Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A(nother) New England Castle

If you've been reading this blog awhile you already know that we enjoy visiting castles. No, we haven't travelled abroad (sigh) all our castle-ventures have been here in New England. Who knew these treasures were only a few hours away? We know and now you do as well.

Our previous castle ventures were within NH and MA, no more than 2-1/2 hours drive time.
Several New England "castles"
In late 2020, we visited three local castles. Madame Sherri's Castle in Chesterfield, NH. An elaborate 3-story party house built in the woods in the 1920s where NY costume designer Antionette Sherri hosted elaborate parties. Bancroft's Castle built on a hilltop in Groton, MA, in 1906 by William Bancroft as a lavish turn-of-the-century retirement estate. Hammond Castle in Gloucester, MA, built from 1926-1929 as the home and laboratory of John Hays Hammond, Jr., an inventor and pioneer in the study or remote control. The first two are now in ruins, destroyed through fire and vandalism. The last is now a museum.

Each of their respective owners considered their home as their castle, doesn't everyone

Our latest castle venture was a 3-day stay at the Norumbega Inn in Camden, ME, a 3-hour drive from Nashua, NH, the farthest castle-venture to date. This short trip was to co-celebrate my recent birthday and was a pre-Hearts Day celebration, any excuse reason for a short trip these days.
Norumbega Inn B&B, Camden, ME
Unlike those previous ones, we were able to stay overnight in this one. As the only guests one night, we actually had the run of the castleThis getaway co-celebrated my recent birthday and was our pre-Hearts Day celebration.
Vintage postcards of Norumbega and Penobscot Bay
The Norumbega Inn was formerly the home of inventor Joseph Barker Stearns, who had it built from 1886-1887 to resemble a European castle. Like many castles, the Norumbega sits atop a rise. This one overlooks Penobscot Bay. The 10,330 square foot Victorian was one of mid-coast Maine's most elaborate 19th-century houses.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, it's now a bed and breakfast inn.

Joseph B. Stearns
Stearns, a native of Weld, ME patented duplex telegraphy and licensed it worldwide. He studied
 at a Newburyport, MA, firm and later became office manager. In 1854, he worked at the Fire Alarm Telegraph Company, Boston, MA, and 
from 1855 to 1869 was superintendent of the company. Stearns was the first to take out patents on the use of reversed currents in connection with the fire alarm signal system. 

He was president of the Franklin Telegraph Co. from 1869-1871 where he invented the first practical duplex telegraphy system. This system allowed two messages to be sent over the wire at the same time. Before the invention of the telephone, the telegraph was the main method of communication. The problem was that messages could only travel down a wire one at a time. Stearns solved that dilemma. This one invention secured his fortune. Stearns sold rights to the Western Union Telegraph and Cable Companies. He also received royalties from governments in England, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Russia and India.
Prototype of duplex telegraph
After selling his invention, Stearns traveled throughout Europe working on business projects for Western Union. His estate was influenced by historic castles he saw in these travels. Retiring in 1885, he bought a tract of land in Camden, then had Norumbega designed and built. He lived there a decade before his death on July 4, 1895.

Norumbega estate and grounds, Camden, ME

esigned by NYC architect Arthur Bates, the home featured a stone and wood facade. It's no surprise that the house (like all good castles) had a turret. The center section rises three stories, and is topped by a stepped gable. The right section has a projecting section topped by a turret.
Oak woodwork in Norumbega
The elaborately finished wood-laden interior had the latest innovations in modern homes of the period such as electric lights and steam heat. This beautiful and intricate woodwork was seen throughout the house.
Main sitting room at Norumbega
The common rooms on the first floor has a main sitting room with a fireplace, grand piano, also a  reading area supplied with books and games. There's a breakfast room and formal dining room, and fireplaces in each room. 
Staircase, sitting area, basement game, sun room
A basement area has guest rooms plus a common room game and entertainment area. There’s several decks for outdoor seating in warmer weather. Rooms are on the second and third floors. 

