Grey Towers Castle & Its Ghost Stories Turned 120 This Year

Grey Towers Castle is a national historic landmark in Glenside on the campus of Arcadia. In 1881, William Welsh Harrison and co-owner of the Franklin Sugar Refinery purchased an estate in Glenside. After buying neighboring properties, he eventually acquired 138 acres. In 1891, Harrison decided to enlarge the main house, add a gatehouse, and improve the stables. For renovations, he turned to a young architect from Philadelphia, Horace Trumbauer, who designed buildings such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Duke University.

In January of 1893, a  fire destroyed the main house (Rosedale Hall), and the family fled to the stables for refuge. Harrison hired Trumbauer to build a new home on the site of the old building. The architect planned for a grand structure inspired by Alnwick Castle, the medieval seat of the Dukes of Northumberland in England.

They started building the  castle in 1893. and cost around $6.6 million in today’s dollars.  The massively extravagant 40-room mansion was one of the nation’s largest homes when it was completed in 1898. Grey Towers Castle reached its 120 anniversary this year. (castle anniversary events ) The castle was a menagerie of styles inspired by the chateaus of France to the mirror room, painted with a mural depicting the seasons as women, surrounded by zodiac signs and cupids. There are over 50 gargoyles integrated into the facade of Grey Towers Castle.  More Design Details

Grey Towers truly put Horace Trumbauer on the map, and he became known for his work during the Gilded Age and Roaring Twenties. Trumbauer’s massive palaces flattered the egos of his robber baron clients, but were dismissed by his professional peers. His work made him a wealthy man, but his buildings rarely received positive critical recognition. Today, he is hailed as one of America’s premier architects, with his buildings drawing critical acclaim today. Trumbauer is best remembered as the self-made architect who conjured up some of the most magnificent homes the nation has ever seen.

As with most castles there is drama that can morph into legends. Harrison used to conduct numerous illicit affairs, so there are many secret passageways built in the castle and surrounding buildings, one of which  was likely used to sneak maids into Mr. Harrison’s quarters. It is said that the only happy point in the Harrison’s marriage was their wedding night, and by the time they moved into the Castle they each chose their own wing, with Mr. Harrison’s quarters on one side and Mrs. Harrison and the children on the other.

Harrison died in 1927, and Arcadia University (then located in Jenkintown as Beaver College) purchased the estate from Harrison’s widow and son in 1929 for $712,500. Classes were held in Jenkintown and Glenside until 1962, when the University transferred completely to the Glenside property.

Many people say that the Harrisons were an unhappy couple in life, and legend claims they haven’t found peace in the after life yet, either. This brings us to the numerous infamous ghost stories and tales from people connected to the Harrisons.

There are many stories,and some have different versions, here are a few:

Students have reported the feeling of someone pushing on them to slow them down as they run down the staircase. The legend is that the Harrison’s daughter had a friend over who was running down the back staircase when her scarf got caught on the banister. She flipped over the banister and hanged herself. Some believe it’s the ghost of the friend making sure they don’t suffer the same fate when running too fast.

There are stories about hearing Mr. Harrison pounding the floor, demanding that his maids get him his whiskey.

There are tales of  hearing the squeaking of Mrs. Harrison’s rocking chair, as her spirit sits and mourns the death of her daughter, who perished in a riding accident

A lot of Arcadia alumni say they never heard or saw anything. One thing is for sure, castles are great inspiration for ghost stories and legends.

Today, Grey Towers Castle is a vital part of campus life. Some freshmen spend their first year in traditional and suite-style dorms on the third floor, offering them a unique glimpse into life as the Harrisons lived it. Downstairs, the Rose and Mirror Rooms frequently hold lectures, book readings, panel discussions, and Senior Capstone Presentations. Annual events like Community and Civic Engagement’s Empty Bowl Dinner, as well as dances, dinners, and memory nights, also take place. The Castle is home to administrative offices and conference rooms that hold meetings for campus organizations and student groups.