Antiques, pending sale’s agreement in ruins

Chadds Ford castle in better days. Photo courtesy of Brandy Ashley

The side of Rocky Hill Castle in Chadds Ford is shown in its past winter splendor. On Tuesday, a fire gutted the interior and severely compromised the stone exterior walls. Photo courtesy of Brandy Ashley

For nearly four hours on Tuesday, Jan. 12, firefighters battled the Rocky Hill Castle blaze on Bullock Road in Chadds Ford Township, a fire that destroyed nearly 200 years of history, cherished family heirlooms, and the completion of an agreement of sale.

Castle inferno captured by Brandy Ashley

Flames rip through Rocky Hill Castle in Chadds Ford Township. Photo courtesy of Brandy Ashley

Brandy Ashley, a former resident of the castle who lives nearby, said a neighbor called about 1:30 a.m. She said she and her father, Bill Hoffman – who was staying with her – grabbed some clothes and raced to the scene. “We were not dressed for 19-degree weather,” she said.

They were also not prepared for the sight of their unique homestead. Ashley said the combination of fire trucks and the fire itself lit up the area, initially resembling a giant Christmas display. She said they stayed at the house until about 5 a.m., watching in horror as flames engulfed the palatial building, destroying everything in its path – from elegant oak-paneled walls to stained-glass windows to antique curio cabinets.

Periodically, they escaped to a neighbor’s home to get warm, Ashley said. By the time they left, the third floor had collapsed into the basement. Ashley said part of a distinctive cast-iron bathtub from a third-floor bathroom could be seen in the rubble. She said the teams of firefighters who worked to extinguish the blaze could not compete with the home’s centuries-old, ornate wood interior that fueled the fire.

However, the crews successfully contained the fire, Ashley said. Nearby woods and the two other buildings on the property – a pump house turned storage facility and a large barn – were spared, she said.

The front of Rocky Hill Castle is pictured in the fall. Photo courtesy of Brandy Ashley

The front of Rocky Hill Castle is pictured during autumn. Photo courtesy of Brandy Ashley

Ashley, whose parents divorced when she was young, said she had lived at the home intermittently over the years, starting at the age of 10. When her father remarried, the home was owned by his wife’s parents, Robert and Lois Saunders, and the wedding took place there. The Hoffmans subsequently resided at Rocky Hill Castle, and two of her four brothers were born there, Ashley said.

Early on, Ashley said she just spent summers there; later she resided in the home for stretches up to five years. Even when family members grew up and went their separate ways, the house served as a grand place for reconnecting.

“I used to call it the monster house,” she recalled. “At night when you would drive up, you would see these huge grey stone walls.” Once inside, the house delivered a totally different vibe. “I always felt like a queen walking into it. It was just a fabulous place,” she said.

She said the property has only had four other owners, dating back to 1821. She said Joseph Luke lived there for about 80 years in what was then an elegant Victorian surrounded by about 600 acres. He sold it to a wealthy butcher from Philadelphia. Ashley said that she didn’t know the butcher’s name but that he made a lot of changes to what was his summer home.

The for-sale sign still stands in front of the gutted home. Photo courtesy of Brandy Ashley

The for-sale sign still stands in front of the once palatial, three-story residence. Photo courtesy of Brandy Ashley

“He would bring everything by rail car from Philadelphia,” Ashley said. Then it would be transported by wagon to Bullock Road. “He apparently thought of himself as a king and added a third story and the grand staircase,” she said, adding that he also altered the exterior so that it resembled a castle.

The butcher sold off some of the land before selling the castle to the Tulloch family, which also did some subdividing. The final owners are descendants of the Saunders family, which includes Ashley’s father, she said.

Ashley said her father and stepmother had put the property up for sale because they were relocating to North Carolina. She said her father had been working hard to clean out the house, which still contained some of the family's antique furniture and collectibles, because an agreement of sale was being negotiated.

“The timing was just unbelievable,” Ashley said.

She said she’s been in other grand homes but has never seen anything quite like Rocky Hill Castle.

“This was the cream of the crop,” she said. “I still can’t believe it’s gone.”

For more memories of the Castle, click here

 

 

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About Kathleen Brady Shea

Kathleen Brady Shea, a nearly lifelong area resident, has been reporting on local news for several decades, including 19 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer. She believes that journalists provide a vital watchdog service in the community, and she embraces that commitment. In addition to unearthing news, she also enjoys digging up dirt in her garden, a hobby that frequently fosters Longwood Gardens envy. Along with her husband, Pete, she lives in a historic residence near the Brandywine Battlefield, a property that is also home to a sheep, a goat, and a passel of fish.

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One Response to “Antiques, pending sale’s agreement in ruins”

  1. brandywinebard says:

    Excellent reporting Kathleen.
    A heartbreaking story from a personal perspective.
    Another Chadds Ford treasure lost.

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