A wealthy widow lived the high life in this Gilded Age country house.
Samuel Taylor Suit was many things: a successful whiskey distiller; an honorary Kentucky colonel; and a wealthy, well-connected landowner, businessman and politician. He was also unlucky in love.
Samuel Suit’s first wife died in childbirth, and his second wife divorced him after 20 years of marriage that proved to be socially advantageous but otherwise deeply contentious. When he fell in love a third time, it was with Rosa Pelham, daughter of a Congressman from Alabama and 29 years his junior. The couple married, and Samuel built his new bride a castle.
The site of the castle would be a ridge overlooking the popular spa town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Berkeley Springs had long been a popular resort destination, particularly among the elite from not-too-distant Washington, D.C. looking to escape the miserable summer weather. Warm mineral springs and cool, clear mountain air attracted the likes of George Washington, James Madison, Martin Van Buren, and Henry Clay. Being members of the Washington high society that summered in the little destination town, Berkeley Springs was in fact where Rosa and Samuel first met.
They were married in 1883, and the first stone of their castle was laid in 1885. It would be but one of the several dozen “cottages” built by the wealthy summer patrons of Berkeley Springs, but theirs would stand out thanks to its extravagant appearance inspired by Norman castle architecture. Despite the setting, however, there would be no storybook ending; Samuel died in 1888, before the project was completed.
Rosa finished building the house in 1891. Once completed, she took up residence year-round in her castle, where she entertained regularly and lavishly. She would sometimes rent railroad cars to bring her guests from D.C. to her sumptuously appointed parties, featuring opulent spreads and bands that kept revelers dancing through the night.
Alas, the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and by the turn of the century Rosa Pelham Suit found that the money had run out. She started renting out the castle to generate some income, and in 1902 sold considerable land holdings (known as “Suitland”) amassed by her late husband in Maryland, but it was to no avail. The castle was sold at public auction in 1913, and Rosa retired to a small house (described in some sources as a “shack”) and raised chickens, later moving to Idaho with her son Samuel.
The Berkeley Springs Castle was home to a boys’ summer camp from 1938 to 1954, and was operated as a museum open to the public from 1954 to 1999. Today, it is a private residence that is available for rent as an event space; no tours for the public are available.