Beardslee Castle

The Early History, John Beardslee
In 1781 John Beardslee left Connecticut in search of a fortune.
He was a practiced architect, civil engineer and mechanic. In 1787 he arrived at Whitestown, New York where he built mills financed by the sale of shares, later selling his portion at a tidy profit. With the success of this project he was engaged by the state to build a series of Mills for the Oneida Indians. Mr. Beardslee’s construction jobs continued and between 1790 and 1796 he built the first bridge across the Mohawk at Little Falls, the old red mill at Little Falls, mills at Van Hornesville and Canajoharie, bridges at West Canada Creek, East Canada Creek and Fort Plain, and the Herkimer County Courthouse and Jail.

He settled at East Creek, about a mile up from the Mohawk River, where a small town grew up around his developments.

Known as Beardslee Mills or Beardslee City, the settlement thrived and grew to over 2000 residents in the early 1800’s.

When the Erie Canal was built, bringing the majority of trade to the south side of the river, Beardslee Mills fell into hard times, later to be abandoned altogether. John Beardslee died in October of 1825, the same month the Canal opened. All that remains of Beardslee’s City is an overgrown graveyard at the edge of a cornfield and the limestone Beardslee family mausoleum in a stand of virgin pine along the East Creek.

The Next Generation, Augustus builds the Castle
John’s son Augustus lived to an old age and carried on the Beardslee tradition of hard work and individual accomplishment. He graduated Union college in 1821 and went on to a fruitful law practice in Little Falls, later elected to the State Legislature as well as serving time as a member of the judiciary. He was selected by Lincoln as one of several representatives to a convention in Virginia in efforts to stave off civil war. Augustus managed the family fortune well, investing in New York Central Railroad. When he built the Castle in 1860 a covered walkway was constructed leading to the East Creek station and a private semaphore installed so he could stop trains to travel to New York. The Beardslee’s borrowed heavily on designs of Irish Castles in constructing their home. Helen Caitlin Bernard Beardslee outlived her husband by a quarter century and continued to add artifacts and additions to the Castle.

Guy Roosevelt Beardslee
Augustus’s son, Guy Roosevelt Beardslee, was born in 1858. He was schooled locally as a child, later attending Charlier Institute in New York and then spending two years studying in France. He was appointed to West Point Military Academy barely graduating four years later, last in his class, in 1879. He received a commission in the infantry assigned to Fort Niobrara in Nebraska shortly after the General Custer incident. He resigned his commission one year later to return to East Creek to handle the family estate.

He took his place managing the estate that included a full working farm, cheese factory, and sawmill. In 1892 two engineers approached him from a firm in New York who paid him $40,000 in return for an option to develop power at East Creek on property still owned at the old Beardslee City. They were unable to raise enough capital for the project, which was considered risky because of the need to transmit power over the distance of three miles to the nearest town.

Drawing on his own engineering background and enlisting the service of John Cairns, Guy undertook the project himself, with the intent of mechanizing the family farm. This was to become the first rural electric power in the country. He realized the commercial potential and soon contracted several local farms as customers for the surplus power, later adding customers to the east in the towns of St. Johnsville, Fort Plain, Nelliston and Canajoharie. The power to St. Johnsville was turned on on St. Patrick’s Day 1898. In 1911 Mr. Beardslee sold the business to Adirondack Power and Light, which later became Niagara Mohawk or NIMO. Electric Power Pioneer

The First Fire
With the success and sale of the power company, the Beardslee’s led a comfortable life, vacationing in Europe and spending winters in Florida and Mexico. It was while vacationing in Florida in February of 1919 that tragedy struck the Beardslee’s. In the early hours of the morning a fire started in the front of the Castle. The structure was completely gutted leaving nothing but the stone walls. The newspaper of Feb. 19th claimed the cause was arson to cover up theft. A ‘mysterious man’ had been seen in the area for a few days before the blaze. The reports noted that all the precious artifacts and furnishings gathered from the Beardslee’s world travels were destroyed.

Only the main floor was rebuilt, leaving the second floor without a roof, and with railings across the window openings. The back of the building was turned into garden space, the stone walls draped with flowers and vines. Two of the original three tunnels, which connected the buildings on the estate, were closed off and the rooms they led into were sealed forever. The Beardslee’s continued to share their time between New York and Florida until 1937 when Guy passed away. He was survived by his wife but left no children. Ethel died in 1941 to be laid to ret beside her husband in the family mausoleum at East Creek.

After the Beardslee’s, ‘The Manor”
Ethel’s sister, Gertrude Shriver, sold the estate to Adam Horn of St. Johnsville, who took up residence with his wife for one year. They soon sold the building and Carriage House to Anton ‘Pop’ Christensen of St. Johnsville who opened the estate to the public as ‘The Manor’. The name was to stick for 45 years. Pop and his wife resided in a small cottage built beside the Castle in what is now our west courtyard. AS pop grew older he became terminally ill. After many thwarted attempts he commi6tted suicide by hanging himself in the ladies room of the Castle in what is now the side entrance foyer. Most of the Beardslee furnishings wee still intact at that time, but the Christensen’s daughters sold them at auction a few years later before selling the building to Herkimer restaurateur John Dedla.

“Beardslee Manor”
John operated the business until 1976 when he sold it to the owner of The Lakehouse in Richfield Springs, Joe Casillo. Joe renamed “The Manor”, “Beardslee Manor” and finished the basement area as a pub in 1977, recovered the roof a few years later and added back the second floor in 1982. He brought in a professional ghost hunter in 1983 who spent the night and recorded faint voices on tape in front of an audience of skeptical reporters. Business took off as people flocked in to see the ghost. The staff did a great deal of entertaining and storytelling. As But as the food quality declined under an absentee owner and the ghost stories got old, business and the building decline and the castle began a slow decay that ended in fire in 1989.

Beardslee Burns Again
The fire broke out in the back of the kitchen during the early morning hours of August 30, 1989. By the time the firemen arrived the fire had spread through the entire kitchen. When the smoke cleared over 1500 square feet of kitchen area had been destroyed. The building was abandoned, became a hangout for late night parties, and anything not bolted down was stolen. All the while the water flowed, down the slope behind the castle (and off what was left of the roof) with every drop flowing through the burnt out kitchen door into the dining rooms. The vines grew up over the roofline and worked their tendrils into the roof causing even more leaks. Two spring lines in the cellar burst and constant trickle of water began that did not stop for three more years.

The Re-Birth of the Castle
The castle was purchased by the current owners and renovated for a reopening in 1994 as “Beardslee Castle”, changing the name to “Castle” out of respect for the Beardslee’s original intents. After being abandoned for three years it took nearly 18 months of cleaning and restoration to return it to it’s original state. Nearly every square inch of the Castle has been restored or rebuilt. The original oak parquet floors, covered for the preceding twenty years with wall-to-wall carpeting have been returned to their glistening shine. The stonework interior with its wide gothic arches have been thoroughly hand cleaned of 140 years of dirt and soot. The wood paneled ceilings have been restored to a warm luster highlighted by art deco and mission style lighting fixtures. The second floor banquet room features beautiful floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows giving a panoramic view of the valley. A completely new kitchen services all three floors.