It’s always exciting when a bucket list item can be checked off your list, exceeding the expectations you’ve set in your mind. Somewhere on my list (ahem, #72) was “sleep in a castle.” I suppose when my 17 year old self came up with this idea, I was picturing a grand chateau in southern France, or perhaps a towering structure propped on a lush grassy hill in Scotland, surrounded by sheep who are lulled to sleep every night by the bagpipe players? Regardless, I never would have expected an opportunity to arise to stay in a castle just under an hour outside NYC…and not just any old castle, but one you’ve probably seen before from the comfort of your own TV. Here’s the deets.
Why Oheka May Look Familiar
Oheka Castle made its first film debut back in 1941 for a little movie called Citizen Kane. Ever heard of it?;-) Since then it has been gracing the screens as backdrop to films, TV, commercials, music videos, and photography shoots. One of my faves is Royal Pains, a show that is set in the Hamptons and uses the castle as the residence of the main bizillionaire on the show. (Sidenote: it’s on Netflix Instant, check it out for more castle views!) Not too shabby, eh?
But let’s back up just a bit…Oheka didn’t start off being the backdrop for Hollywood. Almost a century ago, financier and philanthropist Otto Hermann Kahn built the castle on the highest point on Long Island for an estimated cost of $11 million dollars (which would be about $110 million dollars in today’s currency…yowzers!) At the time of its construction, the French-style chateau was, and still is today, the second-largest private residence ever built in America. During the 1920’s, Kahn used the 127 room estate as a summer home where he hosted lavish parties and regularly entertained royalty, heads of state, and Hollywood stars. Does it remind you a little of Jay Gatsby? Yeah, me too.
With Kahn’s death in 1934, the estate changed hands several times, serving as a retreat for New York sanitation workers, and a government training school for Merchant Marine radio operators. I mean, you gotta think how crazy expensive this thing is to maintain…electric bills alone!
In 1948, the Eastern Military Academy bought the castle, bulldozed the gardens, subdivided the rooms and painted over the walls. After the school went bankrupt 30 years later, Oheka stood abandoned, except by vandals who set numerous fires over 5 years. In 1984, developer Gary Melius purchased the castle and the remaining 23 acres which surrounded the estate and began the painstaking challenge of restoring the Castle to its original grandeur. Not an easy task, but he certainly did a sensational job.
Today, the castle is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is used as a historic hotel with 32 luxury guest rooms, and is also a proud venue to many, many NY weddings and galas. Seriously guys, it’s gorgeous. I love the traditional decor, grand paintings, and how easy it is to imagine Kahn’s 1920’s parties taking place around you. We had dinner at the onsite restaurant (delicious), stayed in the Fairbanks Suite, and had breakfast the next morning buffet style in the grand ballroom.
Probably my three favorite things about the castle are the library, the gardens, and the Charlie Chaplin room.
Even if you don’t stay overnight in the castle, you can still join for one of the mansion tours, so, so worth it. Our guide was passionate and knowledgable, and truly made the estate come to life with the stories she told.
Getting To Oheka
While we chose to drive out to the castle, it’s definitely accessible via public transportation. You’ll want to hop on the Long Island Railroad at Penn Station and take the Huntington Line to Cold Spring Harbor Station. Once there, you can call a local taxi to pick you up and take you to the castle (there’s no taxi depot at the station): Orange & White Taxi, 631-271-3600 | Ecotaxi, 631-624-3727.
Whether you’re going for a quiet escape from the city, romantic getaway, a slice of history, or to check off your bucket list that you’ve slept in a castle, we know you’ll have the best time. We sure did!
Have you ever visited a castle? Impressions? Let’s talk in the comments below!
By: Jessica Tiare Bowen
A very special thank you to the wonderful folks at Historic Hotels Of America and Oheka Castle!
This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.