Norumbega Inn bedrooms

Penthouse suite
The Norumbega Inn has 11 guest rooms (including two suites) on the second and third floors. Each room is unique with its own style and layout. The Library Suite was the home's library and still has books 
which can be borrowed by guests on an upper level. The uppermost floor has a single Penthouse suite complete with a winding staircase, large sitting room and bay windows with a water view. 

Norumbega reportedly contained a library of 10,000 volumes, and a renowned pottery collection which was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. His collection of carved ivories was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
Sunrise views during our stay
Our room on the third floor also overlooked Penobscot Bay. We were awakened to beautiful sunrises like these during our stay.

Early New England map (Internet)
The name Norumbega comes with its own unusual history. According to local legends, it was the name of a magnificent city on the banks of the Penobscot River in the 16th century. 

European explorers told tales of a place where the native Indians were adorned with furs, silver and gold. The legend persisted throughout the 17th century and many early maps referred to all or New England as Norumbega.

The earliest recorded history of the name Norumbega is a similar word spelled Oranbega in Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano's 1529 map of America. The word is thought to derive from one of the Algonquian languages spoken in New England. It could mean quiet place between the rapids or quiet stretch of water.

After Stearns' death, Norumbega remained a private residence for nearly 100 years with several owners in that time. In 1984, it was sold and converted to a B&B. In 1987, it was sold again and run as an inn through the 1990s. After the death of an owner, ownership transferred to the estate's trustees. It continued as an inn until 2005, then was vacant for several years. The current owners renovated and reopened on Memorial Day weekend 2013.

Sagamore Farms, image from collection of Camden, ME, Public Library
Sagamore Farms was a large cattle farm that Stearns owned in Camden. He bought additional tracts of land and operated a large cattle farm that he and his son managed. It was worked by various local families who knew about the dairy farm business. There's no records on how long it ran as a dairy. The buildings survived a 1912 fire, but were completely destroyed in 1932 and the area has largely reverted to woodland. 

Us at Norumbega Inn, Jeep on flatbed, & our rental car
This getaway adventure started off in a rather unsettling way because about 2 hours from our destination, the oil lamp lit up on my 2007 Jeep Liberty. This is never a good thing to happen especially when the car manual advises not to drive the vehicle as further damage could occur. (Did I mention we were a couple hours from our destination?)

All turned out better than expected. The Jeep dealership we use in Nashua, NH, provided the name of a dealership close to our location (York, ME). AAA towed the Jeep and gave us a ride too. Enterprise car rental delivered a minivan (175 miles on odometer) to the dealership. We used it  for 2 days and picked up the Jeep on our way home. The auto problem was a faulty oil receptacle lamp, thankfully not an oil pump issue; it's running fine now.


acorn hollow said...

What a lovely get away. I love Camden it is so pretty.
Glad your car trouble was nothing more than a lamp

Marcia said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful trip, How many nights were you there? What a neat place to explore, too.

Linda G. said...

This sounds like a wonderful getaway. How cool to stay overnight in a castle and especially so to have the castle to yourself. Your photographs show the beauty of the castle and that it is well maintained.

Sandra said...

that had to be scary with the oil lamp, glad that all worked out well. all the castles are beautiful, each in their on way and the inside pictures are gorgeous. the floors are stunning, the furnishings, the wood work, just beautiful. glad you had your away from home and super glad you were the only guests for you but not for the owners

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

All the fun of living in a castle and the latest modern conveniences too - quite a place.

Bijoux said...

What a lovely place to stay. There are a few castles in Ohio that one can stay overnight, but we’ve never been. I’m surprised how modern Norumbega looks inside. Lovely woodwork and the Penthouse suite looks amazing as do the sunsets. Glad you were able to celebrate!

David M. Gascoigne, said...

It is always a pleasure to stay in interesting places like this, in total contrast to a modern hotel which may be efficient and up to date in very way, but is sterile and lacks charm. I have met some interesting people at the breakfast table at B&Bs I have stayed at.

Lois Evensen said...

