Dundas Castle, the former estate of Ralph Wurts-Dundas, is an abandoned mountain retreat in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
Lumbering, the earliest industry in the Catskill Mountains, began to develop prior to the American Revolution along the Delaware River valley and along two major tributaries, the Beaverkill and Willowemoc, which had enough flow to enable timber runs downstream to Trenton, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 4 The logs were lashed together as rafts and steered through the narrow and shallow streambeds.
The earliest permanent settlements along the river formed after the Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike was completed in 1801. 4 Sawmills, grist mills, and other early industries that could be powered by water flow began to populate along the river corridors. More significantly, the tanning industry thrived because of the abundance of hemlock bark and the high demand for leather products by soldiers of the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. Hides from South America were transported into the region by land and finished in tanneries.
The completion of the Delaware & Hudson Canal in 1828 and the Erie Railroad along the river in 1851 led to modest growth but the area began to decline after much of the timber had been harvested. 4 The economy began to decline after much of the timber had been harvested, and the economic slump was further exaggerated after the rich agricultural lands of the Missouri valley were opened up to settlement that led to the abandonment of many small farms in the Catskills.
Significant portions of the Catskills remained largely unsettled by European-Americans prior to 1890 as the area remained one of the last bastions of Native American occupation as late as the 1870s. 4 The arrival of the Ontario & Western Railroad through the heart of the region in 1872 led to the development of recreational resorts and bungalow colonies in the southern Catskills while sparing the Beaverkill region from intensive development because of its continued inaccessibility and remoteness. The railroad promoted the region as a desirable trout fishing area, and within two decades, the upper Beaverkill was lined with guesthouses and fishing clubs.
Dundas Castle Development
Nearly 1,000 acres of hilly topography along Beaverkill River was acquired in 1887 by Bradford L. Gilbert, a noted New York City architect, from Joseph Cammer who had farmed the land. 1 3 4 The property included three farmhouses, barns, and outhouses. 4 Gilbert renamed the hamlet at the base of the farm Craig-e-Clair after an Irish fishing village that loosely translated to “Beautiful Mountainside.” 4 Gilbert’s wife was a native of Ireland and chose the name because the mountain scenery reminded her of home.
The land was sold in 1903 to Morris Sternbach, a silk manufacturer, who began transforming the farm into an estate. 4 Sternbach hired locals to tear down the existing structures on the site and had constructed Beaverkill Lodge, a modest Swiss-style wood-frame country house. Planted around the house were large orchards of pear and apple trees and nearby was a newly erected tenant house and a barn for up to 12 riding horses.
Sternbach sold the land in 1907 to Ralph Wurts-Dundas, a wealthy and prominent New Yorker and grandson of William Wurts, one of three brothers who built the Delaware & Hudson Canal. 1 2 4 The Dundas family, from Scotland, had married into the Philadelphia-based Wurts family which had coal holdings in northeast Pennsylvania and had constructed the Canal to carry their coal to market.
Like many other wealthy families, Wurts-Dundas wanted to build a mountain retreat for his family and friends and erected a replica castle in the Gothic Revival and Elizabetha Revival styles inspired by late 19th century interpretations of medieval Scottish castles. 1 3 4 Encapsulating the earlier Beaverkill Lodge, the Dundas Castle was built of local stone from the Beaverkill and featured 36 rooms outfitted with Italian marble on the floors, staircases, and fireplaces, slate for the roof from England, and iron gates from France. The gold-leafed fireplace in the reception room was valued at over $5000 alone.
Construction of the Dundas Castle had begun in the early years of the first World War but ceased in 1924, three years after Wurts-Dundas’ death in 1921. 1 It was never fully completed and never lived in by Wurts-Dundas or his wife, Josephine. Josephine was reportedly committed to a sanitarium and later died. The castle and property passed onto their daughter, Murial, who married James R. Herbert Boone of Baltimore in 1930.
The Dundas Castle was managed by B.C. Hardenberg between 1913 and 1922, and then by Mr. and Mrs. James Farley who occupied the caretaker’s section of the castle until 1947. 4
On May 2, 1949, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Masonic Order, consisting of African-American Masons acquired the property from Murial Wurts-Dundas Boone for $47,500. 1 4 The Masons had intended to establish a Masonic Home for the Aged and Indigent but flagging finances led the project to never being completed, and instead, the property was used as a hunting and fishing resort. An on-site barn was renovated into a recreation center and a farmhouse was reused as an administration building. By 1964, the Masons had constructed a swimming pool and dining hall, and established Camp Eureka, a summer camp for inner-city youth.
The Dundas Castle was noted on the state Building Inventory form for the Division for Historic Preservation 3 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. In July 2005, the Masons and the Open Space Institute (OSI) entered into a cooperative agreement to protect 929 acres of the Camp Eureka and Dundas Castle property. 1 The OSI acquired a conservation easement from Prince Hall Temple Associates, a non-profit corporate affiliate of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, which forever limits future development of the property and prohibits residential subdivision.
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- Sokolow, Jane. “Dundas Castle.” Friends of Beaverkill Community, 2015.
- Conway, John. “Mystery still shrouds Dundas Castle.” Times Harold-Record, 27 Oct. 1993.
- Division for Historic Preservation, New York State Parks and Recreation. Camp at Castle Eureka. By Ted Bessette, Ju. 1976.
- United States. Dept. of the Interior. Dundas Castle. Comp. Kathleen LaFrank. Washington: National Park Service, Oct. 2000.