May is National Historic Preservation Month, a fine time to see the sites that tell our local history here in Essex County. Kip's Castle is a nearby home, now open to the public, with a storied past.
Verona Historical Society president Robert Williams explained the history of the residence and cleared up some old rumors at a recent talk.
"This house is a real tangible link to the Gilded Age," Williams said. Although the Rhine-style castle, built by between 1902 and 1905, may resemble an old English residence, it has many roots in Verona.
The castle, built for Kip's wife, Charlotte, was constructed using trap rock from the Marley Quarry, which used to be at the site near where Bloomfield Avenue meets Pompton Avenue. It is located at 22 Crestmont Road in Verona.
"As you speed down Bloomfield Avenue, you don't realize there were just horses there years ago," Williams said, adding that driving on Bloomfield Avenue towards Montclair on the right hand side you can still see the building where the dynamite for the quarry was kept.
The castle was the home of . Kip was a successful textile manufacturer who also wrote several books, one a history of the Kip clan. His estate now spans 11 acres, straddling the border of Montclair and Verona, and it includes a 30-room house and two-story carriage house.
Charlotte Kip is credited with both the design and decoration of the building. Williams said construction actually started in 1898 but was stopped because Mrs. Kip was unhappy with the design.
The castle, which was originally in Montclair, now straddles the border of both Montclair and Verona.
Kip specifically had the castle built for his wife because of his love for her, Williams explained. When she died, since the house was so influenced and reminiscent of her, Kip moved in with his son in Montclair.
The first floor of the castle is paneled with a dark-finished quarter-hewn oak, used for the doors, wood, ceiling moldings and main staircase.
The rooms on the first floor consisted of a foyer, dinning room and chapel.
In the 1980s a religious cult that wore purple robes with black hoods owned the house.
While there, the cult painted the entire first floor white, removed all the original door knobs and replaced almost all the stain glass windows. The windows were kept in the carriage house, Williams recalled, before they were sold to a man in Montclair. In total, 82 stain glass windows were sold off.
"There is still a lot of integrity in this building even though it's not exactly how I remember it," Williams explained. "The woodwork is still here and what was originally finished on a thin oak 100 years ago can still be brought back."
A woman asked if at any time there were any monks that lived there. She said as a kid she remembers seeing them when she snuck up to the castle. Williams explained at one time there were Franciscan monks the next property over, but not in the castle.
After the cult moved on, it sold the property to a law firm, who turned the top two floors into offices. Williams explained, as a youth, he remembered each floor was rented out as apartments. Now the top two floors are not open for any tours because it is filled with Essex County offices.
"I think its great that the county acquired it and made it available for people, like yourselves and other generations to enjoy," Williams said.
Frederick Kip was a cousin of South Orange's former Village President and philanthropist . He had a remarkable home, as well. Read about it .