Mar 26, 2014
Fit for a King: Historic Connecticut Castle in Cornwall for Sale
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Like a fairytale.
That’s how people often describe Hidden Valley Estate in the northwestern Connecticut town of Cornwall in the Litchfield Hills, or as it is informally known, the Cornwall Castle.
The 8,412-square-foot castle with a long and storied history is for sale for the princely sum of $8,850,000.
It is located at the end of a private, mile-long driveway and is nestled within a 200-plus acre storybook property with rolling fields, woods, waterfalls and ponds. The estate also features modern conveniences such as an outdoor pool and a licensed helipad. And like any good castle, the place is full of mystery.
Also see our December story, Woodstock Castle Makes for Unusual Tale
“As I started to do research on the castle, I would tell people it was like picking at a scab; the more you pick the worse it gets and [with this] the more you look, the bigger the subject gets,” says Jeff Jacobson, vice president of the Cornwall Historical Society, which is publishing a book later this year about the estate and its first owner called “The Aristocrat of Cornwall’s Castle.”
The fairytale worthy stories and characters that emerge as you peel back the layers of the castle’s history are many.
There is the would-be American aristocrat who built the castle, who may have been the inspiration for the title character of E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web," and then there are tales of the rich and powerful flying to the castle (via helicopter not broomstick) for elaborate parties.
The castle was put on the market late last summer and has been shown multiple times since then, says Ira Goldspiel, the realtor with William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty who has the listing for the property. So far, it’s proven to be a castle more fit for a king than a queen.
“I’ve had three men pick out the property and totally fall in love with it, and then their wives were like, ‘This might be a little too much for us,’” Goldspiel says.
Though the estate is generally more appealing to men these days, it was born out of the fairytale vision of a modern day princess.
Golden Gifts of the Past
Construction on the castle began in 1921 and was finished in 1924. It was built as a country retreat for New York socialite Charlotte Bronson Hunnewell Martin and her husband, Dr. Walton Martin. Walton Martin was a prominent surgeon but it was his wife’s riches and vision that led to the creation of the Hidden Valley Estate.
Charlotte Martin was born Charlotte Hunnewell in 1871. She belonged to a wealthy Massachusetts family that had made its fortune in banking and railroading. The family was so wealthy and well-known that the town of Wellesley, Mass., took its name from the Hunnewell family estate located within the town.
As a young woman, Charlotte Martin was regularly written about in New York society publications and showed an early love of elaborate architecture. In 1918 she bought a complex of 19 brownstones in New York City called Turtle Bay Gardens. She redesigned the complex and had courtyard-like communal gardens planted with the hopes of attracting members of New York’s artistic and literary crowd.
The complex was “almost like a stage set,” says Jacobson of the Cornwall Historical Society, adding, “This was her fantasy.”
It was a fantasy that others were happy to be a part of. The actress Katherine Hepburn was a longtime resident, and in 2010 her former apartment was available to rent for $27,000 a month. Author E.B. White wrote his famous children’s book, “Charlotte’s Web,” while living at Turtle Bay Gardens, and Jacobson believes that Charlotte Martin may have been the inspiration for the book’s title character.
“Why did he call it ‘Charlotte’s Web?” I don’t know, but it seems a hell of a coincidence,” he says.