The Story of Catholina Lambert's Castle
Catholina Lambert was born on March 28, 1834 in the village of Goose Eye, in Yorkshire, England. He was the oldest son of cotton mill laborers. In the 1830s and 1840s, his parents worked in the cotton mills and had to travel around the country to find work. Life was not easy, working in the mills was hard and long, and with little pay. They did manage to send Catholina to school where he studied until the age of 10. This was much more schooling than most working class children in England received at that time.
However, at the age of ten, he had to begin working in the mills. Traveling far from home, he was able to find work in the relatively ‘benevolent’ Boars Head Cotton Mill. There the owner saw his potential and trained him for millwork. He finished a seven-year apprenticeship at the age of seventeen in 1851.
He heard that in England, 1 in 10 working class laborers could hope to become successful, but in America, 7 of 10 could. And so, at the age of 17, he took his 12-year-old brother William, and left Liverpool, England on a boat to New York City, USA with their savings of 5 pounds.
1851 Building of an empire
They arrived in America in 1851. He immediately went to Boston and secured a bookkeeping job for $4 a week in a silk mill. Silk making was a growing new industry in America. After 4 years of hard work, the owner of the mill offered Lambert a partnership in the firm. Catholina ran the company’s New York office. 3 years after that, he bought out the partner and became head of the firm, ‘Dexter, Lambert and Company’.
While in Boston, he met Isabella Shattuck, the daughter of a rich gentleman farmer whose family had been in America for generations. They married on Sept. 9, 1857. In that year, Catholina also became an American citizen.
In 6 short years, and at the age of 23, he managed to move from England to America, become an American citizen, run a successful company in an exciting industry, and marry into a socially elite family.
In 1858, the couple moved to East 28th Street in New York City, while his younger brother William ran the Boston silk plant. Not far from New York, in the small town of Paterson, NJ, the silk industry was flourishing. Colleagues from Boston set up silk mills there and Catholina soon followed. His company took over a silk mill on Straight and Clay Streets in Paterson and produced silk ribbon from raw silk imported from Italy. While he and Isabella were visiting Paterson, she bought him a piece of land along the cliffs of Aquackanonk, from what is now Garret Mountain, east to Broad St. in Clifton. This would be the future site of his mansion.
He and Isabella had 5 children (Florence in 1859, Frederick in 1861, Walter in 1863, Isabel Louise in 1866, and Clifford in 1869). The family spent their time in either of their houses in Brooklyn, NY, and in South Paterson, NJ. In 1886, they added another residence on Madison Ave. in New York City.
His family life was full of tragedy however. In 1869, his younger brother William (30), with whom he had come to America with, died mysteriously while traveling in South America. In 1870, their infant son Clifford died of cholera. In 1871, their son Percy was born, only to die in 1882 of scarlet fever. Another son born in 1873 died within weeks of his birth. In 1875 his first son Frederick died of scarlet fever at the age of 13. A son, Harry was born in 1875, only to die in 1885 before the age of 10. Their oldest daughter Florence, married and had a child in 1882 and another child in 1883. She died of pneumonia soon after, at the age of 24. Florence’s death was to forever sadden Lambert. In fact, one of the stained glass windows in the Castle is a portrait of Florence.
His business prospered however. In 1878, he bought mills in Paterson and designed and built a mill in Paterson in 1879. In 1880, he built a mill in Hawley Pennsylvania and in 1887 another one in Honesdale, Pennsylvania which he called the ‘Florence Mill’ after his late daughter. Lambert’s now oldest son Walter, 22 and his son-in-law William Suydam ran the mill. The Pennsylvania mills were cheaper to operate as they used mostly female and child labor. The entire silk industry began moving plant to Pennsylvania.
Although the silk tycoons were not known for being the most philanthropic of citizens, Lambert’s wages in the Paterson mills were considered fair. In 1883, striking workers of another mill used Lambert’s wages as a standard to meet in their factory negotiations.
1892 The Castle
As a boy in England, Lambert often passed the castles of Yorkshire and Warwickshire on his to work in the cotton mills. These were the homes of royalty, which overlooked the masses of working people living below. He thought that it was time to have his castle.
In 1891, he began designing a grand new home to be built on the Paterson property his wife Isabella had bought for him years before. It was located on a hillside below the cliffs of what is now Garret Mountain and was constructed of sandstone and granite. The sandstone was quarried from the surrounding hills. It is estimated that the castle cost one half million dollars. This at a time when the average wage was $1 a day for 10 hours or more of hard labor.