What a fun trip and beautiful mansion! We LOVE "old" and would love to have taken that tour with you. Thank you for sharing your pictures and information. We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood of such huge homes for the past 42 years. Most are still owned and inhabited by single families, many descendants of the original owners. The interiors of wood, tile, and ironwork are spectacular! The carriage houses are larger than most suburban homes and the grounds are spectacular.

Emma Springfield said...

You two have a knack for finding the most interesting places to visit.

Jon said...

I never knew there were so many beautiful "castle" homes in New England. It's nearly impossible to choose favorites from the ones you've visited.

It must have been fun staying at Norumbega and having the place all to yourselves. Despite the massive size, all the rooms look cozy in the photos. I love that piano in the sitting room - and those sunrise photos are so peaceful and intriguing.

Edna B said...

I would love love staying in a real castle. How wonderful that you had such a grand time. Even the mishap with the car wasn't so bad. I love all the photographs. The sun is setting here and it's really quite pretty. You have a wonderful day my friend, hugs, Edna B.

William Kendall said...


Rita said...

That is just a beautiful B&B! What a delightful place to stay. :)

LL Cool Joe said...

That must have been great fun staying in a castle! I envy you being able to go and stay anywhere at the moment. We are still in lockdown and will be until June!

My name is Erika. said...

I've been waiting to see where you went and what castle you discovered. I've been to Camden but didn't know about this castle, and even better you could stay there. It looks like a beautiful place. But the best news sounds like your car situation worked out well, considering what could have happened if you drove further with it. I think you had a good birthday/heart day escape, and now I know a place to stay whenever I might visit mid-coast Maine. Hugs-Erika

David said...

Beatrice, We've been to Camden (2018) although all we did was eat there, take a bunch of photos and, oh yes, my better half hit me up for a classy hand-tooled leather purse. Somewhere I do have a photo Norumbega Castle and a couple other places nearby along Rte. 1. Sounds like a lovely Covid-19 break and a very nice birthday present/Valentine! Love the history! We've had flat tires in the middle of nowhere and a destroyed wheel on a new car on the first day of a vacation. Tension resulted but as with you, it all worked out for us too. Stay Safe and Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

diane b said...

What a great place to stay and celebrate your birthday and Valentine's Day. The history was very interesting. Having the whole place to yourself must have been fun.

Rob K said...

"Full run of the castle."

How often do you get to say that?

This sounds like quite a trip, full of history and a little suspense with that Jeep oil light.

Thanks for the fabulous photos and fascinating history lesson. When Covid-19 finally leaves our lives you should consider becoming a tour guide.

Take care!

mamasmercantile said...

Sounds like an amazing trip, so glad you were able to sort out the car. Such a great place to visit and learn so much about it. Great post.

Barbara Rogers said...

I enjoyed this post about the castle, with excellent history of it as well. So glad the car situation was resolved as easily as it was.

Jeanie said...

YOu're having such a good time visiting these spots and it shows! What wonderful photos, Dorothy, and a fascinating story/history with them. I especially love the detail shots. That wood is magnificent. The inn looks wonderful and a perfect way to celebrate an occasion!

Joyce F said...

Wow! Looks like a lovely place to stay. Our younger son had to cancel a trip to Maine last Fall. Will have to make a note of where this is and show them pictures. Might be something they would enjoy.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Super ... I don’t think I’ve ever even “spoken” to someone who has stayed overnight in a castle! What a fun getaway and safe as you were the only guests! I love the pictures and it all looks wonderful. Enjoyed the history of this one (and the man who built it) and the review of the other three you visited. This has been such an interesting series!

baili said...

i feel like i lack words to appreciate this one dear Dorothy :)

what a wonderful post ,i enjoyed each bit of it thoroughly

thank you for the images ,each is spectacular ,the inner views are mesmerizing specially ,you captured them and shared with mastery i am impressed
this was grace of lord that thing went good with your vehicle on return .
health ,peace and joy to you both in days ahead!

L. D. said...

This was a wonderful post. I always like to know who had the money and how they made it to make such large homes. There are no castles in Iowa but a few large ones made to look like homes from England.