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History of Hearthstone Castle

Originally known as the “Sanford Castle”, the castle was constructed in 1897 to serve as a summer home for noted photographer E. Starr Sanford. Born into one of Danbury’s leading families in 1862, Sanford was introduced to photography during the amateur photography craze that swept the country in the decade of the 1880’s. Sanford’s work during this period won him great renown in amateur photography club exhibitions throughout the New York area.

Buoyed by his amateur success, Sanford teamed with another noted amateur of the period, Charles H. Davis, to go professional by establishing the Davis & Sanford portrait studio on New York’s Fifth Avenue in 1892. Sanford & Davis quickly became the most artistically acclaimed and financially successful studios of the Gilded Age era. They became the favorite portrait photographers of high society families such as the Astors and Vanderbilts during this glamorous era. They also were renowned for their work in operatic and theatrical circles.

Sanford’s success allowed him to build the fanciful and romantic summer home in his beloved hometown of Danbury. Sanford hired New York architect Earnest George Washington Dietrich (1857-1924) to design his castle. During this period, Dietrich also designed the grand hotel Red Swan Inn as well as several Queen Anne style residences in Warwick, NY in addition to other fine Victorian residences in the New York area. Dietrich later showed his artistic versatility by collaborating with “Arts and Crafts” movement founder Gustav Stickley to design the first Craftsman cottage in 1903, intended to replace the fanciful Victorian designs with a simple, functional and more natural design approach. In his Danbury castle design, however, Dietrich brought Sanford’s romantic vision to life, creating a three-story fairy tale castle consisting of seventeen rooms, including nine bedrooms, kitchen, library and a billiards room. Accessory structures included a large carriage house, caretaker’s cottage, pump house, water tower and machine shop.

The exterior grounds were meticulously landscaped, including garden areas and a goldfish pond. An extensive veranda structure was designed to take full advantage of the panoramic views of Danbury afforded by the castle’s location at the summit of a commanding hill. The stone used for the exterior castle walls was quarried on site, along with the stone for the eight magnificent fireplaces that warmed the castle on Autumn and Winter evenings when the family was in residence. The interior featured magnificent imported wood flooring, paneling, trim and cabinetry. Fine light fixtures and chandeliers manufactured by Danbury artisans created the romantic ambience suitable for a fairy tale castle.

Sanford enjoyed his hometown castle for only five years. After retiring from Davis & Sanford in 1901, Sanford sold the property in 1902 to New York financial mogul Victor Buck. Buck, re-naming the property “Buck Castle.”, utilized the property as a retirement residence, mostly visiting during the summer months over the next two decades. In 1918 Buck sold the castle and surrounding property to Charles Darling Parks, who had previously purchased the Tarrywile Mansion and property across the street from the castle on Brushy Hill Road in 1910.

Renaming the estate the “Hearthstone Castle,” Parks presented the property as a wedding present to his oldest daughter, Irene. Irene Parks Jennings occupied the castle as her family’s primary residence until her death in 1983. Her heirs remained in the residence until the property was acquired by the City of Danbury as part of the acquisition of the Tarrywile property in 1985.

The property is now managed by the Tarrywile Park Authority, established by the City of Danbury following the purchase of the property from the Park family heirs to oversee the newly-created Tarrywile Park.