In 1892, after only one year, the home was finished. The Lamberts christened it with a house warming party for 400 of New York City’s elite on January 31, 1893. President McKinley and vice president Garret Hobart visited the castle in 1898, Hobart was a Paterson native and his son was later to be involved in the Castle’s history.
In 1896, the 70-foot observation tower was constructed on the crest of the cliff. A long gallery building was also added to the main house and was filled with his huge collection of European artwork.
Lambert kept a small office on the Eastside of the house, overlooking Paterson and his mills. Since the use of the telephone in Paterson in 1879, Lambert did not have to be in and around the mills as he had before. He still worked his 16-hour days, but now largely from his Castle office.
In 1900, he started opening the Castle and art collection for public viewing every Saturday afternoon.
Between 1900 and 1904, Paterson had the Great Fire, 2 floods and a devastating tornado, all affecting area businesses. In 1901, Catholina’s wife of 44 years, Isabella Lambert died. 3 years later, Catholina married Isabella’s younger widowed sister Harriet.
In 1913, the famous Paterson silk strikes began. Lambert was 79 years old. The strikes, together with the absence of capital for loans, due to the beginning of the WW1, had a severe impact on the silk industry. Lambert lost a large part of his wealth and was forced to mortgage his estate.
In 1916, he sold a large part of his collection of artwork. He auctioned off 368 paintings and 32 sculptures. He sold one of his silk factories in Paterson. By 1917, he and his son Walter began liquidating the assets of their company, Dextor, Lambert and Company.
Unlike many business bankruptcies of that time, and today, Lambert paid his debts. He was proud to say that he paid every one of his creditors in full, largely from his own wealth. Dextor, Lambert and Company had always been a private company, and no investors ever lost any money either.
Death and Legacy
Catholina Lambert died in his castle on February 15, 1923 at the age of 89. He is buried next to his wife, Isabella in the Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Paterson.
Lambert’s son Walter sold the Castle and property to the City of Paterson in 1925 for $125,000. Paterson transferred the title to the castle to the newly created Passaic County Parks Commission in 1928. Garret Hobart Jr., the son of the late Vice President from Paterson, became the head of the Parks Commission. He established the Garret Mountain Reservation as a public park including the Castle, it’s grounds, and hundreds of acres of wooded area behind the cliffs above the Castle. The Parks Commission held its offices in the Castle until the 1960s. The Passaic County Historical Society and the Lambert Castle Museum were inaugurated on Oct. 25, 1934. In 1936, in disrepair, the gallery wing was demolished.
Through the years, the Historical Society amassed tens of thousands of local historical items; many of them housed in the Castle today. In 1976, the Castle was placed on both the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.
With generous donations and voluntarism, the Historical Society and the Passaic County government have managed to keep the museum open from 1926 to the present. Together, they manage the surrounding historical institutions: the Dey Mansion, the Paterson Museum, the American Labor Museum, and the Great Falls of Paterson.
The observation tower on the crest of the cliff, complete with refreshment stand and stairway leading to the top observation deck, was open to the public until the late 1960’s. It closed due to disrepair and has not since reopened. Passaic County has recently received a grant from the State of New Jersey to fund a tower restoration project. Soon visitors will be able to go inside and walk up to the observation deck.
The grounds around the tower and along the 150-foot sheer cliffs are open to visitors of the Garret Mountain Reservation. It offers stunning views of the area from Bear Mountain NY, to Northern New Jersey, the George Washington Bridge and the New York City skyline all the way to the Verrasano Narrows Bridge and beyond to Sandy Hook, NJ.
In August 1995, the Castle property closed down for major repair and maintenance. After 5 years, it opened again on Sept. 24, 2000 after a much-needed facelift. The sandstone of the Castle was refinished, granite replaced and repaired, drive and walkways rebuilt, the walkway to the observation tower was repaired, and a new northern courtyard was constructed. The interior was completely refinished.
The Historical Society now holds social gatherings, craft shows, and fundraisers at the castle. It is a favorite site for newlyweds taking wedding pictures. The Museum is open to the public throughout the year There is a nominal fee to visit the museum. The Castle grounds are open everyday from dawn to dusk. The Garret Mountain Reservation Park and the nearby Rifle Camp Park are open everyday from dawn to dusk