A Castle in the Middle of Rochester, NY
Part of the fun of travel is the surprising discoveries one can make when traveling down back roads and off the beaten track. On a recent trip back to Rochester, New York I came upon just such a discovery while touring an area of the city that was well remembered from having grown up in that city. However, a random turn down a previously, by me at least, unexplored road next to the city's famous Highland Park and its lilacs when I suddenly found myself face to face with a medieval castle.
Well, it was intended to look like a medieval castle, but it was actually a nineteenth century home of a wealthy judge named Horatio G. Warner. Born in the town of Canaan, New York on March 12, 1801, Warner grew up in western New York state. Trained as a lawyer, he practiced law and served as a judge in Rochester, New York. His other activities included serving as editor of The Rochester Courier, a newspaper started during the presidential election of 1848 and later as publisher of the Daily Advertiser, another Rochester newspaper.
Banking was another one of his interests and he served a number of years as president of the Bank of Rochester and was also a trustee of the East Side Savings Bank in Rochester. During his later years he served as a regent of the State University of New York until his death in 1876.
Castles were Popular in the Nineteenth Century
During a trip to Scotland, Warner visited the ancestral castle of the Clan Douglas and was so impressed with it that, upon returning home, he decided to model his new home on that castle. He had plans drawn up based upon the Clan Douglas castle and proceeded to have his castle style home built. The castle-like home with its 22 rooms, black walnut woodwork and stone walls was completed in 1854. Horatio Warner and his family lived in the home and later passed it on to his son J.B.Y. Warner.
After Horatio Warner's son, the home continued as a private home through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries until it was purchased by Christopher Gian-Cursio who used it as a convalescent home, a fate shared by other stately homes in our cities in mid-twentieth century as rising taxes and a movement by the middle and upper classes to the suburbs left little demand for nineteenth century mansions like Warner Castle. Finally, in the early 1950s the City of Rochester purchased Warner Castle for use as a herbarium. The location of the castle and its spacious gardens next to the city's botanical park, Highland Park, made the acquisition a logical choice for rounding out the park.
While somewhat unique for a home in America, Warner Castle is really not alone in terms of its style. The nineteenth century was the era of the Industrial Revolution which had an enormous impact on society. The rise of the new entrepreneurial class with its newly acquired wealth was replacing the old land owning aristocracy as the dominant economic group in society. Along with the wealthy entrepreneurs, the era also saw the rise of the middle class and shift from rural to urban living. Despite the many new opportunities and rising living standards offered by the Industrial Revolution, many people were disturbed by the massive changes in life that were occurring.
Change, good or bad, is always difficult for most people and a common reaction is to romanticize the past, viewing it as a time when life was simpler and better than the present. For Europeans, especially the English whose nation was the leading industrial economy in the world, the crumbling castles that littered the countryside suddenly became favorite themes for painters, poets and writers. Family trees and coats of arms were dug up and popularized while old traditions dating back to the Middle Ages were dusted off and re-introduced to the public.
As outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair and other members of the British Labour Party used to point out before coming to power, much of the medieval pomp and ceremony so common in Britain today dates not from the Middle Ages directly but from the relatively more recent reign of Queen Victoria (1819 - 1901 and reigned from 1837 - 1901).
The same was true in Continental Europe where one of the most famous castles, Neuschwanstein Castle, in the present German state of Bavaria, which was built by the Bavarian King Ludwig II (b 1845, d 1886 and ruled from 1863 - 1886) and completed in 1886 a few weeks after that king's untimely death. This is the castle that Walt Disney used first as a model for the castle in the animated movie Sleeping Beauty and later built replicas of it at Disneyland and other Disney parks as well as now using it as the logo for the Disney Corporation.
Some Famous North American Castles
While Europeans were busy celebrating their castles, wealthy North Americans followed suit by building their own castles. Warner Castle in Rochester, New York is but one of many castles once used as private homes in the nineteenth century in North America. In addition to Warner Castle other popular ones now open to the public include:
Boldt Castle, built in the late 19th century on Heart Island in the St. Lawrence River in New York State. This castle was built by hotel magnate George C. Boldt as a gift for his wife, Louise, symbolizing his love for her.
Hearst Castle which overlooks the Pacific Ocean near San Simeon, California. Construction of this castle began in 1919 and continued, as additions were made, through 1947 when family moved to another location. It was built by newspaper heir and publisher William Randolph Hearst on land that he inherited from his mother and which was originally purchased in 1865 by his father, George Hearst.
Casa Loma in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Located on a hill (Casa Loma is Italian for House on a Hill) overlooking the City of Toronto, this castle was built by Sir Henry Pellatt between 1911 and 1914 at a cost of $3.5 million. Sir Henry began his career working at his father's investment firm, Pellatt and Osler, and later formed his own company, Pellatt and Pellatt, with his son. He made much of his fortune by investing in hydro-electric and transportation ventures.
While Warner and similar castles began as romanticized replicas of medieval castles of a past era, the passage of time has resulted in the transformation of Warner and other North American castles from replicas of these past artifacts into real artifacts representing an architectural style and way of life in their own age on which we now look back upon as a part of our own past.