Built by William Welsh Harrison, the 40-room Grey Towers Castle is located on the campus of Arcadia University. Construction of one of the few American castles began in 1893 and was completed in 1898. Harrison employed a young architect by the name of Horace Trumbauer to design a grandiose residence and Trumbauer did not disappoint. The home includes just about every element of a Medieval European castle, to include circular towers, battlements and gargoyles. After Harrison died in 1927, the estate was acquired by Beaver College, later Arcadia University, in 1929. Today, it is a multi-use facility that serves as a freshman dormitory, houses administrative offices and hosts various campus events. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.
William Harrison, co-owner of the Franklin Sugar Refinery, purchased the
buildings and land, that was then known as Rosedale Hall Estate, from J. Thomas
Audenreid. Harrison then proceeded to
acquire neighboring land until his new estate totaled 138 acres. He next, in 1891, decided to enlarge the estate’s
main house and for that he acquired the services of 23-year old architect,
Horace Trumbauer. Trumbauer would go on
to design the Philadelphia Museum of Art and become one of the country’s
preeminent architects. Harrison also added a large gatehouse to his property
and improved the existing stables.
after the renovations to the main house were completed, it was destroyed in a
fire that forced the Harrisons to seek refuge in the stables. Harrison took the home’s destruction as an
opportunity to build a new residence befitting his social status. Inspired by Alnwick Castle in Northumberland,
England, Trumbauer designed a truly unique home for Harrison, an American
castle. Using greystone from nearby
Chestnut Hill, the castle began to take shape by the end of 1893, but would not
be completed until 1898.
was used for the window and door trims and local craftsmen carved the delicate
woodwork used in Greystone’s interior that was comprised of varying French
styles. The homes 40 rooms featured
Baumgarten tapestries, wood paneling, painted ceilings, and numerous fireplaces
with majestic mantles. Grey Towers’ three-story
Great Hall is supported by a barrel-vaulted ceiling and along with its library,
kitchens, and billiard, breakfast, dining, Mirror, Rose, music, and bed rooms,
made it one of the country’s largest homes at the time.
reputed that Mr. and Mrs. Harrison did not get along well and lived in separate
wings of the castle. This anecdote has
led to stories of the castle’s clandestine passages being used to secret female
servants to Mr. Harrison’s quarters.
Regardless, after he died in 1927, his widow sold the property to Beaver
College for just over $712,000. Beaver
College, founded in Beaver, Pennsylvania in 1853, had moved to nearby
Jenkintown in 1925. After the purchase
of Grey Towers, it operated dual campuses until they were consolidated at Grey
Towers in 1962. The all-women’s college
began admitting men in 1973 and changed its name to Arcadia in 2001.
Towers is still the centerpiece of Arcadia and its third floor is used as a dormitory
while the rest of the castle houses administrative offices and conference rooms. Its Rose and Mirror Rooms are utilized for
lectures, panel discussions, and other academic activities, as well as dances,
dinners, and memory nights. A student
led group, the Society for Castle Restoration, is devoted to the castle’s
upkeep and hosts occasional tours during the year, to include those of the haunted variety usually around Halloween.