Hidden artifacts found in the Grey Towers Castle

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2009 at 5:39 pm

page3letterAlthough Arcadia University purchased William Welsh Harrison’s estate back in 1929, what we all know and love as Grey Towers Castle apparently still has mysteries left to be discovered. In such a large building (especially with a lot of it restricted off), it is easy for history to hide in the dark and endless mazes of the castle basement. Just last semester the university was notified by castle maintenance of recovered artifacts dating back to the early 1900’s, found in an incinerator in a forgotten corner of the basement, hidden all these years behind boxes.

Arcadia University’s Grey Tower’s castle was designed in 1893 by Horace Trumbauer for Mr. Harrison, then co-owner of the Franklin Sugar Refinery. By the year 1891, Mr. Harrison had expanded his estate to 138 acres, deciding to also expand the house to include a gate house and stables. He employed the skills of 23-year-old architect Horace Trumbauer who completed the stables and gate house a year later. Yet in 1893, the main house (called Rosedale Hall) was burned to the ground in a raging fire. After finding a temporary residence in Glenside proper, Mr. Harrison once again employed Trumbauer to build him a new home to replace the one that was lost forever, right on the scene of the crime. In March 1893, the young architect took orders from Mr. Harrison to build a grandiose mansion inspired by Alnwick Castle, the medieval seat of the Dukes of Northumberland. And thus, Grey Towers Castle was born.

Even now, there are secrets to the castle that have only just been discovered. After the artifacts were pulled from their brick prison, they were immediately cataloged for university records and studied by students in the Castle Restoration Society. Among some of these objects retrieved from the dust were an orange juice can, pieces of broken white stone and broken glass, a Tasty Cake wrapper (labeled “cherry pie”), a pair of baby shoes, stockings, black socks, numerous beer cans, a deck of cards (incomplete), an apothecary bottle (with medicine still inside), and a perfume bottle, still carrying a lingering floral scent.

Also found were many purposefully torn letters with their addressed envelopes, pieces of torn up newspaper, and a women’s corset and lace. Although yellow and fragile, the date “1917” can be plainly seen on the newspapers, complete with lines of comics. On the torn up letters the female names “Irene” and “Elizabeth” are seen scribbled in fine cursive, and their twin envelopes indicate that they were written by Mr. Harrison himself.

Interestingly, the letters themselves are too torn to piece together the body and read them in full detail. Of course, everyone would love to assume that these mysterious unknown women were Mr. Harrison’s mistresses, as he was notorious for being lucky with the ladies, except for his wife. Why would these letters be purposefully torn and sent to be burned in the basement, along with a woman’s corset?

“It’s really easy to jump to conclusions about the objects, and why they were in the incinerator of all places,” says Christine Klepper, a senior history major and leader of the Castle Restoration Society at Arcadia. “But a lot of the stories about the Harrisons were rumors fabricated by students. We have to remember to use the clues given and find fact, not just assume because it’s fun. All these things that were found could just have been broken, and placing them in the incinerator was just a way to get rid of them.”

Despite what mysteries these objects create, only one thing is for certain. What back in the early 1900’s may have just been trash is now treasure, and the university archives will go through these artifacts and pick what they want to save. Some things, like the comics, may end up being displayed somewhere in the castle. Yet the most exciting thing about this is that there is still more to be discovered. At least two more future trips are planned to investigate other rooms in the basement in hopes of falling upon more hidden treasure, hopefully as exciting as the first discovery. “Hopefully this stirs up interest again for Grey Towers Castle,” Christine Klepper says. “In no way is it neglected, but I think this is still a good reminder to all of us to respect all of its history.”


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