One of the reasons I choose to do abandoned site photography is because I love connecting with people and their stories about these old places. Every building or site I visit has a story to tell. That, in part and turn, allows me to write my own stories and share with all you folks. Through these stories, sometimes sad, sometimes joyous, I hope to raise awareness to the fact that we need to preserve these wonderful old buildings and sites. Re-purpose them and allow them to bring enjoyment to generations to come. If we should lose our heritage, we lose who we are.
I first learned about the castle from seeing photos on a Facebook friends page. That friend pointed myself and a fellow photographer in the right direction and the quest to see this amazing place had begun. Befittingly, in the “heart” the Catskill region of upstate New York, hidden from plain sight, hidden from google maps and even hidden from the road that passes directly by, lies a monument made of stone, wood, and steel.
The story starts around 1885 with a farmer and 143rd Infantryman named Joseph Cammer who owned a small parcel of land located in the Catskill region of New York. Mr. Cammer was a farmer and an avid fisherman and would often offer to board a few fisherman each summer as they would visit from New York City and surrounding towns. Among those who would visit were Frank Livingston and famed architect Bradford Lee Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert designed many train depots and firehouses but was probably best known for the English American “Flatiron” building in Atlanta, Georgia which actually pre-dates the more well known Flatiron building in New York City.
Mr. Livingston, Mr. Gilbert and three others conceived the idea of building a small log cabin on the Cammer property. With the idea at hand, the men purchased a small plot of land on the banks of the Beaverkill River and proceeded with their construction. A log cabin was built with a large stone fireplace. A couple of years went by and Mr. Gilbert bought out the other members and moved his wife to the cabin. During the coming years he purchased more land and made many improvements in the cabin. It became known as the “Beaverkill Lodge”. The hamlet where the lodge was built was known as “Craigie-Clair” which was named after an Irish fishing village and translates as “Beautiful Mountainside.” Gilbert’s wife was a native of Ireland and chose the name because the Catskill scenery reminded her of home. A few years later, around 1903 the lodge was sold to NYC businessman Morris Sternbach. Then in 1907 it was finally sold to Ralph Wurts-Dundas.
About Ralph Dundas
Ralph W. Dundas (Born 1871-Died 1921) was born Ralph Wurts-Dundas in Brussels, Belgium of American parents with family connections in Philadelphia & New York. Dundas had a connection to the Catskills region & was an heir to several fortunes. His paternal grandfather, William Wurts (1788-1858), was a Philadelphia merchant & one of three brothers who built & promoted the Delaware & Hudson Canal in the 1820s to convey anthracite from Carbondale, Pennsylvania to the Hudson at Angston. According to a private interview that I had with historian Dr. Joyce Conroy, Mr. Dundas was rich, reclusive, married and had daughter. He also had a penchant to be a Scottish Laird. With that title, he also wishes to have a castle.
Castle Construction Begins
So plans are laid and construction begins on converting the Beaverkill Lodge into a full-fledged stone Scottish style castle. Instead of tearing down the lodge and building fresh, Dundas decides to construct the castle around the existing lodge. Literally, stone by stone is laid both inside and out. Leaded glass windows and walls are encased in stone and mortar as the castle begins to take shape. Some of the walls are said to be 3 feet thick. The lodge is completely buried alive by the castles construction as if torn from the pages of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”.
Dundas’ wife was known to be very emotionally disabled. So, she and the couple’s daughter are moved to a wing of the lodge so Dundas can be with his family during the initial construction. About 30 Finnish masons were brought in to work on the construction which started shortly before World War I. Dundas was very meticulous and sometimes spontaneous with the castles construction plans. He would frequently change design plans and make the workers tear whole sections down and rebuild them. At times, fully completed sections were torn down and rebuilt to please Dundas’ vision.
Here is a photo of one of those masons, a Mr. Peter Lindsay. In the background you can see the stones being laid as they start encasing the lodge.
The Castle Completed
By 1921 the Dundas Castle is completed. Coincidentally this is also the year Ralph Dundas dies. Though most of the furnishings have been delivered, they are never installed. Tapestries, rugs, bed frames, and fixtures all gather dust in the castle as Dundas’ wife is committed to a sanitarium after his death. Their daughter Muriel marries, moves to Europe and later, while hunting for King James gold is committed herself to an institution in England. Her husband returns to the states and soon after, he too is committed. The castle lay abandoned until purchased from Muriel by a group of African-American Masons in 1949 for $47,500.00. For nearly 92 years the Dundas Castle, is occupied by nothing more than a dream and that is the way it remains to this day. Here is a simple layout of the castle and immediate grounds:
From the Courtyard ~ Early dates unknown
As you can clearly see from the above comparative shot, no care is being taken to remove the TREES growing in the eves troughs. If valued, better care needs to be taken here.
