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Shandon House, Scotland (circa present)

Shandon House, Scotland (circa present)

Here is one of the most beautiful Gothic houses I could find on the internet: Shandon House, a 19th century Scottish revival manor/castle overlooking Gare Loch in Scotland.  The house was built in 1849 on 31 acres of beautiful Scottish hills.  It was owned by various grandees (shipping magnates, tobacco merchants, and such), before becoming a boys’ school, but the school then closed in the mid-eighties.

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The region where Shandon House is located is dominated by Faslane Naval Base, one of the three ports of the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom (and arguably the most important).  So Shandon House was purchased by the Ministry of Defense…but since the Ministry of Defense has no actual use for dark fairy tale castles, the house has been derelict for over a decade, and may now be beyond repair.  As far as I can tell, the MOD is incapable of finding buyers and hopes to knock the house down (although its designation as a historical landmark makes such an outcome somewhat unlikely).

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It is a shame the house is decaying away, since this is truly an elegant and imposing structure.  On the other hand, who would actually live here other than evil sorcerers, mad scientists, Dalmatian coat enthusiasts, and other suchlike Disney villain folk?

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A ramshackle Russian dacha

A ramshackle Russian dacha

This week the G8 shrank down to the G7. The other powerful nations threw Russia out of the club due to its extremely naughty behavior. This was a good choice: you would never see, say, Canada behaving in such a fashion. In fact, if Canada found Crimea just lying around–on a park bench or in a bathroom lavatory or something—Canada would probably take the wayward peninsula to lost and found (I won’t speak about France, Great Britain, or the United States: we can have sticky fingers sometimes). Anyway, now that Russia is no longer in the club, I have been reminiscing about all the Russian things which we will miss: ineffable literature, banyas, the unsafe (but vibrant) space program, and Russian architecture—particularly dachas, which are among the prettiest of all the world’s cottages.

An ornate dacha

An ornate dacha

A dacha is a country vacation house. They are usually located in the exurbs just outside of towns and major cities on tiny 600 square meter [0.15 acre] land plots, where the Russian middle class plants little gardens and enjoys playing at country simplicity. Originally dachas were gifts from the tsars to loyal or interesting Russian subjects. In fact the word dacha (да́ча) meant “something given”. These tsarist-era dachas were country estates which could be princely chalets or manor houses. After the civil war, the era of landed country estates was over and having a dacha could get a person sent to Siberia or killed (although, of course party luminaries had magnificent dachas, like Stalin’s great green hall). During the later Soviet era, however, dachas made a comeback among urban professionals. The concept was changed though: the little vacation houses could only have a tiny amount of living space and plot sizes were similarly regulated by central authority. This meant that clever dacha-owners had to push the boundaries with mansard roofs, architectural flourishes, and elegance (as opposed to sheer size).

Stalin's Dacha at Kuntsevo (by Gordon Abben)

Stalin’s Dacha at Kuntsevo (by Gordon Abben)

After the fall of communism, the rules all went in the scrap bin. Oligarchs began to build huge whimsical monstrosities (below is a contemporary dacha with one of the oligarch’s toys parked beside it).

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Dachas have actually come to New York with the recent wave of Russian immigration. A number of Russian-born Brooklynites have pretty Russian-style dachas in the forests and mountains upstate. Although I am not Russian, I love ornate little cottages in the forest and I have been enviously looking over these fretwork masterpieces. Unfortunately I do not currently have a Soviet level of personal prosperity, so my project to build a dacha back in my native mountains may have to be put on hold until I learn to manipulate the system and ruthlessly crush my enemies.

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In the mean time here is a gallery of lovely dachas for you to enjoy. Maybe it will inspire you to put some onion domes and scrollwork on your own vacation cottage. It has been a long rough winter and we could use some fru-fru ornamentation, some bright colors, and some time out of the city…

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The Mohonk Mountain House looms over Mohonk Lake

The Mohonk Mountain House looms over Mohonk Lake


The Mohonk Mountain House is a monstrous Victorian castle built between 1879 and 1910 on Lake Mohonk in upstate New York. I was there this weekend to attend my friends’ wedding in the sprawling gardens, and I was forcefully struck by the Ghormenghast grandeur of the house and properties which are simultaneously beautiful and cheerful yet exude a haunting wistfulness.
Mohonk Mountain House Gardens

