Official Website of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia - The Country's First Spa

Official Website of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia - The Country's First Spa
 1.800.447.8797
                                                  Official Website of Berkeley Springs, WV ~ The Country's First Spa

Travel Berkeley Springs
127 Fairfax Street
Berkeley Springs, WV 25411

800-447-8797
304-258-9147

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YULE TEA at BERKELEY CASTLE

Benefit the Museum of the Berkeley Springs

Sunday December 5, 2010

 

Tickets available after November 1
Limited tickets -- only 60/serving.
Snow or shine.





Rosa Pelham Suit would have approved of Andrew Gosline, current owner of her precious stone cottage known to the world as Berkeley Castle especially since he has her portrait hanging in the gleaming wood dining room. He enhanced the gardens, expanded the terraces and rebuilt the turret guardhouse that she added in 1893. The three-story tower, battlements and exterior castle walls of local sandstone have been repointed and century-old mortar replaced. Her bedroom and the adjacent childrens’ rooms are now Gosline’s three-room suite and the wood-paneled library has been trasnformed into a game room.

Twenty-first century Berkeley Castle has been returned to its original 19th century purpose as a private home causing endless sighs and moans of dismay from visitors who remember it open for house tours. Today, public use of the castle that perches on the mountainside above the park and town is limited to weddings, photo shoots and occasional community events including the annual Museum Tea the first Sunday in December.

In 1885, Colonel Samuel Taylor Suit of Maryland began “laying the foundation of his cottage,” according to the local News, on a lot along Warm Springs Ridge that he purchased from H.H. Boyd. It was part of the original Fruit Hill Farm owned before the Civil War by John Strother of the Berkeley Hotel. Two years earlier, Suit had married Rosa Pelham, daughter of an Alabama Congressman and 30 years his junior. Work progressed on what the paper called “one of the finest residences in the state,” and it was occupied by Suit, Rosa and their three young children in late August 1887. It was one of more than two dozen splendid structures in the chic “cottage” community of Berkeley Springs.

The first description of Suit’s cottage as a castle was made in the local Mercury in 1886 when it was described while under construction as “giving one the impression of a handsome castle nestled among the rocks and cliffs of the mountain.” The description was repeated again in the April 5, 1888 edition of the Martinsburg Independent: “The residence of Mr. S.T. Suit on the side of Warm Springs Ridge is a novelty in this section and strikingly handsome. It is of stone and a regular castle in appearance.” It has remained known as the castle ever since.

By September 1888, after a brief illness, Suit was dead. According to his local obituary, Suit was “a leading Republican in Prince George’s County who served in the Maryland legislature. He was for some time extensively engaged in the liquor business and was connected with the Washington City & Point Lookout Railroad Company.” Suit’s popular whiskey was marketed nationally in little brown jugs.

A year later Rosa’s castle was under siege by local hooligans. “Robert Roach and Champ Miller broke the window of Colonel S.T. Suit’s stone castle on Warm Springs Mountain and stole two cases of wine. Some was taken to Joshua Barney’s for a big dance Friday night,” reported the News. By fall, Rosa was throwing her own parties and a report of an October ball said, “Her beautiful residence was illuminated from base to turret with innumerable Chinese lanterns and the terraces were ablaze with beacon fires. The immense hall was decorated with shields and handsome engravings set in masses of evergreens and fall flowers.” There was dancing to a coronet band and then a march to the supper room at 11:30pm “for a bountiful repast.” The ball closed with a Virginia Reel.

Throughout the 1890s, Rosa’s many comings and goings from Washington to Berkeley Springs and back were faithfully reported in the local paper along with her wardrobe and descriptions of more parties including several in 1893 at which Professor Anton Kaspar’s Bohemian orchestra performed. They were favorite performers at the summer season of the Berkeley Hotel during the 1890s. During much of her party phase, local gossip had Rosa engaged in an ongoing romance with Malcolm Crichton, accomplished horseman and owner of Ravenswood, a large estate that extended from today’s Rockwell Circle down to WV9 east.

By 1895, water and electricity were put in the castle. Rosa and the children lived there that winter although monthly trips to Washington were reported. Soon after, financial difficulties and lawsuits were plaguing Rosa and in 1898 she began renting the castle. First residents were C.P. Jack and family driven from their home in the Berkeley Hotel when it burned. Two years later, Rosa was reported in town for a day or two renting “the Suit property known as the Castle to C.W. Johnson who will shortly move into it.” By 1902, the Castle was initially reported to be rented for the summer to New York millionaire Howard Gould. In fact, the rental report was discovered to be“an advertising dodge to bring Berkeley into the public eye and to attract attention to several projects looking to Berkeley’s development.” Whatever was occurring at her castle that year, Rosa was not there. In May, she was building a small house for the summer at Kesecker’s Ford on Sleepy Creek halfway between Berkeley Springs and Hedgesville. Her children were there with her. A 1904 advertisement has Miss M.S. Mahan offering lodging and meals at the Castle.

Auction sales of the castle were announced more than once and in 1916 it was sold to the Bank of Morgan County. After being offered and withdrawn from sale several times in 1923, local businessman George Cunningham finally bought it and owned the castle through 1938. Initially, Cunningham gave up his lease on the Dunn Hotel and claimed he would operate the castle as a hotel once it was expanded. Other than a brief stint as a lodging place in 1932, there is no indication this ever happened. Instead, the castle became the site of a variety of uses including Pastime Club dances in 1924, a shop and retreat for artists and writers in 1929 and Friday night dances at “The Old Castle Club” in 1936. Ward Kesecker bought the property from Cunningham and did extensive repairs eventually building the two-story addition in the rear that still exists. During the Kesecker years, the castle served as site of a two-week antique and hobby fair in 1939 and as base for the Monte Vista Boys Camp.

Berkeley Castle became a prime tourism attraction for nearly half a century when Walter Bird purchased it in 1954 and began conducting house tours and spinning tall tales about its history. Eventually it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unsubstantiated rumors that the castle is haunted gained credence with the auction in 2000 when a group of Leesburg investors bought it to establish an institute for the study of paranormal activity -- a type of ghostbuster college -- based on claims of “electromagnetic anomalies.” The idea lasted about two weeks, perhaps because there are no ghosts there. The investors did necessary repairs and renovation, floating a variety of ideas then offered it for sale at auction again in 2002. Enter Andrew Gosline, a central casting vision of a Castle owner.

“ I try to do different things on my birthday,” said Gosline. “I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a castle for sale in West Virginia. I was surprised, A castle in West Virginia? I came to Berkeley Springs, a placed I’d never heard of, to see it.” A month later Gosline returned for the auction with his two sons. He never planend to buy the property but got caught up in the bidding.“My oldest son turned to me and said ‘Dad, I think you just bought a castle’.” Gosline smiles warmly and explains “I’ve fallen in love with it. I like the Castle. I like the people.”

One of Gosline’s personal touches are the gargoyles which crouch on parapets and battlements. “I like them,” said Gosline when asked their meaning. As for ghosts -- “Rosa’s never joined me in the suite,” he said.


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