Travel Berkeley Springs
127 Fairfax Street
Berkeley Springs, WV 25411
YULE TEA at BERKELEY CASTLE
Benefit the Museum of the Berkeley Springs
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
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
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.