By LARS FARMER
Dunleigh Castle has been sold. The 19th century second empire mansion stands across Street Road from the entrance to the New Bolton Center has, with its rich history, a new owner. Dunleigh, as it was named when it was built in 1882, will be restored to its early grandeur over the next year. The backstory of Dunleigh was immortalized in a short story by Bayard Taylor called, “The Strange Friend.”
The house was designed and built bya Quaker farmer named Samuel G. Moore in 1882. Moore and Taylor were essentially neighbors, as Taylor’s mansion, “Cedarcroft,” was built in 1859 when Moore moved into East Marlborough. Although Taylor’s eclecticism blurs the line between fact and fiction, the basic storyline is true in his short story, “The Simple Friend” which tells us about the namesake Dunleigh Castle. In January, 1867, the story appeared in Atlantic Monthly. It was a romantic story about how a fellow named “Henry Donnelly” an Irish nobleman and his family had to leave their home at (Dunleigh Castle) in Ireland due to “encumbrances” on their estate for probably eight or ten years, and seek some part of the world where their expenses could be reduced.
Donnelly and his family sailed to America and eventually moved to the old Pennock Farm near London Grove in 1813. He built a house on the land where the mansion is today. So he could hide his aristocratic background and to avoid having to reveal his issues, Donnelly presented a certificate to the London Grove Friends Meeting and assumed the dress and manner of a Quaker farmer. Although he tried very hard to hide his nobility, he was called the “Strange Friend” by the Quakers that knew him. He enjoyed ups and downs during his time here but eventually resolved the problems surrounding his estate and returned to Ireland. Taylor wrote, “the plain farmhouse was gone in their eyes forever.”
The proof that Donnelly was actually Henry Hamilton Cox was published in 1881 in the “History of Chester County” by Futhey and Copes which details the Cox’s life at London Grove and that the farm on which the Irish nobleman lived incognito was owned by Samuel Moore. It details Cox’s stay in America and that he left a black box at the Library Company where he had put it for safekeeping in 1799. When the box was finally opened, it was found to contain priceless documents relating to the reign of William and Mary which had fallen into the hands of Henry Cox’s family. Eventually these papers were restored to England, as a result of the precedent established by the Library Company, documents important to American history (including the “Log of the Mayflower”) were returned to this country by the British government in 1897.
Samuel Moore designed and built the mansion on the property between 1881-1882. The home was tremendous. There were 13 large rooms with acetylene light in a three story central pavilion that was capped by a tower. The exterior is done in colorful enameled brick. Moore imported the bricks from Waynesburg, OH and achieved a very fashionable polychrome effect in yellow, aqua, maroon, and olive green, quite gaudy colors at that time for the Quakers a mile away at London Grove. There were large porches, grand doorways and a high catwalk. There is a large concrete slab between the second and third floors facing the road which reads. “Dunleigh.”
For the exterior millwork he chose unpainted California redwood. Marble sills graced all 72 large windows, which, combined with 12 foot ceilings helps keep the elegant residence cool in summer months. No expense was spared with the detail in the woodwork. The exterior holds true to its French Second Empire architecture with ornate dormer windows, elaborate cornices, and mansard roof. The wrought iron basement bars are artworks in themselves each sculpted to look like rows of round black stars with a foreboding threat of a barbed wire type defense against intruders. Walking into the main hall your eyes are immediately drawn to the stairs with ornate wood balusters and acorn topped carved newel post. Coal provided the 17 steam radiators with heat and additional chimneys were later added to the exterior rooms. Outbuildings included a three-story stone and frame stable, for six horses and twelve wagons. Some stables still survive but the large barn burned down in 1977, tragically killing 6 horses belonging to the New Bolton Center that were boarded there.
The property changed hands throughout the years, and in 1948 Theodore Marvin bought the 22 acre property. Theodore and his new wife Marjorie moved into Dunleigh as Ted became the new director of advertising for the Hercules Powder Company in Wilmington, Delaware. With his new position, Theodore was sent to company’s headquarters at The Hague in Holland to study advertising and promotion across Europe. Theodore’s desk from Hercules still resides at the castle.
After Theodore died, his son Ted took over the reins of Dunleigh Castle. Ted was a musician, an intellectual and a partier. He lived like a rock star through the 80’s and 90’s, turning Dunleigh into 4 separate apartments and living off the rent. He played and recorded music with his friends in various music studios which evolved throughout the house and property. Originally he set up a recording studio in the basement, but then converted the living room into a studio with a ‘sound room.” Eventually he built a studio as an outbuilding on the property. Ted was a generous host and he invited many people to enjoy his love of music at his many parties. He was a talented and devoted gardener, and has left the property with an exotic mix of many plants and trees including the towering castor-bean plants by the gateposts flanking the driveway. By the year 2000 with Ted’s health failing he was unable to keep up with the extensive lawn work and the yards became overgrown. Ted died in 2011.
Dunleigh was bought from the remaining family members by Matthew Cole, a small businessman and salvager, in July 2013. Matthew, a tremendously hard worker, cleared the overgrowth from around the property by hand and has started to tear out walls that separated the apartments, returning the house to its original configuration. Passersby the mansion can now get a good view of the mansion from the road as Matt has cleared the overgrowth. What was once a small apartment, with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living area is now returned to the oversized living area it once was. Matthew has replaced the sewer system, installed a hybrid water heater, and installed a rubber roof with plans to do much more to make his family comfortable in the home. He is also having the house rewired with modern electrical circuits. The 130 year old slate from the original mansard roof is being replaced and there will soon be a new high efficieny coal furnace. The property which was originally 200 acres, then 22 acres by 1950, is now just over 1 acre . The Marvin family has the other 20 + acres currently on the market.
Marjorie Martin, 92, still cuts grass on most of the land, and at her age she says riding the lawn tractor every day shakes her bones and keeps her healthy. But it’s more than that which draws her back to the property. There is an unexplainable sense of goodness people who visit often say they feel. It’s what was left over from 130 years of prosperity and good times at Dunleigh Castle.
Editor’s Note: Farmer lives at Dunleigh Castle and has served as caretaker for the property.