The word “castle” evokes many images. Daring knights courting fair maidens. Faraway enchanted lands of fairy tales. Kitschy centerpieces for theme parks. But did you know that there are 4 (yes, 4!) castles in the North of Boston region? Nestled among the First Period (1625-1725), Colonial, and “Cape” architecture are stately (and, at time, imposing) reminders of a bygone era. One such structure is the Herreshoff Castle in Marblehead.
Originally known as “Castle Barttahlid,” Herreshoff Castle was the pet project and brainchild of Marblehead artist Waldo Ballard. Inspired to build his own castle in the seaside town of Marblehead, Ballard traveled to Europe to study the design and architecture of castles across the pond. While reading up on Norse history, Ballard came across a detailed account of Erik the Red’s castle in Greenland and decided to base his own castle on Erik’s. A bit of a gamble seeing as the original castle had long since been knocked down. Luckily the details in the book were minute and meticulous enough to become the basis for Ballard’s castle, Castle Brattahlid, which was completed in the 1920’s. We’re hoping that Ballard was happy with the results, seeing as he had no visual aid to help him image what his own castle-home would look like.
Now, castles aren’t really known for making cozy homesteads. So, with his new home built, Ballard started to make the castle “his own,” so to speak. He painted original medieval-inspired designs and accents throughout the castle walls. Not satisfied with the paintings of knights and crests, he sought to create a more “homey” feel by installing a carpet in the Great Room. And by “install,” we mean “paint” because who has time for vacuuming anyway? For the carpet, Ballard lovingly copied one of the Oriental rugs from the nearby Jeremiah Lee Mansion. Because nothing matches a medieval castle like a rug from a Federal/Georgian mansion.
Alas, in 1945, Ballard sold the castle to L. Francis Herreshoff, a local antique dealer and writer In our research on the castle, we couldn’t find any specific reasons, but we can’t help but wonder if it was due to the fact that actually living in a castle is less fun than it originally seems. Herreshoff changed the castle’s name from “Castle Brattahlid” to the current name, “Hershoff Castle.”
When Herreshoff died in 1972, he left the castle to his longtime assistant. Upon her death in 1990, the castle was sold to its current owner Michael Rubino and his wife Chris. After purchasing the castle, the Rubinos started a large restoration which included putting running water in the kitchen and installing a refrigerator (apparently, Herreshoff would buy fresh food every day to curtail the lack of food-preserving appliances). The Rubinos converted the castle’s carriage house into a bed & breakfast and, today, still live in the main castle.