- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. (AP) — The Searles Castle has towered over this Berkshire town for 120 years, its seven turrets and blue dolomite stone 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 has opened its gates as a conference center and cultural attraction.

Now, the French chateau-style castle is for sale — a $15 million property occupying a small niche of 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 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. Marble is everywhere — rising in columns, carved as mantles and in slabs as flooring.

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

And if the 60,000-square-foot castle seems too overwhelming, it’s just a short walk from the front gate to a busy row of restaurants and shops.

In the United States, seeing 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.

Built in 1888, the castle was commissioned by Mary Hopkins, the widow of railroad tycoon Mark Hopkins. Mrs. Hopkins hired noted interior decorator Edward Searles for the project, and the two married a year before it was finished.

She died in 1891, but Mr. Searles stayed in the castle until 1902. After his death in 1920, the castle spent the next three decades as a private school for girls. It then 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 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.

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