Abandoned Dansville: Castle On The Hill
“DISCLAIMER: I do not advise trespassing to explore this site in Dansville. The building is beyond repair and in extremely bad shape. We literally thought at points we might fall through the floor as the building is that structurally unstable. We explored this site in 2016 when it was in bad shape then. I can only imagine it worse now. Please…if you choose to explore this site DO NOT ENTER the building and if you do, you do so on your own accord. I will not be held liable for injury or death if you trespass.”
We awoke early morning on a patch of pine to a light drizzle and gloomy sky in the boscage beyond the corn fields of the Drop Zone. With the work-day cancelled we set out for the abandoned Castle on the Hill, in Dansville, NY. The drive took us through the rural countryside filled with green pastures, endless wheat hills and desolate small towns along back-country roadways. My friend never explored an abandoned building before so I felt excited for him and his first urban exploration experience. We parked the car at the local park and walked half a mile towards the castle on the hill. Decaying since 1971, it stood tall, crumbling to the decadent force of nature, which took over a majority of the complex.
History takes us back to 1796 when Nathaniel Bingham stumbled upon a water source of rich minerals and opened a spa in Dansville called the Dansville Water Cure. He practiced water cure or hydrotherapy as he believed the water from “Breakout Creek” contained therapeutic properties bringing his theory to life in the year 1854. It flopped without much success and the property was sold.
James Caleb Jackson purchased the complex in 1870 naming it Our Home on the Hillside. Both men believed in hydrotherapy, but Jackson’s passion and public outreach made business steady with a successful flow of patrons. With his discovery of “granula” and his persistent efforts, Our Home on the Hillside became especially popular, giving him financial success and prestige. It drew legendary icons including Susan B. Anthony and Clara Barton among others such as, Frederick Douglass.
But the building took a turn for the worst with a fire and even after the Jackson Family “fireproofed” the building, bringing it to a larger scale and spending $200,000 on construction, modern treatments and advancements in medicine and pharmacology surpassed any popular efforts of the water cure philosophy causing the institute to go bankrupt in 1914.
The building continued exchanging hands without prospering until 1929 when Bernarr Macfadden purchased the sanatorium. The witty yet eccentric businessman renamed it the Physical Culture Hotel as his involvement in bodybuilding structured the ideal of the resort. The hotel took on roles of a hospital for the ill while maintaining a popular buzz among the wealthy. Celebrities who stayed at the thriving resort indulged in tennis, swimming and starlit views from the roof with dancing and naked sunbathing.
After Macfadden’s death the building was reacquired but steadily dwindled to its death in 1971 and now stands there to this day, slowly decaying, brick-by-brick until it will eventually collapse, sliding down the hill spreading its debris across Route 256.
The iron staircase of this 7-story building told a tale of its heyday symbolizing the prestige and wealth of those occupying this hotel. We walked through the dust, and rubble, floor-by-floor peering out windows and creaky doors that dropped off into oblivion. Sections of flooring gave way to decay, and complete rooms had crumbled to the ground leaving an empty space full of rusted piping, and brick rubble where parts of the roof fell to its demise. We walked cautiously through the main hallways, distraught about entering any rooms for fear of falling to our demise. Graffiti lined the walls with tags, and evidence of teenage love along with political banter scribbled on the roof, “Feel the Bern” and cryptic messages, “Did you bring the salt?” near the elevator shaft. I did not feel spirits here like I did in the JN Adam Memorial Hospital but our exploration was limited due to the sad state of structural support in the Castle on the Hill.
We stood in plain sight on the roof as we followed the main I-beam across what remained tiptoeing over concrete and brick avoiding any holes or soft spots with serious caution. The view of Dansville cast out below with its stormy sky, a pastel of gray clouds blended with the greenery below making it feel like a picturesque haunted film with us in the center of it. Droplets of tears shed from the clouds touching our skin faintly and we raced out of the building, exiting at a different location to avoid citations. The state of decay made our exploration limited, but we managed to escape the downpour by seconds following a long drive home in rain.