Mohonk Mountain House Gardens


Located just beyond the southern boundary of the Catskills, the hotel features multiple ornate turrets and towers festooned with finials and oddly shaped weather vanes (squids maybe?). The inside is a baffling labyrinth of hallways, sitting rooms, libraries, and porches. Outside, numerous rustic gazebos and folly buildings are spread through gorgeous gardens and vertiginous meadow rambles. Beyond the hotel, lovely forests stretch up into the mountains or down into the spooky wooded fens which feed the mighty Hudson.
A fen (or carr, or tarn, or bog?) by New Paltz, New York

A fen (or carr, or tarn, or bog?) by New Paltz, New York

Speaking of spooky, the hotel and the surrounding hills have amassed all sorts of reports concerning specters of varying temperaments and classes, from giggling children, to poltergeists, to wispy flames, to lurking drown victims, to dark toothy shadows in the hedge maze: the Mohonk seems to have every sort of ghost story.

Mohonk Mountain House (photo by cindy from rPhotosOnline.com)

Mohonk Mountain House (photo by cindy from rPhotosOnline.com)

It is said that a young, poor Stephen King visited the house and that shadows of the building linger in The Shining, The Regulators, and The Talisman. The Mohonk was also used as the set for the Victorian Sanitarium in the movie The Road to Wellville.
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Apparently there were once a great many lumbering Victorian edifices like the Mohonk spread through America, but almost all of them have now burnt down. The Smiley brothers, who constructed the building, were early advocates of safety and environmental awareness, so their huge flammable heap was equipped with all sorts of sprinklers and fire hoses. We should probably feel that the big burned-up spots where the other hotels used to be are haunted and celebrate the lovely Mohonk as the safest and least disaster-prone resort of its era.

Hooray for Safety!

Hooray for Safety!

A large Victorian gingerbread house created by the Disney Corporation as a centerpiece

Since the winter solstice is only a few days away, now seems like a good time for a festive holiday post to warm up the long cold nights. Long-time readers know about Ferrebeekeeper’s obsession with all things gothic.  To cheer up the dark season here is a post which combines the beauty of gothic architecture with the sugary appeal of candy!

Like gothic art, gingerbread has a very long tradition which stretches back to late antiquity.  It was introduced in Western Europe by Gregory of Nicopolis (Gregory Makar) an Armenian monk and holy man who moved to France in 992 AD.  Whole communities would specialize in gingerbread baking and nearly every European country developed its own intricate traditions and recipes.  In Germany and Scandinavia it became traditional to make two sorts of gingerbread—a soft gingerbread for eating (which was said to aid digestion) and a hard gingerbread which could be stored or used for building.

Here then is a little gallery of some gothic gingerbread constructions which I found around the web.  They really look too good to eat, but if you are interested in making your own version, the cooks/artists who made the gingerbread cathedral immediately below have also put up an instructional webpage.

Seriously, if you follow that link you can make this!

Another Disney Gingerbread House from the "American Adventure" Pavilion

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Even in sugar, icing, and gingerbread, the beauty of gothic architecture shines through! Best wishes for sweet thoughts and happy dreams as the nights grow long and the wind blows outside the door (unless, of course, you are in the tropics or the southern hemisphere, in which case, can I come stay with you?).

Woodmont Mansion outside Philadelphia (designed by William Price in 1891)

In an earlier post I wrote about exquisite tiny gothic revival cottages. There is of course a different side to the gothic home—giant gothic houses. In the continuing spirit of Halloween and haunted houses, here is a gallery of large beautiful creepy gothic residences.  Wherever possible I have tried to give their name and location, but evidently there are more big gothic mansions than can be easily kept track of.  Just imagine these beautiful houses in the moonlight with a few half-seen figures lurking behind the curtains (and maybe a shaggy shape or two looming behind the topiaries) and you will soon be in a perfect mood for October.

Margam Castle, Port Talbot, Wales, (Designed in 1830 by thomas Hopper)

Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion (1859, Germantown PA--just outside Philadelphia)

Roseland Mansion, Woodstock CT

Kingscote Mansion, Rhode Island

Oakley Court (Berkshire, England, 1859)

Gothic mansion in Middletown, Ohio

Bradwell Grove (Oxfordshire, England)

Vasalemma Manor (Hungary)

Toddington Manor (Gloucestershire, England, 1819)

Reynolds Mansion (Bellefonte, PA)

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

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