Aside from the farm stands, antiquing trails and classic drive-ins, one of the biggest draws of New York’s Hudson Valley are the country estates, particularly in Duchess County. Once inhabited part-time by industrialists, socialites, politicians, artists, authors, and movers and shakers of all sorts, many of the palatial Gilded Age mansions perched high above the Hudson River now function as historic sites where visitors can take a step back in time and play Vanderbilt, if just for a couple of hours.
And then there’s Wing's Castle.
While started — but not completed — within the last 40 years, Wing’s Castle looks to be millennia older than the rest of the Hudson Valley’s tour-worthy gilded homes. In fact, it appears to be transported, stone by stone, from a different time and place; ripped from the pages of a fairy tale picture book and plopped down a hillside meadow on the outskirts of Millbrook, a low-key village with a horsey Hamptons reputation. (Read: There’s more than a few chichi weekend homes owned by multimillionaire New Yorkers hidden away along those lonely country roads.)
Wing’s Castle, however, is different.
Borne not from status, wealth or a desire to one-up the neighbors, Wing’s Castle is the result of pure, unbridled ingenuity and imagination. A labor of love in the truest sense, construction of the structure and its outbuildings spanned decades. And like many visionary art installations-cum-building projects, it may never be fully finished.
A mash-up of varied architecture styles that could best be described as “medieval eclectic,” the fanciful moated home — it’s also a bed and breakfast property, but more on that in a bit — makes magic with reclaimed materials.
When construction commenced on the castle in 1969, Millbrook native Peter Wing and his wife, Toni, relied heavily of recycled everything: stones, bricks, windows, tiles, timber, ornamental flourishes, you name it. Working with big dreams and a limited budget, they scoured the Hudson Valley and beyond for architectural salvage to incorporate into their castle-in-the-making. In total, around 80 percent of the rambling, totally enchanting self-built home is made from reclaimed materials sourced from junkyards, flea markets, demolition projects and beyond. A majority of the handcrafted structure’s stones were salvaged from an old railroad bridge.
Poughkeepsie’s urban renewable initiatives of the 1970s and 1980s, projects — in which huge swaths of the city were razed, forever changing the historic character of Duchess County’s county seat — also proved to be a boon for Peter and Toni Wing as they were more than happy to procure truckloads of landfill-bound demolition waste that could be incorporated into their blueprint-free building project.
“I borrowed heavily from Antonio Gaudí,” the late Peter Wing told the New York Times in 2001.
And it shows. Wild and whimsical, the structure is gleefully all over the place. Even though it's at its atmospheric best when shrouded in a mysterious fog, the castle positively shines in any sort of weather.
Wing may have cited Catalonia’s most famous church-erecting native son as an inspiration, but Wing wasn’t a trained architect or builder.
And as far as castles go, the Wings never intended to build one. Rather, the whole project was the result of a happy, life-altering accident. Peter explains in a short documentary film: “At the time, the original intent of the structure was an old barn with two silos. But we had no design experience. We laid the silos out too big around to give them living space, not realizing they would look like castle towers instead of silos. When that happened, we just simply said: ‘why not?’"
Winging it indeed.
Born and raised on his family's dairy farm (now part of the Millbrook Winery) located directly below what Toni has called a “live-in art project,” Peter Wing was a renaissance man of the highest order.
An artist, yes, but also a cigar store Indian sculptor, vintage car collector, interior designer, muralist, poet, philosopher, a veteran and Shakespeare-themed summer camp director. Many locals knew Wing best as the driving force behind Frankenstein’s Fortress, a long-running haunted house attraction in nearby Stanfordville staged every Halloween. Frankenstein’s Fortress, based out of an old barn, was also built using predominately recycled and reclaimed materials.
Wing, a deeply passionate polymath with a flair for theatrics, was killed in a September 2014 car crash near the castle. He was 67 and the father of two children.
Wrote Kevin McEneaney, an editor at the Millbrook Independent following Wing’s passing:
He was a mercurial man: by turns shy and affable; humble, yet knowledgeable about many things, from esoteric German philosophy to William Shakespeare, whom he was fond of aptly quoting. There are few men who could match his informal erudition and practical sense of how to do manual tasks — from how to repair an engine to how to construct a room from a disused water tower.
The poetic intensity with which he lived would have exhausted most people before they turned 30. He was an original artist who worked in many mediums. His wife, Toni Simoncelli, sometimes joked that Peter belonged in the Smithsonian. The surrounding towns will mourn him long after his passing.
While Peter Wing is gone, his legacy very much lives on.
Toni continues to give seasonal guided tours of the castle grounds, a tradition that sprung from the fact that people, some local and some hailing from further afield, simply started showing up to marvel at the castle. And with that, the castle itself started generating an income for the couple.
Tours include a glimpse inside the home’s antique-, armament-, and art-packed interior including the main living area, dominated by a ship’s hull fashioned into a balcony, vintage carousel horses and military finery. And gas masks. Lots and lots of gas masks. The castle’s kitchen doubles as an aviary for a centenarian parrot.
Peter described his home's time-traveling, museum-y garage sale aesthetic to the Travel Channel as "anti-Martha Stewart.”
Needless to say, at the conclusion of a tour of Wing’s Castle, your jaw will be sore from all that gaping.
As far as the B&B; goes, it's still very much in business and open to overnight guests year-round.
“Offering the comforts of modern day amenities in the rustic setting of an enchanted 15th century country castle,” lodging options include a hideaway nestled in one of the castle's towers. There's also the Dungeon, the most well-appointed cell within a 100-mile radius. Continental breakfast is included as is use of the castle moat, which, in actuality, is a lovely swimming pool.
Not surprisingly, the rooms tend to get booked quickly.
An adjacent Tudor-style cottage — it has more of "a subdued Snow White feel than the amped up wizardry of the castle," writes one guest of its Fantasyland-esque facade — with three bedrooms is also rented out as a bed and breakfast property. The structure, once a run-down bungalow, was transformed by the Wings into something much more dreamy.
A tower-heavy feat of creative reuse and dedicated labor, Wing's Castle, is in the end, whatever you want it to be.
Mused Peter Wing: "Some people come and they flip out — they see a fantasy. Other people see something historical. Other people see a museum. There are people that say 'I love it but I couldn't live here.' Everyone sees something different. I dunno — like I said, all of this is totally meaningless anyway. Totally meaningless. Except for the experience of being alive."
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