Hoag’s Castle Burned 35 Years Ago
Unique landmark in Wakefield, Massachusetts
“Have you seen the castle?” was a frequent schoolyard inquiry. In that typical childhood way, the goal of the questioner was, as much as anything, to prove that he knew something before you did – as if being the first to know about the castle was second only to having built it.
The real builder was Clarence Hoag, who single-handedly constructed his “Castle Clare” on a hill on Acorn Ave., just off Oak St. on the outskirts of Greenwood. And a castle it was – complete with parapets, battlements, buttresses and towers.
Hoag built the house on Acorn Ave. that he and his family lived in – but it was no castle. So in 1930, when he was 53 years old, Hoag decided to build his very own castle on a hill near his house. Each day when he got home from his printing business in Boston, Hoag would work on his castle. It was the Great Depression, and business wasn’t so great, so Hoag would scavenge for building materials wherever he could, from demolition sites and remodeling projects that he encountered in the course of his daily business.
He salvaged everything from second-hand lumber and tiles to ornate marble fireplaces and heavy wrought iron gates – anything he could pick up at a bargain price. Greenwood residents got used to seeing Hoag walking home from the train station at the end of the day lugging boards and other building supplies he had acquired that day.
He did almost all of the work himself. The only jobs done for him were the electrical, plumbing and heating. It took Hoag 16 years to complete his castle, but he continued to plug away for another 20 years on his architectural masterpiece. Hoag’s castle stood as a testament to the sheer will and ingenuity that characterized America in the early decades of the 20th century.
He furnished the interior in the manner of a Scottish castle, with huge Chinese vases, a suit of armor, battle axes, wrought iron candelabras, crests and enormous paintings – all picked up from mansions being torn down or from second-hand dealers.
Castle Clare, its name taken from the first five letters of Hoag’s given name, became a local social and cultural gathering place. But by 1967, such activities were curtailed due to the 88 year-old Hoag’s failing health. In the years after his death, the house was emptied, and teens had taken over the secluded site for underage drinking parties. Then, on October 5, 1974, arsonists reduced Clarence Hoag’s castle to charred rubble. In the 1980s, the 16-lot Montclare Estates subdivision was constructed around the former site of the castle.
So, I never did get to see the castle. Sure, it was right in Greenwood, but growing up on Spring St. near the Stoneham line, Acorn Ave. was literally at the opposite end of Greenwood, across both the railroad tracks and Main St. It was one thing to walk to Most Blessed Sacrament Church for Mass and to the Greenwood Pharmacy or Crystal Pharmacy for a coke. But venturing any further was verging on foreign territory. Kids on my street were even bused the one mile to the Greenwood School.
Besides, we had our own neighborhood attractions, like “The Piggery” a short distance through the woods in Stoneham, where we found skulls of pigs, sheep and other livestock left from a long abandoned pig farm. Then there was the old, crumbling stone foundation up the street that we imagined was a once fort, but was more likely something as mundane as a chicken coop.
By high school, any lingering childhood fascination with seeing the castle had been replaced by other interests.
Thirty-five years ago, on October 5, 1974, Clarence Hoag’s castle burned to the ground and an era ended in Greenwood along with any hope of answering “yes” to the question, “Have you seen the castle?”
[This column originally appeared in the September 24, 2009 Wakefield Daily Item.]
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