Hearthstone castle is a less a trip than it is an exploration. For us, it tied some peculiar history into an outdoor adventure that left us a bit nostalgic for the past.
Setting out for Hearthstone Castle in Danbury, Connecticut
If you know much about Connecticut, you’ve probably heard of Danbury. It’s one of the first cities you encounter when crossing the border from New York on interstate 84. It’s rich in history as well, once providing a major supply depot for the continental army during the American revolution before being looted and burned to the ground in 1777.
Rising from the ashes, Danbury enjoyed a stint as the hatting capital of the world, producing over five million hats a year during peak production. Even as society’s fascination with fancy headwear diminished, Danbury retained the crown, and you’ll find many hat-related names across the area today.
It wasn’t hats or the revolution, however, that brought E. Starr Sanford to Danbury. It was love and the stunning view from atop the 820-foot Town Mountain.
Sanford made his fortune in early portrait photography and created an early movie camera. Using his vast financial stores, he built a romantic castle for his bride in Danbury. Despite three grand stories and 17 rooms, Mrs. Sanford was less than enamored, and the estate was sold in 1902 to a prominent industrialist, Victor Buck.
Buck renamed the castle after himself, but only retained ownership for 16 years before selling to Charles Darling Parks. Parks bought the estate for his daughter, Irene, and renamed it to Hearthstone Castle.
The Parks were to retain ownership until 1985 when the the castle and the grounds were left to the town of Danbury upon Irene’s death, no doubt hoping that it would be maintained for years to come.
Unfortunately, outdated stone castles require a tidy sum in upkeep, and the town of Danbury proved not up to the task. Since receiving the castle and grounds, there has been no money put toward its maintenance. As a result, the structure has fallen into a state of serious disrepair.
According to one account, the first-floor bathtub now resides in the basement after falling through rotting floorboards. Broken windows have been boarded up, and the front porch flooring is all but gone. It’s a sight that would no doubt make Irene shed a tear.
An estimate prepared in 2006 priced the cost to stabilize the structure at over $1.98 million. Restoring the building and its grounds to former glory would be much higher.
So, Hearthstone sits, abandoned and alone, visited by the curious and miscreants alike. Scorched in vivid strokes of spray paint, you can’t miss the markings of the less respectful who coated her walls with graffiti, bawdy jokes, anatomical drawings and names.
Still, Hearthstone is a part of Connecticut’s history, a small glimpse into a guilded age when millionaires multiplied nearly as fast as Donald Trump’s tweets, and castles sat amidst the clouds.
Finding Hearthstone Castle in Danbury
Finding Hearthstone Castle posed a bit of a conundrum at first. Since we have an ongoing debate in our family regarding the mapping capabilities of both Google and Apple, we had two separate GPS navigations running simultaneously. Both led us to a small turnout on Brushy Hill road at what looked like it could be a trail.
To get our bearings, we pulled into the parking lot for Tarrywile Mansion, just across the street, and did a little more searching. Google maps showed Hearthstone Castle in a vast track of emptiness in the general direction of the possible trail, so we left the car at the mansion parking lot and headed back across the street on foot.
We climbed uphill not more than 20 yards before glimpses of Hearthstone came into view. In the gray winter light, it appeared defiant, standing firm against the injustice that had left its once proud walls covered in paint and its innards deteriorating.
A fence surrounded the building but was open in the front. We crossed carefully, and with three dogs in tow, kept an eye out for broken glass. We met another woman with her dog there as well, carefully and respectfully exploring what remained of Hearthstone Castle.
It would take a lengthy list to account for Hearthstone’s many injuries. A check of the veranda revealed rotting floorboards. Following a path around to the rear of the building, the deeper wounds emerged as portions of the back veranda had completely collapsed. Broken windows that hadn’t been boarded up let the elements in, hastening the interior decay.
Respecting the state of Hearthstone Castle and not wishing to do more damage, we didn’t try to find a way inside, and would encourage all visitors to do the same. Aside from the potential to damage the structure, people have become stuck while trying to explore the interior. Risking injury just isn’t worth it.
Instead, we ventured out across the grounds. Heading west, we discovered the remains of an old water tank and pump house as well as a view of the terrain off to the north.
When combined with the adjacent Tarrywile Mansion park, there are four trails that cover over eight miles. If you’re looking for some interesting hikes with historic viewpoints, you could spend a day here. A portion of the Ives trail, which runs from Ridgefield to Bethel, also crosses the area.
When visiting Hearthstone, however, be respectful. Leave the spray cans and lighters at home and instead, bring a healthy does of appreciation for the remnants of our cultural past.
1-6 hours depending on how many trails you hike