A CASTLE IN DISTRESS
By Vanessa Neupmann and Barbara Hollister
Hidden beyond a steep, dirt driveway on an isolated site within Tarrywile Park, in Danbury, Connecticut, stands the Hearthstone
Castle, also known as Tarrywile Castle. The broken-down stone structure, which now only partially resembles the Hearthstone
Castle, is now immersed behind a silver chain-link fence and bold signs that bluntly state "DO NOT ENTER." Through
nearly 20 years of neglect, the castle’s condition has completely deteriorated and is now a threat to anyone who
tries to enter it. With so much charm and history to offer to the community, sadly, very few people have ever seen or even
heard of its existence.
The century-old, medieval castle was designed by Ernest G.W. Dietrich, and built in 1897, for E. Starr Sanford, a Danbury
native who became partners in Davis & Sanford, one of New York City's leading portrait photography firms in the 1890's.
Sanford purchased 19 acres which he transformed into a rustic park. The castle was then known as "Sanford Castle."
The Sanford family's tenure was brief due to financial difficulty and in 1902, they sold the castle to Victor Buck, a retired
New York industrialist. When the Buck family moved in, it was renamed "Buck's Castle" for obvious reasons.
In 1910, Charles Darling Parks, bought the Tarrywile Mansion from Dr. William C. Wile, whom "Tarrywile" was
named after; tarry, meaning to wait or stay; wile, representing Wile's name. Later, in 1918, C. D. Parks bought Buck's Castle
for his oldest daughter, Irene Parks, as a wedding gift, who was also the first person to be married at Tarrywile Mansion.
During that time, the castle was renamed "Hearthstone Castle," possibly due to the eight fireplaces, which were
all made out of stone, and for the castle itself being made from stone. All of the stone to build the castle was harvested
from Tarrywile property, and transported on a small railroad built inside Tarrywile just for that purpose. All of the wood
used in the construction of the castle was brought in from Italy. The wrought iron chandeliers, lamps, and wall sconces, were
made in Danbury by Cephas B. Rodgers Co. The same stone used in building the castle was also known to be used in the construction
of St. James Chapel and St. Peter's Church in Danbury.
The castle is three stories high with sixteen rooms. The first floor consists of five rooms and a kitchen with a butler's
pantry. The second floor consists of six rooms; five bedrooms and a library. The third floor consists of five rooms; four
bedrooms and a billiard room. The first floor also has a powder room and a full bath near the basement. The second floor consists
of four full baths, and the third floor with three. The full baths have standing showers, each with seven or more shower heads.
The first floor of the castle has four peach-colored marble fire places, two on the second floor, and two more on the third.
The living room on the main floor had one wall that was an entire bookcase which held over 1,000 books.
At one time, the castle had the capability of producing its own electricity. The original entrance to the castle came
around by the garages in front of the carriage house. That was changed to how it is at the present time, over 80 years ago.
One of the mantles from the third floor is now located in a condominium of the now deceased Dr. and Mrs. Jean Parks Davis.
Jean Parks was C. D. Parks' youngest daughter, being born eighteen years after his first daughter Irene. Many family weddings
and receptions were held at the castle up until its vacancy in the mid-1980's. One was the wedding of Jean Parks, whose gown
is now a part of historical merchandise at a local museum in Danbury.
The last residents of the Hearthstone Castle were Richard and Constance Jennings. Richard Jennings is the grandson of
Irene Parks. The Jennings lived there in 1983, shortly after Irene passed away, until March of 1987. The entire Tarrywile
estate at that time was sold to the City of Danbury. While the Jennings lived in the castle, it was the only known estate
with the working outside buildings still in tact. The outer buildings consisted of a care taker's cottage, pump house, carriage
house, machine shop, well tower, and there was originally a large goldfish pond. The cottage and carriage house were known
to be in great condition prior to the Jennings vacating the premises, and the pump house was the last known standing structure
there to be in good condition. Rare, old-fashioned flowers were once known to grow around the backside of the castle; the
variety was never identified.
