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Originally published May 20, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 20, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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For sale: old Massachusetts castle; dungeon included

A French chateau-style castle is for sale, a $15 million property joining a small niche in the world's luxury real-estate market.

The Associated Press

Inside the castle


The castle, built in 1888, was commissioned by Mary Hopkins, the widow of railroad tycoon Mark Hopkins. Mary Hopkins hired noted interior decorator Edward Searles for the project, and the two married in 1887. She was 22 years his senior.

Hopkins died in 1891, after which Searles built another castle, in Windham, N.H. After Searles' death in 1920, the Great Barrington castle spent the next 30 years as a private school for girls. It changed hands among business owners and an insurance company, serving at different times as a storage area, conference center and cultural attraction. Since the mid-1980s, it has been a private school for troubled teens.

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GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — The Searles Castle has towered over Great Barrington in the Berkshires for 120 years, its seven turrets and blue dolomite exterior creating a fortress at the end of Main Street.

It has been walled off from the public as a home to the uber-rich and as a private school, and it has opened its gates as a conference center and cultural attraction.

Now, the French chateau-style castle is for sale, a $15 million property joining a small niche in the world's luxury real-estate market.

"People who have everything else want to own a castle at least once in their lives," said Denis Burrus, a sales agent for de Rham Sotheby's International Realty who sells castles in Switzerland. "It shows that they've achieved something in their lives."

Searles Castle, also known as Barrington House or Kellogg Terrace, is no ordinary mansion. It may not have been designed to keep enemies away from a royal family, but it has all the trappings to make it worthy of Sleeping Beauty.

There isn't a moat, but the seven-floor castle has a dungeon that could be used for a friendlier purpose: a restaurant, perhaps, or an extensive wine cellar.

Thirty-six fireplaces are scattered among more than 40 rooms, one of which once contained a pipe organ and served as a mini-concert hall.

Inside the castle

The castle, built in 1888, was commissioned by Mary Hopkins, the widow of railroad tycoon Mark Hopkins. Mary Hopkins hired noted interior decorator Edward Searles for the project, and the two married in 1887. She was 22 years his senior.

Hopkins died in 1891, after which Searles built another castle, in Windham, N.H. After Searles' death in 1920, the Great Barrington castle spent the next 30 years as a private school for girls. It changed hands among business owners and an insurance company, serving at different times as a storage area, conference center and cultural attraction. Since the mid-1980s, it has been a private school for troubled teens.

Seattle Times news services

Marble is everywhere: rising in columns, carved as mantels and in slabs as flooring.

Balconies and terraces overlook the property's sprawling 61 acres, which include a T-shape lagoon, tennis courts and a garden temple guarded by two marble sphinx sculptures.

If the 60,000-square-foot castle seems overwhelming, it's just a short walk from the front gate to a busy row of restaurants and shops. Think the tax bill is too high? Cross the street and file a complaint at Town Hall.

Burrus has been selling castles for 15 years in Switzerland, where one or two go on sale each year for up to $40 million. The market is more crowded in countries such as France, where he said buyers can choose from about 100 properties.

In the United States, a castle for sale is rare.

"There aren't enough castles marketed and sold in the United States that we bother keeping track of them," said Steve Cook, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors.

Agents handling the deal for William Raveis Real Estate envision Searles Castle being turned into a spa, resort or conference center, making it a good fit with other luxurious getaways that dot the Berkshires.

Kristine Girardin, a William Raveis representative, wouldn't rule out the possibility of the castle returning to its roots as a private residence.

"I've seen houses on the market in Beverly Hills for $40 million that I think this is far superior to," she said.

Since the mid-1980s, the castle has been the site of the John Dewey Academy, a private school for troubled teens. The school's director says he needs to sell the castle for tax reasons and is looking for a place to relocate.

The move might be hard for some who fell under the spell of a building meant for fairy tales.

"It's tough to go home when you spend your whole day working in a castle," said Michael Gould, who teaches French and Italian at John Dewey.

"You expect to look out the window and see Rapunzel with the hair coming down," he said of his office, a round, carved-out nook in one of the building's seven towers.

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