Fit for a King (Or a Queen)
Cornwall Castle on the Market Again
It began its life as Hidden Valley Estate in the 1920s, conceived by wealthy heiress Charlotte Bronson Hunnewell Martin.
The narrow, mile-long driveway leading up to the spectacular building, gives no indication of what to expect at its end. The entranceway opens to reveal a 20-room structure on 275 acres, replete with brooks, footbridges and waterfalls.
The estate also includes a four-bedroom gate house, a chauffeur’s house and a helipad. A heated swimming pool, spa, an outdoor fireplace and several terraces provide ample opportunities to enjoy the luxury estate.
Charlotte Martin was born into an aristocratic Massachusetts family that made its fortune in banking and railroading. She built the castle with her second husband, Dr. Walton Martin, a successful New York surgeon.
Martin had already made her mark by buying Turtle Bay Gardens, a complex of 19 brownstones in New York City, marketing her redesigned buildings to the likes of actress Katherine Hepburn and writer E.B. White. After her successful foray into city real estate, Martin and her new husband wanted a country retreat and chose Cornwall as their base, a place that the doctor had visited for years and where he had already purchase property on the advice of a friend.
The Martins turned to designer Edward C. Dean, who had guided her in the renovations at Turtle Bay Gardens. Together they designed Hidden Valley Castle to be a whimsical fairy tale castle nestled in a landscape more typically populated by vernacular Federalist homes. They adopted the Hollywood style called Provincial Revivalism or Fairy Tale, referring to its sense of playfulness and whimsy.
Construction began in 1921 and ended in 1924. The vastness and detail that went into Hidden Valley took it far beyond anything previously constructed in Cornwall. Locals called it a castle but for the Martins it was simply their chateau. Each weekend they were chauffeured to their fairytale estate. It became a theatrical fantasy for them.
Following the Martins’ deaths, the property passed through several ownerships, including a Macy’s executive and a former hedge fund manager who declared bankruptcy.
The building did not prosper during these years. Two years ago, it was purchased by Susi Stone and Russell Barton, a couple that revels in purchasing, transforming and selling properties. They bought it in foreclosure and spent many months and many dollars refurbishing the main house.
“The castle had not been occupied for four years,” said Stone. “We lived in the pool house for the first six months. There was no heat or hot water, ceilings were falling, doors wouldn’t close, none of the faucets worked and everything was covered in black mold. We couldn’t live in it and no one would come to work until we got rid of all the rot. But Russ saw beyond all that and we just dug in and made the necessary repairs. It was not easy.”
The restored castle retains many original details such as hand-stenciled ceilings and exposed beams. There are eight fireplaces and a dark cherry wood-paneled dining room. Stone, a former chef, hosted cooking classes in the state-of-the-art renovated kitchen. The class then ate dinner on one of the terraces.
Barton, an experienced developer and entrepreneur, has owned several local properties, including a period house on North Street in Litchfield, several horse farms and a shopping center in Woodbury. Always on the lookout for a challenge, he bought the Litchfield Jail and restored and renovated it into a multi-use building including a restaurant, offices, retail shops and three apartments.
“He is always up for a challenge,” explains Stone. “Since we met 12 years ago, we have lived in six different houses. I wanted the castle to be our permanent home.”
But that is not to be. Having turned it back into the glorious residence it once was, Stone and Barton have now put it on the market.
“Russ always needs a project,” explains Stone. “I grew up in Germany and there was a castle nearby. So, I loved living in my very own castle and that feeling of European history, the stonework and the incredible light. But I am now getting ready for the excitement of planning and executing a new place.”
“Having a project is what keeps me going,” says Barton. “I have to have something to do or I get too jumpy.”
Their new property, also located in Cornwall, comes with a 6,400-square-foot house, outbuildings and barns and 187 acres of land. Barton loves to farm and breed horses, which is perfect since Stone is an experienced equestrienne and rides as much as she can.
“We both love the excitement of planning and executing a new place,” says Stone, who is again planning to open a cooking school. “Russ will have many things to keep him busy.”
The castle will soon welcome a new owner and begin yet another chapter in its storied history.