Here is the information and the photos I promised on Kenilworth Castle. The photo attached to this Email was taken by my father in the winter of 1958, a year before the castle was destroyed. I think the building qualifies as a castle in more than just name. As you can see in this and the following photos it was made of stone and rough brick, it had three towers, and the roof was decorated with merlons and embrasures. Below is an article that was printed in the Hello, Holyoke newspaper from April 12, 1995. Feel free to use any of this information when you compose your entry on Kenilworth.
This home was indeed a castle
By Bob Nakreyko
On a visit to a newly-opened art supply store on Westfield Rd., I noticed a small ink drawing of Kenilworth Castle. Do you recall the castle that stood so proudly on a hilltop just past the access road to Mountain Park? That day I had the notion that if the castle were still standing, wouldn't it be a beautiful site for a bed and breakfast type inn. It would have made a wonderful tourest attraction for Holyoke, bringing many people to town, just to see this castle. The idea sent me to the Holyoke Library to do some research on that grand building.
I found an article in the Transcript-Telegram, under the byline of TheOracle, who aptly described the structure as "Kenilworth, the very name breathes of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress. Kenilworth was the stuff of which fairy tales are made."
Until 1959, Holyoke's version of the famed English castle sat high on the hill with a commanding view of the Connecticut River. Construction of the castle, as we knew it locally, began in early 1894, and was completed late the following year. It belonged to E. C. Taft, who was the founder of the Albion Paper Co., and one of the wealthiest men in Holyoke. The Tafts lived on the corner of Elm and Suffok streets, in a palatial home, and planned Kenilworth to be their summer home.
The site of the castle used to be farmland that Taft bought, then had the knoll built so his castle would sit higher than the surrounding land and buildings. As the structure neared completion in 1895, under Taft's supervision, the building appeared to have an immense look from outside, although there were only twelve rooms inside. It was said the exterior was a replica of the Gladstone residence in England, but some folks believed the architecture was similar to many castles, including Kenilworth Castle. The interior resembled a German hunting lodge and was unique for this type of structure. The first floor had a dining room, living room, large reception hall, and the kitchen. The three front rooms had elaborate panaling and reception hall boasted a paneled and frescoed ceiling.
Mr. Taft was a world traveler, so he brought back mant mementos to fill the castle, such as oil paintings, marble statues, Austrian china, English furniture, and carpets from Turkey and Persia. Even Russian armor and English jousting lances decorated the living room. Many oil paintings decorated the walls in each room. Kenilworth, in true tradition, had everything a castle needed.
Mr. Taft fell ill so he sold his Suffolk Street home and planned to move into his castle. Unfortunately, he died just a week after moving into Kenilworth in 1897. In October of the same year, his daughter Lucretia married William Flagg, and they moved into the castle. Mr. Flagg became quite popular in Holyoke, most likely due to his ownership in the Holyoke Democratic newspaper. You have to go back more than a few years to recall that paper. After his retirement, he kept busy raising prize poultry and tending to his horses. Mr. Flagg's health eventually failed, so he was confined to Kenilworth until his death. The Castle became very famous, and mail addressed to William D. Flagg, Kenilworth, Mass., would be delivered to his door. No question of where the castle was or its name or location.
Unfortunately, the Flaggs were childless, and after her husband's death, Lucretia Flagg was left to reside over the fairy tale world of the castle. All who knew her described her as a lovely, warm, and great lady. A constant flow of tourists and trespassers eventually created problems for Mrs. Flagg, requiring her to become recluse, when she wouldn't allow anyone but her domestic help and her lawyers on the grounds. Even though she wouldn't let the world in she enjoyed venturing out, going to drive-in movies, dining in restaurants, and going on long rides. A pet cemetery, complete with headstones, proved her fondness for animals. Mrs. Flagg passed away in the Spring of 1957, leaving the Hadley Falls Trust Co. in charge of her estate. (For you folks who don't recall the Hadley Falls Trust, it is a bank on the corner of Suffolk and Maple streets, now named Shawmut.) This bank had difficulty in finding a buyer for the property, so eventually many furnushings were sold off.
