Sitting high on a dark hillside outside of Roscoe, Dundas Castle looks like it escaped from the pages of Grimm’s fairy tales. Complete with Gothic windows, turrets, towers, steep parapeted roofs, crumbling walls, and a courtyard overgrown with shrubs and trees, the castle has been a landmark and a source of stories both real and romantic for almost 100 years.
The castle is located in what locals know and some maps identify it as Craig-e-Clair (also Craigie Clair). The almost thousand acres of land surrounding the castle was amassed in the late 1880s by Bradford L. Gilbert, a noted New York City architect.
The History of Dundas Castle in New York
Gilbert built an estate known as “Beaverkill Lodge” on the property. The hamlet of Craig-e-Clair was named after an Irish fishing village and translates as “Beautiful Mountainside.” Gilbert’s wife was a native of Ireland and chose the name because the Catskill scenery reminded her of home. The property was sold in 1903 to Morris Sternbach. Wurts-Dundas purchased the land and buildings from Sternbach in 1907.
Like many wealthy men of his time, he wanted a mountain hideaway for his family and friends. In 1907, he purchased 964 acres of forestland with a view of the Beaverkill near Roscoe. The land had been a fishing retreat complete with a “Swiss” style country house. Not satisfied with the existing structure, Wurts-Dundas set out to build the finest mansion possible incorporating the wooden country house. The design of the castle is thought to have been inspired by late nineteenth-century interpretations of medieval European castles constructed in Scotland.
The castle had 36 rooms and legend passed down from generation to generation says that each room had steam heat and electricity long before any home in the township had them. According to Richard Barnes, a student who researched the construction of the castle for his English class, the only native product used in the construction was stone from the Beaverkill River. The roofing slate came from England, the marble for the floors, fireplace and staircases from Italy, and the iron gates from France. The fireplace in the reception room was valued at over $5000 in 1910. Gold leaf was used to cover it.
Construction on the castle was begun in the early years of the First World War and ceased in 1924, three years after Wurts-Dundas’ death in 1921. Never fully completed, the building represents an impressive example of the romanticized medievalism that emerged in American culture at the turn of the twentieth century. Although they visited during the construction period, neither Wurts-Dundas and his wife, Josephine – nor anyone else since – has lived in the castle.
When he died in 1921, Wurts-Dundas, who had dropped the hyphenated surname in favor of Dundas, left a fortune of more than forty million dollars. Legend says that Josephine Wurts-Dundas died in a sanitarium not long after Wurts-Dundas died. The castle, property, and fortune were passed on to their daughter Murial. Murial married James R. Herbert Boone of Baltimore in 1930, but never returned to the Catskills to complete the family fortress.
Buildings on the property include the castle, tall ornate iron gates with stone piers, a one-lane stone bridge on the service road, several “service” buildings along Berry Brook Road, and a farm complex in the southwest corner.
In 1949, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Masonic Order, a membership organization of African-American Masons headquartered in Manhattan purchased the property from Murial Wurts-Dundas Boone for $47,500. The initial plan for the property was to establish a Masonic home for the aged and indigent. This never happened and for many years the property was used as a rural vacation retreat.
The Masons converted the barn at the farm complex into a recreation center and remodeled the old farmhouse for an administration center. The castle was used in the 1950s as a hunting and fishing resort. By 1964, the masons had built a swimming pool, dining pavilion, and several new buildings and established Camp Eureka, a summer camp for inner-city youth. Camp Eureka is the property’s primary use today.
In July of 2005, the Masons and the Open Space Institute, Inc. (OSI) announced a cooperative agreement to protect 929 acres of the Camp Eureka/Dundas Castle property. Through the Open Space Conservancy, OSI acquired a conservation easement from Prince Hall Temple Associates, Inc, a non-profit corporate affiliate of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge in the Beaverkill-Delaware region of the western Catskills.
