Deep in the woods, near the banks of the Connecticut River, on the border of New Hampshire and Vermont, lies a castle hidden from sight. Once a beautiful architectural masterpiece, it was the site of glamorous events and lush parties. However, the New Hampshire castle stands in ruins today, with only its beautiful, dark granite Roman staircase hinting at its former glory. Despite its dilapidated state, the castle still tells a glorious tale of its past and that of its mysterious owner, Madame Sherri.
Are There Castles In The USA?
You may be wondering, are there castles in the USA? Well, it depends on your definition of a castle. A proper castle is a fortified structure or set of structures built during the Middle Ages, mainly in Europe, by the ruling classes or nobility as a residence, administrative center, and means of protecting the surrounding territory. Remember, we are talking about feudal societies. It served as the seat of the local lord, and people came there to trade and take care of bureaucratic needs. In times of war, it was a refuge for people seeking shelter, but not if they fled from the lord himself. Think of it as the downtown of the Middle Ages countryside. So, no, there are no real castles in the USA. When the Pilgrims came to America, the feudal system largely lost its hold in Europe, and advancements in weaponry, tactics, and military organization rendered castles useless as defensive structures, leading to the fading out of the castle format. The Pilgrims were freemen no longer bound to the aristocracy, equipped with new military technologies, simply didn’t need castles anymore. However, many magnificent mansions can be found throughout the USA, which are called castles. These were built by people who could afford them and wanted to recreate the romantic look of a Middle Ages castle.
New England and New Hampshire are home to many beautiful stone castles. When I visited Boston and New England in August 2022, my sister-in-law told me about a gorgeous castle in the middle of the forest worth visiting on our way north to Vermont, so I had to check it out.
Unlike the medieval castles often found in Europe, those in New England are quite modern, built during the 19th and 20th centuries. You won’t find ghosts in shining armor here, but rather apparitions clad in fashionable attire from their own era. Their owners were neither kings nor dukes but rather designers, artists, businessmen, and people with a coin or two in their pockets. Nevertheless, the stories behind their owners are unique, such as the tale of Madame Sherri, the woman behind Madame Sherris’ castle in New Hampshire.
Madame Antoinette Sherri was a flamboyant Bohemian French-born singer and dancer who moved to New York in 1911 with her husband Andre Sherri. Together, they opened a series of “couture houses” where they designed unique and colorful costumes for royalty, theatre, and stage artists, including the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway and the Ringling Circus. However, living with Andre wasn’t easy. It’s reported that during the 1920s, he had a drinking problem that prevented him from working. At that time, a young and promising designer, Charles LeMaire, began his career at the “Andre-Sherri” couture costume shop. When Andre wasn’t fit to take care of the business, LeMaire became the president of the shop.
Later, Charles LeMaire became one of Hollywood’s leading costume designers, overseeing the costuming of over 250 Hollywood movies. In the 1950s, he won three Academy Awards for his costume design for the movies “All About Eve,” “The Robe,” and “Love is a Many Splendid Thing.”
In 1924, at the age of 46, Antoinette Sherri’s husband Andre passed away. After his death, it is said that Charles LeMaire became Madame Sherri’s protector and financial provider. A few years later, Madame Sherri traveled to Chesterfield, New Hampshire, a well-known resort area for celebrities back in the day, and fell in love with the area.
A New Hampshire Castle Hidden In The Woods
Some say that with the help of Charles LaMaire, Madame Sherri acquired a plot of land in Chesterfield, which included a farmhouse and the adjacent pond known as “Indian Pond.” On this property, she built what would come to be known as the Castle of Madame Sherri. This was a place where she hosted lavish and wild summer parties frequented by actors, performers, models, designers, and other glamorous crowds from New York City.
The summer chateau was a beautiful building made of black granite. As the guests ascended the Roman arched staircase, they were greeted by the beauty of the summer chateau, a magnificent building, with a wooden porch gracefully woven around the surrounding maple trees, preserving their natural beauty, and becoming one with nature. The castle was lavishly furnished with heavy wooden furniture and oriental rugs that suited the glamorous style of Madame Sherri.
After moving to her castle, Madame Sherri was often seen dressed in her finest accessories, including scarves, fur coats, and posh hats adorned with feathers. She would be chauffeured around the area in her 1927 crème-colored Packard Touring car, accompanied by young men. It’s said that she kept a roll of money tucked in her cleavage or in a purse strapped to her thigh.
Some say that Madame Sherri didn’t live in her New Hampshire castle but rather in the nearby farmhouse, reserving the chateau for guests who came to party in the summer. According to an article I found, a former neighbor of Madame Sherri described her as a big-hearted woman who was fluent in seven languages, though English was not one of them, she noted. Unfortunately, she was a poor manager of money, always paying her debts but never on time. When she needed money, she would have someone write to Charles LeMaire, the neighbor added. However, in the late 1940s, LeMaire withdrew his support, and rumors say that his wife had a hand in this. Since then, it seems that Sherri struggled with money and spent her summers in the farmhouse. Over the years, the castle fell into disrepair, and in 1959, vandals severely damaged it. Finally, in 1962, the castle burned to the ground, leaving only the stonework with the beautiful Roman stairs and her “swimming pool” pond behind.
She died in 1965. It’s said Charles LeMaire paid for her memorial service. On her tomb, is written: Antoinette Sherri 1875 – 1965.
A New Hampshire Woodland Retreat
After Antoinette Sherri’s death, Ann Stokes purchased the property, including the pond and the remains of the castle in New Hampshire. Ann was also a unique woman, an artist, and an LGBTQ activist. She continued Madame Sherri’s tradition and during the ’70s built studio cabins in the woods for visiting women artists, which still operate today under the name of Welcome Hill Studios on Welcome Hill Road nearby. Like Sherri, she also hosted parties, but this time around the beautiful castle remains. Today, the New Hampshire castle no longer hosts parties. Instead, it attracts people who come for various activities such as wedding photo shoots, filmmaking, modeling, or simply to enjoy a peaceful hike in the beautiful forest and around the enchanting pond.
Sadly, in 2021, one of the beautiful Roman arches of the staircase collapsed, and with time, the once stunning chateau fell into ruin. Nevertheless, if you’re traveling in New Hampshire, you should definitely visit. The granite staircase is surrounded by a vast forest, and the nearby pond is truly magical. If you’re looking for a peaceful getaway while traveling in the region, this enchanting spot is a must-see. Who knows? Maybe if you listen carefully, you might still be able to hear the music and laughter of the crowds coming from New York, in their elegant gowns and costumes, filling the forest with glamour during unforgettable parties in the black stone castle.
Like many others before us, we enjoyed the castle by having a photo shoot and a small picnic. While Sarel and I were taking photos, the kids were running around, imagining they saw bears in every large log in the distance. Luckily, we didn’t encounter any black bears; I think the kids scared them off! Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to hike around the area. The kids got tired after playing and were eager to explore new places. So, we jumped in our car and continued our journey, which led us to an amazing ghost town on the Connecticut River. But I’ll share more about that in my future posts, so make sure to subscribe.