Shortly after the sale of the Tarrywile property to the City of Danbury, and for many years after that, visitors came
to the castle to steal artifacts, antiques, or even stones from the castle itself. Some items taken include wall sconces,
light fixtures, wood, tiles, and glass, just to name a few. Others have vandalized it, as proven by the graffiti, broken windows
and boarded up doorways. Despite being listed on the National Register for Historic Places, renovations for the castle were
discussed in the past, but nothing has ever happened. The roof needs to be entirely replaced, as well as much of the interior
of the castle due to many years water damage.
Mayor Boughton recently commented on the past and present plans for the castle. “The City and Tarrywile Park
Commission made a study of the park, and we devised a master plan; a plan for the park," he said. "In that plan,
the area where the castle is calls for an observation tower, made out of stone, where you can go out to the top and kind of
see all around Danbury. That's what the plan is for that area of the park. Over the years, people have come in with proposals
on how to use the castle; the problem is that the castle does not have city water or a sewer, and there is no parking lot,
and you can can't take any more land out of the Tarrywile area because it would be a destruction of the Tarrywile property,
especially for the parks and recreation. There were ideas for a children's museum, 8 or 9 years ago, but they did not have
any funding and of course, they wanted to buy the castle for a dollar, and it is a 6 to 7 million-dollar fix; to go there
and do something with today's codes, handicap access, etc... that costs a lot of money. It is a very expensive proposition
and when you can't park and when you don't have any city services, people kind of shy away from the economics of it, and it
doesn't make any sense."
Also, Boughton expressed his concern with regard to using the castle as a private residence. "You can't put a private
property there because of the deed's restrictions on it," he said. "You could do a children's museum. The problem
is that it doesn't generate any money, and you will not put $7 million into a building and only have a museum, where you are
never going to get your money out of it. You cannot make a restaurant or anything because there is no revenue from it."
“It’s a beautiful building that I think has been terribly neglected, and I think it’s a shame
that it has been," said Sandy Moy, Executive Director of Tarrywile Park & Mansion. “It’s a wonderful
piece of history for the city of Danbury, and a beautiful building. I don't think enough people know about it, and it really
needs some attention brought to it. Hopefully something sooner or later will happen, and it’ll be able to return
to, maybe not it’s total beauty, but a portion of it." Moy also added, "I don't think that the city doesn’t
care, I really don't think that’s the issue. I think that the issue is when the subject comes up, we are in the middle
of budget crises with the state not giving the municipalities enough money and having to balance budgets, and trying to be
frugal with their money that they don’t really see that as something they want to put money into. I think they do
care about it but it’s one of those budget problems. It’s a lot of money."
Moy also expressed her concern with the cost of managing the facility after restoration. "What does the city of Danbury
do with a building like that? It becomes very expensive to run, expensive to heat, and maintain. I really think if the children's
museum had worked back in 1995, it would have been the greatest thing because it was outside people coming in to restore it
and to use it for a particular reason. The city of Danbury doesn’t want to get into being a restaurant owner and
we have already got a banquet facility here," she said, referring to the Tarrywile Mansion. "It is got to be something
that's going to be fairly inexpensive to run, and it is going to take a lot of vision for the future if they can totally restore
When asked about current plans for the castle, Moy stated, "We are in the beginning stages of looking at what we
could possibly do with the building, and it is way beyond just one person or two people to do this. We are meeting with the
Connecticut Trust, and have upcoming board meetings. Will the city go along with the idea of turning it into a three-season
pavilion, which is what we’re aiming toward, and would the city be able to put in some money? It is going to take
a lot of creative thinking to come up with an answer."
At this time, the Tarrywile Park Authorities and the City of Danbury have no plans to renovate the castle.
Facts used for the Hearthstone Castle's history have been collected from Tarrywile Park & Mansion, Danbury Museum
& Historical Society, and the Jennings family.