Berkeley Springs Castle
Backstory and Context
After two failed marriages, famous businessman Samuel Taylor Suit began courting Rosa Pelham in 1879. Pelham was the daughter of an Alabama congressman and almost thirty years younger than Suit. Following four years of courtship, Pelham agreed to marry Suit if he would construct a castle for her. Suit agreed and the couple were married in 1883. Construction began on the castle in 1885. Berkeley Springs was chosen as the site for the building because it was a popular weekend destination for wealthy politicians and their retinues. By 1887, the castle was inhabitable, and Suit and Pelham moved in with their three young children. However, Suit died at fifty-eight years old after falling ill in 1888. Pelham was left to finish construction of the castle, which was completed in the early 1890s.
There is no conclusive proof who designed the Berkeley Springs Castle, although two names seem likely. Alfred B. Mullet was a renowned Washington D.C. based architect responsible for many government buildings. Several newspapers reported that he had sketched a design for the castle on a menu or tablecloth while dining at the Berkeley Springs Hotel. Many sources also hold that Snowden Ashford, a junior associate of Mullet, executed on Mullet’s plans to create an official architectural blueprint. In any case, the Berkeley Springs Castle is a large roughly rectangular structure made from local sandstone. The masonry rocks were quarried from nearby Sir John’s Run. Though only two stories, the castle appears much taller due to its location on a cliff and a large tower on one corner. A crenelated parapet helps reinforce associations with British castles. An often-repeated myth about the Berkeley Springs Castle is that it was built as a scale replica of the Berkeley Castle in Berkeley, England. However, the two castles bear little resemblance.
The recently widowed Pelham put the Berkeley Springs Castle to good use after her husband’s death in 1888. For over a decade, she was known for hosting elaborate parties with prestigious guest-lists. In 1893, Pelham ordered the construction of a new tower on the property to be used as a carriage house. It was connected to the main castle by a tunnel. However, the tunnel collapsed when WV Route 9 was built across it in 1920. In addition to partiers, Pelham also entertained a never-ending stream of suitors, though she did not remarry. By the turn of the century, Pelham’s funds were beginning to dry up and she began renting the castle as a place of residence for locals and wealthy vacationers. Sources vary on the precise date, but between 1910 and 1920, the entire Berkeley Springs Castle estate was sold at auction. The destitute Pelham occupied a small shack in the area before moving out west with her son.
The first new owner of the Berkeley Springs Castle was George Cunningham. Cunningham was a local businessman who initially planned to use the castle as a hotel. This plan was never realized, though Cunningham did use the building for dances, balls, and as a shop and retreat for artists. In the 1930s, Ward Kesecker bought the property and used it as the site of antique and hobby fairs, and as a location for the Monte Vista Boys Camp. The longest stint of continuous ownership occurred from 1954 to 2002 under Walter Bird. Bird used the castle as a tourist attraction, supplementing its rich history with his own fabricated tales. Even today, it is difficult to verify what information about the castle is factual and what is a concoction of Bird’s imagination.
In 2002, the Berkeley Springs Castle was occupied by Andrew Gosline, a retired health care data processor. On a whim, Gosline left his native Florida to visit the castle, and immediately fell in love with it. Gosline successfully purchased the property at auction and began using it as a private residence. Gosline rarely opened the home to the public but was nevertheless was well-respected in the local community for his kindness and respectful reverence for the castle. Gosline passed away in 2014 and the castle was again put up for sale in 2018. In 2020, VDARE purchased the property for $1.4 million and VDARE founder, Peter Brimelow, moved in with his family. VDARE’s presence in Berkeley Springs has been contentious for local residents, as VDARE is an anti-immigration non-profit that has been classified as a hate website by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Though the inhabitants of the Berkeley Springs Castle have changed over the years, the castle itself remains an unaltered landmark in Berkeley Springs.
"A Castle Built for Love." Washington Heritage Trail, Interpretive Sign.
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