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Berkeley Castle
Living in a Landmark

Text and photographs by Carl E. Feather

Andrew Gosline stands on the roof of the historic Berkeley Castle, overlooking downtown Berkeley Springs.
Gosline bought the 20-room, 19th-century castle at auction in 2002. Photograph by Carl E. Feather.

Andrew Gosline had never been to Berkeley Springs. He first learned of it and its legendary castle one day in early 2002, when he stumbled upon an intriguing announcement in the real estate section of the Wall Street Journal.

“I saw an ad for an auction in Berkeley Springs. I’d never heard of it,” says Andrew, who is retired from the data processing side of the health care industry. He was living in Jupiter Island, Florida, at the time, and because it was his birthday, decided to take a trip north and visit the castle.

Intrigued by the property and the auction’s attractive terms, Andrew registered for the sale. As the bidding began on May 4, 2002, Andrew and his two older sons, Andrew and Matthew, took their place by the massive stone fireplace in the front room. They were competing with roughly two dozen others.

“I really didn’t expect to buy it,” Andrew says, standing by the same fireplace from which he did his bidding. “It’s just one of those things you get caught up in.”

The auction was completed in a matter of minutes. “It was amazingly short,” Andrew says. “My older son looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I think you just bought a castle.’ I fell in love with it.”

Nearly a decade later, Andrew is still fascinated and captivated by both his purchase and the old town of Bath, more commonly known as Berkeley Springs. His castle, perched on a ridge overlooking the town’s iconic springs and bathhouse, has stood since the early 1890’s. Built from native sandstone, it is thought to be the only Norman castle in the United States.

Andrew and his Doberman pinscher, Duke, are the 8,500-square-foot castle’s only residents, except during the summer, when his youngest son, Mark, 5, comes to visit.

Although the castle was open to tourists from the 1950’s to 2000, Andrew maintains it as a private residence, except for the annual Museum of Berkeley Springs Yule Tea, when a 14-foot live Christmas tree is brought into the great room and decorated for the season. (The tea is held the first Sunday in December.) The castle is also available for weddings.

Tourists who visited the castle decades ago when it was operated as a for-profit attraction still come to the door seeking a guided tour. Shortly after moving in, Andrew left the front door unlocked for a friend who planned to stop by, then headed upstairs to shower. Upon stepping out of the shower, Andrew was startled by a man standing in his bedroom and the sound of the man’s wife and children on the floor above him. They were looking for the tour.

“I said, ‘This is my house.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’” Andrew says, recalling the experience that was embarrassing for both the visitor and owner.

“I find I have to keep the doors locked. The people try to come in and walk through,” he says.

Their fascination is understandable. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the castle enchants and entreats visitors with it history, architecture, romantic origins, and legends.

Samuel Taylor Suit was 55 when he began the project in 1885. Suit had lucrative careers in the stock market, distilling, railroads, dock management, and politics. A Republican, he served in the Maryland Senate from 1873 to 1877, and was ambassador to England under Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes.

Following the Civil War, Suit purchased several hundred acres of Maryland land near Washington, D.C., and established the town that bears his name. Suitland was home to his business, S.T. Suit, Fruit Grower & Distiller, which produced fruit brandies and a rye whiskey marketed in brown jugs.

He made his home in Suitland, as well, in a mansion modeled after an English manor house. On this estate, Suit raised a special breed of white ponies that he gave as gifts to the children of his friends. Often referred to as “Colonel,” an honorary title from his Civil War days in Kentucky, Suit was considered a sentimental, loving person with a soft spot for young people, including young women.

His first wife died after giving birth to their son. His second, Aurelia, the daughter of a life insurance company’s president, was 11 years his junior. Their 20-year marriage, while good for Suit’s social standing, was contentious and ended in divorce in 1879.

Three years earlier, while Suit was away serving as a judge of agriculture at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, his mansion burned to the ground. He was forced to file bankruptcy. Nevertheless, Suit was able to quickly regain his fortunes and eventually repurchased his Suitland property.

At some point in the 1870’s, while still married, Suit met and soon fell in love with Rosa Pelham, the debutante daughter of an Alabama congressman. Seventeen at the time, Rosa rejected his attempts at romance. Five years of pursuit followed. In 1883 the couple met in Berkeley Springs.

Tradition holds that during this rendezvous, Rosa revealed that she always wanted to live in a castle. Suit promised to build one for her, a summer cottage on Warm Spring Ridge, overlooking the town, if she would marry him.

They returned to Washington, D.C., and on September 4, 1883, married, just three days after the proposal. She was 22, he was 51. Three children were born to the couple.

Work began on the castle in 1885.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.