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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kinnelon Castle aka the Untermeyer Estate

Kinnelon Castle, Untermeyer EstateHow many of you know of Kinnelon Castle - also known as the Untermeyer Estate? I came across signs of it when I first started researching Kinnelon online. A few weeks back, one of my long time readers, Damon Carmona, asked what I knew about Kinnelon Castle - not much - and shared stories from when he was a child in Kinnelon.

Damon now lives in North Carolina and is a staff pianist at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, his alma mater. He lived in Kinnelon from March '68 to June '74, first at 67 Meadow Lane between Kinnelon Road and Silas Condict, then at 11 Dean Avenue and finally at 24 Fayson Lakes Road.

What first caught his attention was when I mentioned in a post that the Butler Bowl had become the NYSC. He remembered when the Mead Farm still stood and made a pencil drawing of the Mead Barn and also a color ink drawing of the house in 1973 when he was about 12. He presented the latter to Mrs. Grace Mead at the Reformed Church on Kinnelon Road.

Of the Mead House, Damon writes "It's funny, but I can still remember the odd oval doorknobs, the "bullseye" window frames and the door which opened to a secret stairway leading to what I now suppose was a servant's room. The house had many rambling additions. It once had yellow siding, white trim and dark green shutters. That is how I drew it, as if restored."

Of his years in Kinnelon, Damon writes: "Kinnelon was such a wonderful place to grow up in those years. Today, I occasionally find teens on MySpace who complain that they are terribly bored there, but as a 7 to 13-year-old it was magical."

Here's what Damon shares about Kinnelon Castle or "The Gate", the abandoned remains of the Untermeyer estate.

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The former Untermeyer property is indeed off Boonton Avenue, on Saw Mill Road. Follow Saw Mill Road until you see a lake on your right, and possibly two "Dead End" signs.

"Kinnelon Castle" was located directly across the street up the hill hidden in the brush. It was at the end of a long driveway guarded by ornate iron gates. I was there at least three times within five years of the 1968 fire that gutted the house, in 1973 and '74. I lived at 24 Fayson Lakes Rd. in those years. It wasn't until this past week that I thought to research the place online. I was actually surprised by the amount of information on a misty remembrance of what I'd assumed had become an obscure, forgotten place. A place that has haunted me all these years.

What none of the "urban exploration" sites mention, since I was there long before them, is that a three or perhaps four-story observation (perhaps also fire) tower was located just up the hill to the left-side rear of the house. It was of frame construction and sheathed in old-fashioned diamond-shaped asphalt shingles. Gray as I recall. The lower floors had dormers which had contained wooden, double-hung windows and the top floor, accessible by a metal spiral staircase, had wall-to-wall metal casement windows. The flooring was the same black & white checked pattern found elsewhere in the ruins, and still seen in several recent photographs The entire structure was obelisk-shaped until the top floor and had a prairie style, pyramid roof.

I explored this spot with a band of friends in defiance of the many "No Trespassing" signs. It was a legendary spot for latchkey suburban kids with little else to do for adventure in Kinnelon. It was also a party spot for older kids and, shortly after my second visit, the tower had fallen victim to arson and collapsed.

The view was remarkable. Miles of rolling, yet-to-be-developed wooded hillsides. Today the property is surrounded by the million-dollar estates of a new generation. At the time, there was only one homestead atop Graceview Drive, the home of my friends, the Watts family. The Untermeyer tower was visible in the distance from their back deck. Since then the Watts house has had more additions than an 1820s farmhouse and is surrounded today by palatial estates. The Watts kids, Kim and Tim, were likely among my companions.

The sad news of the last five years is that the ruins of the "castle" were not preserved, nor used in the construction of a new home on the site and were destroyed by the owner.

Here are links to the sites I found about Kinnelon Castle:
+ Abandoned But Not Forgotten: Kinnelon Castle
+ Lost Destinations: Kinnelon Castle - with good pictures of what I remember, sans tower of course.

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Thank you, Damon!

Do you have memories of Kinnelon Castle?

To further inspire you, I uncovered a few additional resources:
+ The Unquiet Tomb: Untermeyer Mansion [photos]
+ And description of Untermeyer Mansion
+ Weird NJ: Exploring The Gate
+ On Flickr: Untermeyer Mansion [a slide show]
+ Untermeyer Castle [also a slide show]

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