DANBURY, Conn. -- As a kid hiking the hills in Tarrywile Park with his friends in the mid-'60s, Danbury resident Geoff Herald can recall coming up to a unique looking castle.
"It was kind of a mystery," recalled Herald, of the Hearthstone Castle. Herald is president of the Board of Trustees of the Danbury Museum and Historical Society and is a former Danbury firefighter and fire chief. "It was a very unique looking place.'"
At the November election, voters will get to decide on the fate of the historic castle, which has fallen into severe disrepair. Currently, the castle has no roof and all the interior ceilings and floors have fallen into the basement.
The question about the castle will appear as part of a Public Improvement Bond.
The city of Danbury, which owns the castle, is considering cleaning it up and building a walled garden inside it. The cost of the reparations and installation of the garden will be $1.6 million, according to Becky Petro, director of Tarrywile Park & Mansion.
The clean up includes the removal of contaminated debris, stone removal and stabilization of adjacent rock retaining walls.
"The city is doing all it can to keep this historic landmark in Danbury," Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said. "This is our best solution to keep the castle in the park without a safety issue and we are hopeful that if this project passes we can have a useable place for everyone to enjoy."
According to Taylor O'Brien, public relations coordinator for the city of Danbury, "since the city purchased the castle, we've attempted plan after plan to try to restore it. A full restoration would cost approximately $16 million. Friends of Tarrywile have tried to raise money for years and they have not come close to such a number.
"We've tried in the past to get someone to purchase it, (but) right now the property is simply dangerous. The public cannot enjoy it, so we asked the Connecticut Historic Preservation Society for advice and they recommended a technique that has been used for ages on castles in Europe.
"Since some of the walls are still strong, we plan to fill the basement and preserve the walls as much as possible so that the castle can remain as a safe grounds area that the public can explore without fear of the ceiling falling in," O'Brien said.
The Hearthstone Castle, which is a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1897 and first occupied by E. Starr Sanford, a portrait photographer in New York City in the 1890s.
"A neat part about the castle is all the stones that were used to build it were mined on the property. The builders queried the stones right off the property," said Petro.
The three-story castle consisted of 17 rooms including nine bedrooms, a library and a billiards room. It also included a carriage house, a caretaker’s cottage, a pump house, a water tower and a machine shop.
The property was purchased by the Estate of Charles Darling Parks, who was president of one of the hat companies in Danbury. "Mr. Parks would bring people who retired from the hat factory to work around Tarrywile's gardens and farm," Petro said.
The city of Danbury bought the property from Parks' estate in 1985. Since then, the castle had remained vacant.
During Herald's time as a firefighter, he was often called to the castle to rescue people who got trapped or injured inside it or around the property.
According to Sharon Calitro, the city of Danbury's director of planning, "Security to the castle continues to be breached by people. They cut into the fence and pull it back and we have to continue to repair it," Calitro said. "It is now a nuisance to the Tarrywile Park authority."
Herald said, "building a garden space where people can come, has great views looking east toward the Bethel hills and that's a reasonable cost to the taxpayer makes a lot of sense."