Castles of Eastern New York
Europe has no corner on fairy tale castles—New York State has its share, and on this tour we’ll see come of the grandest starting in Long Island and winding our way up the Hudson Valley.
A castle is defined as a massive or imposing house or fortification, and more than 100 have been built in New York over the centuries. Many remain standing and some are open to the public, even welcoming overnight guests. Our first two stops are on Long Island.
DAY 1 -
Built in 1906, Long Island’s Oheka Castle stands amid 200 acres of formal gardens and landscaped grounds. The entire estate is open to the public from April through October unless a movie is being filmed here and many have been, including “North by Northwest,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Age of Innocence” and “American Gangster.”
Located in Huntington on Long Island’s north shore Gold Coast, Oheka is the second largest private residence in America at 109,000 square feet, and for a night or two it can be your address. Whether you stop for a tour or stay the night at this luxury hotel, you’ll enjoy palatial views of the 23-acre manicured estate.
Stroll formal gardens and be entranced by the castle that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and provided backgrounds for Orson Welles’ classic film Citizen Kane.
Castle Gould, now known as Hempstead House, commands the Sands Point Preserve off the Long Island Expressway’s exit 36.
Built with railroad money between 1900 and 1912, this medieval-looking monument once hosted the Gold Coast’s grandest parties amid medieval tapestries, vaulted gold leaf ceilings, stained and leaded glass and hand-carved oak woodwork from a 17th century Spanish palace. The sunken Palm Court housed rare orchids and an aviary kept exotic birds in ornate cages.
Although Castle Gould is no longer furnished, its priceless architecture evokes an elegance long past. Relief portraits of literary figures still peer down from the plaster ceiling of the walnut-paneled library, modeled after the palace of King James I.
Next comes a mini-stop. Visitors to New York City’s Central Park might not expect to encounter Belvedere Castle. A stately miniature structure built in 1869 to provide lofty views, it sits atop Vista Rock, one of the highest points in the park. After years of closure, the castle was restored and re-opened to the public in 1983. Designed in the Norman Gothic style, it’s a popular stop for park visitors and the point from which the National Weather Service has measured park weather conditions since 1919. Open daily, 10am-5pm.
Now head north toward Garrison, about an hour’s drive. Just across the river from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point sits Castle Rock and its namesake, a towering 30-room mansion built in 1881 of rough-cut stone quarried on the property. The castle, dominated by a sky-scraping conical tower, perches on a steep ridge 650 feet high, revealing from its many porches and windows long views of the Hudson and surrounding highlands.
Sadly, these views aren’t available to the public as Castle Rock is still privately inhabited many generations later by its original builders, the Osborne family. Most of the land around the castle, however, is state-owned and open to the public for hiking, and views from the ground are almost as magnificent. In fact, rumor has it the castle was L. Frank Baum's inspiration for the castle in the Wizard of Oz and that the uniforms of the Wicked Witch’s winged monkeys were inspired by West Point’s cadet uniforms. Hmmm.
Bannerman Castle is located on six-acre Pollepel Island in the Hudson River about 50 miles north of New York City, and is a familiar landmark clearly identified from the mainland.
Built in 1901 by war goods merchant, the castle blew up famously in 1920 when 200 tons of stored explosives ignited. Today, tours of the castle ruins are available to visitors willing to wear a hard hat. As we head north on our tour, a stop here is a no-brainer.
An hour further up the valley in Hudson, just a mile south of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, Olana Castle welcomes visitors daily for tours of the palatial residence of Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church. Built in 1860, Olana sits on a hill looking down on the pastoral Hudson River Valley that Church was famous for painting.
Visitors to this remarkably preserved estate will see original furnishings with paintings from Church's personal collection gracing the walls. Equally impressive are the 250 acres of landscaped grounds designed by Church himself over a 40-year period. Stroll miles of carriage drives that reveal view after view of living paintings.
Reservations are recommended for groups of less than 15 people, but are not required.
Our final stop is Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown. Hop off I-87 just east of the Tappan Zee Bridge to find one of America’s finest Gothic Revival mansions, dating back to 1838.
Now here’s a castle for you, and no nibbling around the edges. Built in an early Gilded Age style, Lyndhurst’s turrets and four-story tower cloak narrow hallways and grand, richly furnished rooms with vaulted ceilings and arched windows.
Lyndhurst graces a park-like landscape sweeping down to the Hudson River and views from atop the castle are memorable. Guided tours are offered Fridays through Mondays.
Belvedere Castle - 212-772-0288
Castle Gould - 516-571-7900
Lyndhurst Castle - 914-631-4481
Oheka Castle - 631-659-1400
Olana Castle - 518-828-0135