it much sooner. THey could have spent a little money to get it locked up and then rented it out for people to legally tour through it and photograph it. So sad 🙁
oooops…. I had a typo, meant it to write: and yes, it’s truely a “fairytale Castle” waiting some wonderfully happy family. I’d also like to add once again, looking at these photos I get an overwhelming feeling that this property could and would be a happy, lively, gorgeous garden, and home when restored…. kindly, Rett
An abandoned fairy tale castle in the woods, how wonderful !! I also found this castle listed as Ravenloft castle on another website I think was abandoned ny… with some very similar photos. Why doesn’t someone REALLY find the owners and purchase this property??? It feels as if this property is waiting to be a beautiful, lively, happy….and yes, fairytale, castle for some wonderfully happy family to own and enjoy. It’s waiting to be loved, and restored… Rett / Ms. Loretta Ann Bowman
http://www.AstrexRabbits.com / http://www.CurlyRabbits.com
I’m with you! I wish someone would do something with this historic property. The Prince Hall Masons from NYC own the land, but have not really done anything to help preserve or restore it. Of course it would cost quite a bit to do so, so it would take a private investor to really make something happen with it. Someday maybe!
A sad story for a lovely home. I look at photo of such places all the time and even though it tears my heart to see them abandoned I love to think about what the walls would say if they could talk. I wish I had money and connections to fix up old places like this. Old, ‘forgotten’ homes makes me wish I could wrap my arms around them and make them happy again. This place seems so sad to be lonely. 🙁
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
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.
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.
Oh, that makes me so sad to see it in such disrepair. Wonderful photography though.
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!
And If I have my information correct wasnt that just supposed to be there summer home?
Exciting place you found there. I did not know that there were castles in the United States.
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…
this land and the home is own that you know of are there any plans to restore it?
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!
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..
Walter, I second Farlow, “absolutely STERLING” and a book would be wonderful! You are truly gifted.
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!
Great work as always Walter.
I think the castle is fascinating, and very well portrayed both photographically, and in your detailed story….
These images look great with my sunglasses on.
Thank you for sharing this. It is absolutely amazing. I am so glad to have toured via you photos.
Super!!!! Loved this!!! This property is amazing….Thanks for sharing and for your dedication!!