Fonthill Castle was built in 1852 for Edwin Forrest, one of this country’s leading nineteenth-century actors. The site, with its breathtaking view of the river, was the consummate setting for the castle that he and his wife intended to build for their country residence.
He originally planned to build it at the water’s edge on a natural promonotory jutting out into the river, but the Hudson River Railroad planned to lay its tracks along the river so the present site was chosen instead. The name Fonthill was derived from William Beckford’s Gothic Fonthill Abbey in England. While its plan or organization has no parallel to the English building, there are similarities in interior decoration and in certain architectural details which are direct quotations of Fonthill Abbey. An example is the fan faulting of Forrest’s drawing room ceiling, probably modelled on Beckford’s St. Michael’s Gallery.
Fonthill’s architect is a matter of some controversy, with some holding the belief that it was built by Thomas C. Smith and others certain it was Alexander Jackson Davis. However, it cannot be accurately determined at this time.
The castle has served variously as a chapel, a residence for the Sisters of Charity of New York, a museum, an annex to the main building, a chaplain’s residence, and the college library for the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Today it houses the admissions office.