GREY TOWERS CASTLE

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ONE OF THE MOST ARCHITECTURALLY SIGNIFICANT castles in the United States is Grey Towers Castle, located at Glenside, Pennsylvania, a suburb of the city of Philadelphia. The castle was built by William Welsh Harrison, a retired sugar refiner, who in 1881 purchased the extensive country estate of J. Thomas Audenried that lay in the vicinity of the historic Harmer Hill village.

In 1882 after the existing mansion on the property was destroyed by fire, Harrison decided to build Grey Towers Castle. Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer designed the massive structure, following the architecture of the great, twelfth-century Alnwick Castle in England. During the long ten years of constructing the many-turreted and battlemented castle, the Harrisons took residence in the elaborate gatehouse on the property. Other buildings on the estate included a powerplant, a large building for servants’ quarters, a stately carriage house, stables, an elaborate conservatory, and arboretums. In 1892 the grey, hand-dressed stone castle was completed with overall dimensions of 225 by 185 feet. The numerous circular towers located at several corners of the castle vary in height, all containing deep rectangular and arched casemented windows. Battlements uniformly encircle the towers and principal roof perimeters in addition to the smaller turrets projecting above the main towers. A light, contrasting, cement trim is used over the entire exterior of the castle, highlighting the battlements, window casements, balconies, entries, and broad arches of the massive entry portico.

A similar light-color concrete mixture is used in the extensive and elaborate exterior double stairways and balustrades. The castle exterior is further adorned with sculptures of grotesques, griffins, and gargoyles at various walls and towers. Imported building materials were used for the forty-one interior rooms of the castle. Exquisite fresco ceilings are found in several rooms of the main floor, with ceilings of the drawing room and ballroom painted by a European artist, the latter being done in France and then transported to the castle. In addition to the beautiful ballroom and drawing room, other principal rooms include a dining room, lobby, li- brary, and billiard room located under the main stair- way and now used as an apartment. Tower rooms located at corners of the castle are now used as study areas on the second and third floors. Stained and Belgian cut glass are used in an appealing display in the deep, casemented window frames. The former dining room and office to the right of the main en- trance are finished in oak with ornamented, carved trim in the panels. The library to the left of this en- trance is now used as an office. The large castle lobby, with its grand staircase and surrounding upper balcony, is finished in wood with mahogany floors inlaid without the use of nails. Solid mahogany is also used in the staircase, spindles, and balcony. A variety of beautifully designed and highly ornate lighting fixtures flank the staircase, ceiling, and sides of the upper projecting balcony floors. The lobby side walls each have large, marble fireplaces with mantels of carved Italian marble. Broad, shallow arches are found on both the first-floor lobby and upper balcony level with paired, double columns and detailed capitals. Beautiful, ornate chandeliers, fine tapestries, Mexican onyx bath fixtures, and other such notable features are found throughout this majestic castle. In 1928 the William Welsh Harrison estate was purchased and transformed to become the new, fiftyfive-acre site of Beaver College, a liberal arts college for women. Grey Towers Castle now serves as dormitory and social center of this fine educational insti- tution. It is interesting to note that Alnwick Castle in England has also become a women’s college, known as Alnwick Training College. Grey Towers Castle remains in the excellent condition in which it was when first constructed. The lofty, battlemented castle is a prominent landmark and visual reminder, reminiscent of those far-off medieval times of armor-suited men and horses that once passed through their castle gates. Grey Towers Castle at Glenside, Pennsylvania, was designed after the twelfth-century Alnwick Castle in England. The castle has numerous towers and battlements, and is now used as a dormitory for girls as part of Beaver College. Photo by Harry J. Utzy, courtesy Beaver College. Detail of terrace stairs and tower showing the beautiful architecture of the castle. Photo by Harry Utzy, courtesy Beaver College. Massive portico of Grey Towers Castle. The expert masonry is typical of this castle. Photo by Harry J. Utzy, courtesy Beaver College.
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