I recently took some time to visit a local landmark – Kip’s Castle in Verona, New Jersey. The former home of textile industrialist Frederic Ellsworth Kip and his family, Kip’s Castle is a sprawling stone mansion at the very top of a hill. It was built between 1902 and 1905 in what’s termed the Norman Revival style.
The fortress-like castle has an unusual, rambling footprint with a series of curved walls, several towers, and surprise openings that show up on a whole bunch of different levels as you walk around the perimeter. The exterior is a little imposing, but the inside is surprisingly light and airy. Ceilings are high, windows are large, and walls are primarily light in color. In some ways, it felt more like being in a millionaire’s summer cottage than anything that you would think of as a “castle”. The arrangement of rooms is every bit as unexpected and unique as it seems from the outside. There are two large, semicircular rooms with wall-to-wall windows and stunning views outside. There’s also a small room directly off the entry way with a rib-vaulted ceiling and a Virgin and Child medallion above the fireplace. Curators believe that it may have been a chapel for the family. Like many other rooms in the house, the chapel has beautiful, Tiffany-style stained glass windows. Other cool architectural details include family crests, arched windows, and medieval-style quatrefoil cut-outs on doors. There’s also an impressive suit of armor beside the fireplace. According to the website, the house has thirty rooms in all, but I only got to see about half a dozen on ground floor, since nothing else is currently accessible to the public.
The castle is elaborately decorated every year for the holidays. There were several large Christmas trees, garland, a Christmas village, and tons of other old-fashioned decorations. The castle offers candlelight tours during the holiday season, but they fill up very quickly, so I wasn’t able to get a spot.
I mentioned a moment ago that only the ground floor is currently open. That’s been the case since 2007, when Essex County first purchased the castle and opened it to the public. Docents told me that’s because of a lack of funds to restore or even furnish the upper floors. In fact, Kip’s Castle lacks funds of pretty much any kind. There’s a small donation box, and candlelight tours cost eight dollars a person (most of which simply covers the refreshments they provide), but in general the house is free to visit.
Kip’s Castle is beautiful and charming. I fell in love with it immediately, and I think others do, too. It was exciting to learn that there’s an awesome, fairytale-like castle within driving distance of my hometown. I’m saddened to see that there’s no even enough resources to make obviously-needed repairs to the ground-floor rooms already on view. While I don’t have the resources to donate anything substantial, I hope that by writing this, I can raise awareness and make some kind of difference. Anyone want to be this building’s patron?
As it turns out, the castle has something of a dramatic history. After leaving the Kip family, the house had numerous owners throughout the twentieth century before the county saved it in 2007. In the 1980s, it was briefly owned by the some ridiculous Indian cult leader who lived there with some of his followers. As you can imagine, it was a pretty big deal amongst the neighbors. Unfortunately, it’s also a local legacy that has persisted to the present day. It’s a great story, but after visiting, I don’t feel like it’s the most compelling aspect of the castle. If you’re in the area, I would strongly encourage you to visit and decide for yourself. Find directions, hours, and information here.