Heartbreaking end for Chadds Ford castle

Smoldering remains of the castle

When a Delaware County woman got the news early on Tuesday, Jan. 12, that Rocky Hill Castle, her former home, had been gutted by fire, she was devastated.

“It’s just a terrible, terrible loss,” said Lois Saunders. “It was a unique, historic resource, a one-of-a-kind place; they don’t build them like that anymore.”

Saunders said when she met the man who would become her husband, Robert Saunders, he owned the property, and they got married there in 1989. Wedding photos showcased the couple in the grand, divided staircase that went from the first to the second floor of the elegant home’s three stories.

When Saunders’ husband died in 1997, she continued living in the palatial 12-bedroom residence with her stepdaughter, Nancy Saunders, and her son-in-law, Bill Hoffman. She moved out about 2007, she said, adding that her son-in-law and stepdaughter recently relocated to North Carolina and put the approximately 8,500-square-foot residence up for sale.

Castle fire burned throughout the night into the next day

Castle fire burned throughout the night and continued  into the next day

Lois Saunders said she understood that the 194-year-old home had once been a Victorian summer showplace for one of the du Ponts. “I used to envision carriages pulling up to the front porch. It must have been quite a spectacle,” she said.

Saunders said her husband bought the property long after it had been converted into a “castle.’’ According to the real-estate listing, that renovation occurred about 1912 and transformed the Victorian-style home into a stone chateau.

She said the home had already been dubbed “Rocky Hill Castle” when her husband bought it, and she surmised that the name probably came from the stone outcroppings on the property, which originally encompassed about 600 acres. Now it contains slightly fewer than five acres.

Arched entryway speaks of another era

Arched entryway where horse drawn carriages once arrived  speaks of another era

Chadds Ford Township Fire Marshal and Concordville Fire Company Chief Tom Nelling said the cause of the fire is as yet unknown and may never be determined because the damage was so severe.

Lois Saunders said no one was living in the home at the time of the fire. She said that her son-in-law has been gradually emptying out the home and that some possessions went up in smoke along with the interior of the home, which was mainly wood.

“It was really a unique place to live," said Saunders. “It's so sad to see it end like this ... I hope they’re able to determine what the cause was.”

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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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