By Steve Sears
“Wow, what a home!”
The above words no doubt were exclaimed back in 1905, when construction on Kip’s Castle, originally known as “Kypsburg,” was completed. Certainly, they’re echoed now as well, when a visitor first casts eyes on the 9,000 square foot medieval Norman castle-like mansion that hides in the eleven acres of land in the hills of First Mountain in Montclair and Verona and toes the line of Cedar Grove.
There’s also the view of the New York City skyline from the ridge of Essex County Kip’s Castle Park (the official name of the property), appearing as a distant Emerald City. After a slow perusal of the interior, walk the lush exterior (or vice-versa) and you’ll feel you’re far away (perhaps very far away) from the traffic on busy Route 23 below. Peek directly above you and you may even see a red tail hawk in flight at tree height.
It’s just a part of what makes Essex County Kip’s Castle Park very special. It’s a sight to behold, inside and out.
Consider the history, which is quite grand. Constructed officially over a three-year period by between 1902 and 1905 (there’s an interesting story to this – more to come) by Frederic Ellsworth Kip and his wife, Charlotte Bishop Williams Kip – whose pictures are on display in the first floor rooms, especially a large, elaborate portrait of Frederic, seemingly still at the helm of his creation – the exteriors of the castle and 6,000 square foot, two story carriage-house are made from local trap rock (from the former Marley Quarry in Verona, which was located at the Bloomfield and Pompton Avenue intersection) trimmed with sandstone. The interior of the castle consists of thirty rooms in a variety of shapes, including vaulted ceilings, gorgeous chandeliers, and elaborate fireplaces with period furniture. The public is permitted to tour just the first-floor rooms (the second and third floors are not accessible at this time, although you’ll wish they were) and wealth of outdoor grounds for walking, some spots more challenging than others. If this accessibility perhaps seems limited, consider that admission is free, and that any passing of time here lowers the blood pressure.
There are benches outdoors for sitting and, as you stroll before or after your reprieve, you’ll envision those who in ages past planted footsteps where yours have trod. The same with your interior visit. Climb the front steps, enter the front room, and imagine seeing faces of the Kips, perhaps guests who visited, all enjoying open views from the large windows in the various first floor rooms.
Stay a while; stay all day. It’s a gem in your “backyard.”
Frederic Kip, who was a wealthy textile inventor and industrialist, also published several books related to United States tariff laws. His wife, who saw actual work begin in 1898 but then halted it due to not liking the design at the time, is credited for the design of the building and grounds which are seen now, and many will be impressed with her planning of structure and layout. Included in that design was an octagonal rose garden, which dominated the southwest corner of the property. The Kips resided here for twenty-one years and, after Charlotte passed away in 1926, Kypsburg was sold and passed through the hands of several owners and remained a private residence until the early 1980s. Eventual dilapidation of the building and grounds led to the law firm of Schwartz, Tobia & Stanziale’s 1985 purchase of the property. Over time, a work was done to restore the castle’s grandeur, and there was talk of development on the property, to no avail. In 2006, the property was put up for sale and, in 2007, The County of Essex, courtesy of grants from the New Jersey Greens Acres Program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, purchased the castle and grounds. The property is now part of the Essex County Park Systems Offices for the County Division of Cultural and Historic Affairs. A popular attraction in the Essex County Historic Holiday House Tour come Christmas time, the building also is an apropos site for seminars, meetings, parties and special ceremonies.
Essex County Kip’s Castle Park is located at 22 Crestmont Road in Verona, is open free of charge to the public for self-guided tours of the first floor. The public may visit May 1 – October 31, Tuesday – Friday, from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m. The castle staff occasionally schedules evening guided tours of the home, so if considering fueling what you see with what happened in the rooms you have stood in, check the website for a calendar of events. The grounds at Kip’s Castle Park are open from dawn to dusk seven days a week. More information may be found at www.essexcountyparks.org/parks/kips-castle-park, or by calling (973) 433-7469.
Whether in a group of by your lonesome, Essex County Kip’s Castle Park and its star attraction will send you home with a feeling of wanting to return, all with good reason. It’s one of the Garden State’s few castles, and as a New Jerseyan, you don’t have to cross a major river or state line to get to it.
Essex County, New Jersey – it’s all yours.