Mr. Gene Tamburi of the Yankee Pedlar restaurant fame, and out-of-town antiques dealers were some of the buyers, which left the beautiful pieces of furnitue scattered. Some of the stairway was purchased by people from Turner Falls; the great breakfront, which adorned the dining room, became the back bar at the Yankee Pedlar. The stained glass window, "the Hunter," is at the Pedlar, too. The Log Cabin Restaurant acquired some of the fireplaces and the balcony from the reception hall, and Oakes Electric Co. has the gas and electric fixture from the stairway. Clark Lyon, local attorney, bought the grand piano. Even so, all the scattered pieces leave enough remembrences to keep Kenilworth alive in our minds, though it is very unfortunate such a structure no longer exists in body.
The Holyoke Water Power Co. bought the building and grounds in 1959, The proceeds from the sale went into an existing trust fund that Mrs. Flagg left to a cousin. When the cousin died the money was distributed to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and to Loomis House, a retirement community. The power company considered putting a power station on the land because the site extended to the river, and there was a pond above it.
That proposal unfortunately was thought to be too expensive, and the idea was discarded. Then the company thought of moving its offices onto the property, so a study was made to see if it was feasible. The study sadly showed that the building had "no signifigant historic value," and it was then decided that the building was unsound. (Columnist's note: NO historical value? Give me a break?)
Apparently there were two schools of thought at that point, as an offer was put forth to turn the building into a museum. (Now they were talking sense!) But Kenilworth Castle was considered unsound despite the other premise, so the decision was made to raze this magnificent castle structure. In December of 1959, it was demolished, bringing to an end the fairy tale that began "once upon a time."
A 1957 story noted that Dr. Edward P. Bagg Jr. planned to acquire Kenilworth and its expansive estate to be utilized for a new Holyoke museum, and a civic center for art and other cultural community events. Dr. Bagg conferred with the truistees of the estate, and informed them of his plan for their consideration, as they had the authority to dispose of Kenilworth. (That word dispose irks me no end, as the description leaves no other choices optionable.) Dr. Bagg saw the castle as an answer to the overcrowding at the museum and the library, Dr. Bagg had envisioned the development of the castle and the extensive grounds as a very ambitious undertaking of that generation. He thought the land could be used by Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, for character-building activities. It was also thought the arts and Crafts League could have been housed there. Unfortunately, all those grandious plans were rejected. Possibly because of a leck of vision by city politicians??? So the beautiful castle was demolished in December of 1959. A downright shame!!
What followed on the castle grounds in 1971 was the construction of apartments and luxury condominiums, called Kenilworth Castle Hill Apartments. This was not very successful operation at first as tenants were few in number, leaving a local bank to begin foreclosure proceedings. The complex changed hands several times after that, so the planned 180 units were never built, with only 56 being used. So ends a marvelous chapter in Holyoke history, our town's only castle, filled with dreams, and beautiful furnishings, leaving only our memories to recall this fairy tale building. I had the idea as mentined earlier, the castle would have been a wonderful building to have today, to be used for a myriad of functions, and a grand tourist stop, that would have earned this city much in admiration and money for many years.
But after speaking with several learned men as Mr. Tim Fowler, and Mr. Bob Schwobe, who were close to the family and the castle, they said the building wasn't in good enought shape to rebuild. Mr. Schwobe still works around the old stone walls trimming the grass, and keeping the area tidy. I want to thank them, and Mr. Paul Graves who works in the Holyoke Room at the Library for their valued help. But it is sad and tragic that such a dream had to die.
Note worthy facts not mentioned in the article:
During the castle's construction in 1894 and 1895, E.C. Taft frequently became impatient with speed at which the contracters were working. His solution: Fire the contracters! This apparently happened several times. When the team from the Holyoke Water Company examined the Castle in 1959 they attributed the damage it had suffered over its 64 years to rushed and careless building techniques.
Taft's son-in-law, William D. Flagg, met with a tragic end when he took his own life in the castle, following a long illness on September 6, 1941.
The castle was made open to the public for a short time during the late winter of 1958.
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Thanks to John S. Courtney for sending in the article and to his father
John H. Courtney for the photo.