WESTCHESTER PLACES: Reid Castle

Reid Hall at Manhattanville College in Purchase is modeled after the historic estates left standing by European royalty in the medieval era. It has never been home to a king or queen or a duke or duchess, but it is was deemed a national landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The castle, which is built in the Norman Gothic style, earned the designation due to its rich history, architectural influences, landscape and many secrets.

Reid Castle serves as an office for many Manhattanville employees, such as Gary McLoughlin, 60, an employee with the college’s Office of Disability Services. “For me, it provides a sense of place deeply rooted in tradition,” McLoughlin said.The castle was constructed as an estate for Pony Express tycoon Benjamin Holladay in 1864. It was originally known as Ophir Farm and served as a home for the tycoon. Unfortunately for Holladay, by 1873 he had lost most of his wealth, which led him to put the mansion up for public sale.

More than a decade later, the estate became the first residence in Westchester County to be equipped with both telephone and electric wiring. However, one month before the estate’s new owner, Whitelaw Reid, and his wife, Elizabeth, planned to move in, a short circuit started a fire that engulfed the house, leaving only the granite foundation remaining.

Story originally appeared in the March 15, 2013 edition of The Harrison Report

According to Manhattanville College Archivist Lauren Ziarko, Reid envisioned rebuilding the castle to a much more grandiose level, incorporating both French and English inspired decor.

At the front of Reid Hall, two rooms to the right of the main entrance were imported directly from the Château de Billinennes in Poissy, France, which was being demolished at the time. After serving as the Ambassador to England, Reid sought to expand the corridor in a Tudor style similar to the court of St. James.

Anderson Jones, a professor from Mount Vernon and a member of the college’s Board of Trustees, said that he had always felt a sense of peace and uniqueness similar to the Chateau de Versailles in France.

“It’s such a great artifact,” said Jones, 65. “The motif of a castle itself creates this traditional kind of a feeling.”

Reid hired famed landscaper Frederick Law Olmstead, who is most recognized for his work in New York City’s Central Park. Olmstead brought in several different trees and plants, some of which had been invasive species to the Purchase region.

After Whitelaw Reid died, his children inherited the property, which they auctioned off. In 1952, Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart decided to relocate its main campus from the New York City’s Morningside Heights to Purchase.

Manhattanville College was founded by the Order of the Sacred Heart as a religious institution for women. Elizabeth McCormick, 90, a former Manhattanville College president and graduate from the class of 1944, took the reins as the college made the transition from an all-girls institution to a co-ed campus.

“It’s so easy to say what’s different,” McCormick said in an October interview. “But what hasn’t changed are the spirit and the values, which have remained just what they were when the college was founded.”

Manhattanville today has more than 1,700 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students from all over the world.

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Reid Castle has garnered much attention among celebrities over the last century and has even been featured in a few motion pictures. The castle has played host to Amelia Earhart, Robert F. Kennedy, Horace Greeley, and even The King of Siam stayed at the castle in 1931 before undergoing eye surgery.

Today, it can also be rented out for weddings, bar mitzvahs and other private affairs and social gatherings.

For the students attending Manhattanville College, who are used to seeing the historic landmark day in and day out, the castle comes with its own lore and urban legends outside of the official history.

The most notorious of the Reid Castle tall-tales stems from an eerie portrait in the West Hall of three young girls, who some believe perished in the fire which burned the Ophir estate in 1888.

“It’s not true,” said Manhattanville Archivist Lauren Ziarko. “Nobody had been injured in the fire.”

According to Ziarko, the painting in the West Hall corridor had been donated from an alumnus of the college and, in fact, has no ties to the school.

“I’ve heard a few [ghost stories] but they’re kind of ridiculous,” said Manhattanville Sophomore Nick Faulkner, 19. “Like someone died on the stairs in a fire.”

Each fall, the castle also plays host to several haunted tours, which take students through the inner workings of the castle. More notably, the chapel constructed across from Reid Castle has widely been regarded as the scariest spot on the campus.

Located within the adjacent Holladay Stone Chapel, several of the deceased members of the Order of the Sacred Heart have been moved from their initial burial place to the catacombs in Purchase. Ghost sightings and hauntings have been a much more frequent occurrence in the chapel, students and employees say.

Apart from the folklore tied to the castle, there are several hidden secrets special to Reid Castle. Apart from a hidden study in the West Hall, students who have felt especially daring said they have found secret passages in the castle basement.

Joseph Menchaca, a sophomore student, said he had ventured through the castle a few times in the past.

“It’s an interesting building to explore,” said Menchaca, 20. “There are so many rooms to work your way through.”

According to Menchaca, he had even climbed the ladder to the castle tower and found a little kitchen within the basement. “It’s one of those things you just got to see for yourself.”

While the view from the very top of the castle’s turret has been a rare sight for those privileged to see it, the entrance is kept locked and can only be accessed with a special key.

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