Lovin’ the Ruins

Bannerman Castle in the Hudson Valley, New York

One of my stand-out childhood memories is this: climbing all over a crumbling Norman castle up the road from Aunt Bridie’s house in Ireland. I remember being amazed that a) people had castles down the street from their houses b) we were allowed to play there. Back home in Atlanta, nothing was more than a few decades old, and anything with any history to it was off-limits. For kids, I think there’s something especially intriguing about ruins:  there’s some context about what was once there, but they can fill in the rest of the blanks with their imaginations.

For now, visiting the ruins of ancient Greek and Roman temples, Inca cities, and Scottish castles will have to wait. But I have found some great ones right here on this side of the pond.

The photo above shows Bannerman Castle, built around the turn of the 20th century by a Brooklyn retail magnate. It’s on a private island in the Hudson, about 50 miles north of New York City. Isn’t it fabulous? Miss M. says that this is what Hogwarts looks like in her imagination.

A big section of it collapsed in 2009, but efforts are being made to repair it and tours are available through the trust that preserves it. Not too far away in Montgomery, New York (Orange County), the Colden Mansion Ruins are not as impressive, but older.

Windsor Ruins, Port Gibson, Mississippi (near Vicksburg)

You can’t beat the South for romantic ruins. I love the look of the Windsor Ruins south of Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was built during the Civil War and burned down in 1890. Then there’s the Barboursville Mansion ruins in Virginia, the Bulow Plantation ruins in Florida and my favorite: the Dungeness ruins on Cumberland Island. Once a Carnegie mansion, it’s now frequented by the wild horses that live on the island.

Dungeness ruins (Carnegie Mansion), Cumberland Island, Georgia

The Midwest has its share of ruins, too. There’s the Snyder Mansion ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Missouri and as sad as it is to say it, there are so many ruins in Detroit that there’s even a web site which features the “ruin du jour,”although most of them are not things you would want to take kids to see.

Knapp's Castle Ruins, Santa Ynez Mountains (near Santa Barbara), California

The Knapp’s Castle ruins outside Santa Barbara look intriquing: they’re all that’s left of a home built in 1916 by Union Carbide founder George Knapp. And a much more recent ruin: the Tropical Terrace ruins in Soltice Canyon near Santa Monica.

Where there are ruins, there are rumors of hauntings. The Summerwind Mansion ruins in Wisconsin and the Hermitage Ruins outside of Toronto come with ghost stories and even ghost tours.

Madame Sherri's 'castle,' West Chesterfield, New Hampshire

The cool thing about many of these ruins is that they are either contained in state parks or preserved in ways that makes visiting them safe. When we lived in Vermont, the treat at the end of one lovely hiking trail just over the river in New Hamsphire were the ruins of Madame Sherri’s castle, which was really just a quirky old house. If kids ever need motivation to go on a hike, the promise of an intriguing ruin can be just the inspiration they need.

Any other ruins you can recommend?

Update: Just found this great video of Bannerman Castle. Now I really want to go there!

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1 Comment

Filed under Places to See List

One response to “Lovin’ the Ruins

  1. We were excited to find some old mill ruins on a walk at Golden Gate, Minnesota: http://minnemom.com/2010/04/13/sunday-drive-minnesota-golden-gate-hanska-iberia/

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