Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Fonthill Castle

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Institution Name: College of Mount Saint Vincent
Original/Historic Place Name: Fonthill Castle
Location on Campus: south of River Lawn
Date(s) of Construction:
1852original construction Forrest, Edwin
1872chapel extended back and chancel removed
Designer: Edwin Forrest
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Gothic revival (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Walls: dark gray hammer-dressed fieldstone
ca. 1859other (convent)
1942-1969library (Elizabeth Seton Library)
1969-present (2006)admissions office

[from the National Register] Fonthill Castle was built in 1852 by Edwin Forrest, one of this country's leading nineteenth-century actors. The site, with its breathtaking view of the river, was the consummate setting for the castle that he and his wife intended to build for their country residence. He originally planned to build it at the water's edge on a natural promonotory jutting out into the river, but the Hudson River Railroad planned to lay its tracks along the river so the present site was chosen instead. The name Fonthill was derived from William Beckford's Gothic Fonthill Abbey in England. While its plan or organization has no parallel to the English building, there are similarities in interior decoration and in certain architectural details which are direct quotations of Fonthill Abbey. An example is the fan faulting of Forrest's drawing room ceiling, probably modelled on Beckford's St. Michael's Gallery.

Fonthill's architect is a matter of some controversy, with some holding the belief that it was built by Thomas C. Smith and others certain it was Alexander Jackson Davis. However, it cannot be accurately determined at this time.

The castle has served variously as a chapel, a residence for the Sisters, a museum, an annex to the main building, a chaplain's residence, and the college library. Today it houses the admissions office.


College of Mount St. Vincent Administration Building. New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designation list. New York: New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1979.

Fonthill Castle and the Administration Building of the College of Mount St. Vincent. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1980.

Reynolds, Donald M. Fonthill Castle: Paradigm of Hudson River Gothic. Riverdale, NY: College of Mount Saint Vincent-on-Hudson, 1976.


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