The conservation easement limits the future development of the property and prohibits residential subdivisions. It will also establish new programs for Camp Eureka which for close to 50 years Prince Hall has operated to serve youth from inner cities throughout the state, such as Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, and, of course, New York City. The castle is currently under construction to become a hotel. The primary owner predicts it should be finished by the summer of 2022
Secrets and Mysteries of Dundas Castle
There seems to be more misinformation in circulation about the history of the Dundas Castle, Craig-E-Clare, than about any other structure in Sullivan County. I say that without hesitation, and as proof I will submit several weeks’ worth of material I have to accumulate from various sources in the country. I am still sifting through much of that information, but there are some things I am certain are true, and others I am certain are not.
For instance: Ralph Wurts-Dundas, who built the castle prior to his death in 1921, was the grandson of William Wurts, one of three brothers who built the Delaware & Hudson Canal. He was not, as so many rumors have persisted, associated with the Packard Corporation, nor was he of Scottish nobility, or the owner of other, identical castles throughout the world.
It is a really unusual castle. It sits on a smaller mountain overlooking a river and is surrounded by other taller mountains. The 25 ft tall, ornate gates of rusting wrought iron stand suddenly beside the rural road and a drive of dark hemlocks curves upward past the caretaker’s house – (who were nice and like to be asked to see the castle)… further up the long drive you come across the house beyond a field sitting amongst large dark pines at the edge of the mountain.
You enter the estate through a porte-cochere that has 3 story turrets on either side that contain within pale pink marble stairs in each. The arched porte-cochere leads into a large courtyard. Within the arched passage, there is a door to the left where you enter the main body of the house. There is a rather small, charming, entrance hall with the circular stairs peeking through a gothic arched door(as all the doors are shaped inside). Ahead there are stairs to a long low ceilinged drawing room with a decorative tiled floor and a large curved and painted fireplace. Most of the windows have been broken – although the house itself is in pretty good shape. There is also a small study on this level, as well as the servant’s wing with kitchen, pantry, refrigerator room, and butler’s pantry with dumbwaiter.
What I find very strange is the way you have to go up the stairs to the second floor and over the port cochere and down the other tower stairs to get into the large formal dining room. There is no formal way of entering the room from the first floor, though there is a door to the pantry. There is also a door to a strange, raised, iron-fenced walk to a pair of crenelated twin towers separate from the castle. They serve as viewing gazebos to look down to the river far below. The Dining room has a floor-to-ceiling carved stone medieval fireplace and walls carved and plastered to simulate stone. A large window looks down to the river
The one end of the house appears to me to be a guest house attached to the main house and has a separate entrance through another port cochere and no access to the main house. Upstairs there seem to be about 8 or 9 bedrooms and numerous baths and dressing rooms. The floors are all marble, even the third-floor floors.
The stories that seem to be of dubious origin are numerous. For instance, there seems to be no evidence that Josephine Wurts-Dundas ever lived in the castle or spent much time in the Roscoe area. So stores that there was a section of the castle in which she was kept a virtual prisoner because of her deteriorated mental state are probably untrue. So too, likely, are the stories that several of the rooms had o inside doorknobs ( to keep her within) or fingernail scratches in the woodwork (from her effort to escape.)
I have also found no evidence to support the story that Mrs. Wurts-Dundas lost her mind because of local towns- people’s virulent objection to her habit of riding horseback through the town, tossing gifts to the children. There are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the castle and its owners, including, but not limited to what brought them to Sullivan County in the first place, and the significance of the name Craig-E-Clare. I have some leads for nothing definitive yet. Many thanks to Wilmer Sipple, Don Allen, Evelyn Hass, Louis Hofer, and Doris Bees for their interest in the topic and their assistance in accumulating information.
Stunning Photos of Dunkas Castle in New York
How To Get To Dundas Castle in Roscoe, NY by Public Transport
There is one daily bus from New York to Roscoe. Traveling by intercity bus from New York to Roscoe usually takes around 8 hours and 15 minutes. The fastest and cheapest way to get from New York to Dundas Castle in Roscoe is to drive a car or take a taxi. The road distance is 197.1 km and the trip will take 2h 15minutes.