Madame Sherri’s Castle Ruins
One thing about human beings, is we tend to leave behind fascinating ruins that simultaneously tell our story and raise far more questions. New England is a little lackluster on such places – opting for cellar holes, old cemeteries and names on a map instead. But we do have our share – like Connecticut’s mysterious Gungywamp or New Hampshire’s Stonehenge of America, all incorporating what is found in abundance here, stone.
In Chesterfield, New Hampshire, across the river from the bustling town of Brattleboro are a set of stone ruins that are incredibly recent in the grand scheme of things. A dramatic stone staircase soars 20 feet into the air before ending abruptly above a collection of crumbling stone pillars and weed chocked foundations in the background of a dense forest unbroken as far as the eye can see.
The official name for this place is Madame Sherri Forest. Locals call it Madame Sherri’s Castle, and it’s 500 acres of wild and protected land combed by hiking trails, beaver ponds and ledges.
But who is Madame Sherri? Madame Antoinette Sherri, (who is just as interesting as the ruins of her grand home) was a French costume designer, born in Paris and transplanted in New York. However, her fame would be achieved not in the empire state, but tiny New Hampshire. She bought land in Chesterfield and built a summer home tucked away in the deep forests and gulfs during the 1920s. What started as a simple farmhouse turned into a lavish summer home by 1931 as she wasted no expenses in expanding.
She was well known for her wildly lavish parties she threw at her “castle” with an equally eclectic group of friends from the city. When she wasn’t partying, she was known for being the life of the party elsewhere by doing such things as riding around the region in her Packard touring car in nothing but a fur coat. Reportedly, she eventually ran out of money and abandoned her her grand home as it fell into ruin. But with a personal mantra like “only the best”, I suppose this was inevitable. By 1946, she abandoned her castle. A fire in 1962 eventually brought the demise of her property, leaving only the stone ruins left to this day, sitting curiously in the middle of the forest.
The fire left behind a rather forlorn yet satisfying medieval-looking ruin, displaced in the middle of New England, which is most likely where the “castle” moniker came into its name, from people who have visited since. After comparing older photos of the mansion, it definitely looks more like a castle now than it did when it was inhabitable.
The “first floor”, or, the only floor, of the ruin still has a few surviving stone columns and chimneys that sit above crumbling remnants of the old stone floor, covered in weeds and wild flowers. But there is a level beneath the rocks which is starting to slowly cave in, filled with detritus, broken beer bottles and satanic graffiti. It may have been larger at once point, but with the level of collapse, it’s hard to tell. It’s very evident from the discarded bottles, cigarette packs and smoldering charcoal that people party here – and perhaps worship the paranormal, just as Madame Sherri would have wanted.
On my somber visit here today, it had been raining steadily since I got off the interstate in Brattleboro. Once crossing the river, I turned down Gulf Road, a distractingly beautiful drive through beautiful forests and jagged cliffs leering over the road covered in moss – everything was below a come down fog. The rain however made the ruins more of a dangerous trek than anticipated. The stones were slick and it was easy to loose your footing. This was most evident when I tried climbing up to the top of the large staircase. There are large cracks in several places, part of the stonework is eroding, and the steps offered no traction. Avoiding my own stupidity being my murderer, I tromped around the rest of the ruins. The dank cellar area was littered in interesting graffiti, and there was lots to read. People who came and went, their names, quotes and opinions underneath dripping ceilings, especially someone named Tyler telling me he visited as recent as this year. Around the property were older growth trees, most likely original to the house, towering above the young forest. One tree in particular was peculiar, the inside was partly hollow, and it was filled curiously with lead pipes and a various assortment of placed boulders. There were also several inscriptions and carved initials in the bark, which were amusing to read.
I think the impression that weighed with me the most about this place, was just how silent and deep the forest was around the dripping ruins – I truly felt something pleasant slip under my skin, but the ruins held supreme, over taking the striking beauty of the New Hampshire forest, the sound of rain falling onto the leaves.
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