Approaching the CastlePurchase a Print
The castle walls and structure were built on a budget using stone from the local riverbed. The major portion of money was to be spent on the adornments and luxuries for the inside of the castle. Some 36 plus rooms were treated to the finest modern luxuries, and most of them were years ahead of their time. Many rooms had extravagant fireplaces, with finely articulated mantles, some in gold leaf. Any room without a fireplace was heated with modern steam heat radiators. Each room had electricity with modern plugs, switches, and intercoms. The bathrooms were all adorned with white subway style fine porcelain tile. As myself and my fellow photographers explore this amazing site, images of Scottish kings and queens streak through our minds. Though never occupied, the castle has a real sense of human presence. While there I just couldn’t put my finger on it. It was a lot to take in at the time. One thing is for sure, it is very apparent that this castle due to its rich history, like most, is very much a living entity all to its own.
We emerge from the thick forest and are immediately greeted with a well traveled wood mulch path, the comforting scent of the pine forest and a barbican adorned with two massive turrets complete with witches caps and weather vanes. Holy crap on a cracker, it’s a castle!
Instantly I felt as if I had stepped into an alternate universe. Not that I would know how that feels but I imagined it would feel similar to this. The emotion flooding my senses was very surreal. We pass through the barbican and entered the courtyard, also known as a bailey. The castle is a T shape with a wall known as a rampart connecting one of the sides of the T to form the bailey. Our jaws collectively drop in awe at the beauty that lies before us but no time for photos of this area right yet. Quickly, before being noticed we duck into the nearest open door and are greeted with what appears to be a kitchen area with an iron stove.
Adjacent to the stove is a broken window, the first of many unfortunately. A view of the courtyard and nature taking a peek inside.
We decide this will be base camp and drop our gear to begin exploring the depths of the castle. Along with the twist of reality feeling you experience with the castle you just cannot help to constantly check your 6 at every turn. The castle is definitely NOT haunted as some seem to claim. At least it isn’t by traditional ghosts but, you do get a weird vibe while there. I think it has to do with the disbelief that there is this beautiful castle in the middle of the woods that has never been lived in, combined with the back story and the sensory overload.
The First Floor
All door and window frames are in the gothic pointed arch style. The doors themselves are extremely heavy and finely detailed. All matching perfectly. Although some are fallen, many are still fully intact.
A door in the barbican, missed on the way in due to our excitement, leads to the other wing of the castle.
Through the passage I find many rooms that have extravagant fireplaces and finely appointed mosaic tile floors. Notice the 4 prong electrical outlet on the right wall (Click to enlarge). Very odd design.
The Second Floor
Inside the turrets we saw from the front gates are spiral marble staircases that lead to the second of three floors. The light and colors are just unbelievable inside the castle, lending even more magic to the already surreal surroundings.
As I explored, the sense of altered reality heightened with every turn. I find it amazingly unreal that no one has repaired this beautiful home and made it either into a residence or a landmark show piece. The building is so well constructed with its 3 foot thick walls and 1 and a half inch thick imported slate roof that I don’t doubt it will stand another 100 years if untouched. It really wouldn’t take much to make this a beautiful home for someone.
Just off what looks to be the master bedroom in the hall is a nearly functional dumb-waiter. Obviously to ferry meals from the kitchen area to the bedroom.
From the hall I turn down another series of corridors past another bathroom to a sitting room with a wonderful fireplace. This room seems different from the others with its ultra low ceiling of just 7 feet and square doors which match no others in the castle. This makes me believe that this was possibly part of the original lodge construction.
The Third Floor
So I climbed another set of stairs inside the turret and made my way to the third floor. By this time I was getting a bit frustrated. I had wanted to shoot inside the turret because the marble stairs were just amazing but no matter how I tried I just could not find an interesting angle with the light I wanted. I guess I will have to save it for next trip. The third floor would not disappoint. First stop, what looked to be a small bedroom.
Situated next to this bedroom was a large bathroom containing one of the only remnants of window glass in the entire castle.
Leaving the bathroom I made my way back to the other end of the castle to visit a couple of very cool rooms with some very cool light! On my way I paused to shoot a quick shot of the Courtyard and the beautiful sunshine streaming through one of the windows. I could only imagine what it would have been like in its heyday.
One of my fellow adventurers alerts me that there are a couple of rooms with some great sunlight so I head off to the carriage end of the castle. I am very pleased with what I found there.
A little “Light Painting” fun.
We decide to call it a “wrap” and head outside to do our final shots of the grounds. While making my way back downstairs this window and the view of the turret out by the garden/patio catches my eye. I stop to take the shot.
I head down to the ground floor and out through the door in the barbican and the turret again grabs my attention so I set up for a few more shots.
From there, it’s a 180° about face and we head in to the courtyard to do some exterior and panorama shots.
We decide it is time to say goodbye to this amazing place and head out. Just outside the barbican we stop to take one more shot, then head down to the front gates before our final farewell.
We make our way back to our vehicle and the front gates. Here is a shot of Dundas’ coach, driver and horse from the early 1900’s.
And finally a few shots of the gates today.
All-in-all a pretty amazing day. It was a lot of work, but looking back it was well worth it. The “Dundas Castle” a real life time-portal that transports you back to the days of knights on white horses and fair maiden chivalry. A castle in the forest, born of love and a passion for perfection, but sadly never fully realized.
The Lonely Castle Revisited