Hoag’s Castle Burned 35 Years Ago

25Sep09

Unique landmark in Wakefield, Massachusetts

Greenwood SchoolI never got to see the castle before it burned down 35 years ago next month. But as a kid attending the Greenwood School, I certainly heard about it.

“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.
Most Blessed Sacrament Church
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.
Greenwood Pharmacy
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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11 Responses to “Hoag’s Castle Burned 35 Years Ago”

  1. 1 Patrick Kien

    I would like to get in contact with Mark Sardella regarding Hoag’s Castle. As a boy growing up in Wakefield, i knew the person who lived in it for several years and played in the castle often.

    Patrick Kien

  2. Somewhere around 1968 or 69 my brother and I first saw Hoags Castle from the fire watch tower that used to be on Harts Hill. We went on a hike to find it a few days later. It was a magnificant site to see. The driveway (Acorn Rd.) was in disrepair but still walkable. In a few years after the hike the road was repaved which allowed me to drive there.
    When I was in the 8th grade(1966) my homeroom teacher Mrs. Stoutlemyer(?) had a picture of Hoag Castle in the winter time all lit up. I didn’t know where or what the place was until later years.
    I was in the service when it burned.

    P.S. Russell Nelson was my 7th grade homeroom and math teacher.

  3. 3 Jay

    I grew up in Greenwood and took many trips thru the woods with childhood friends to see it. An Saturday adventure. Was always enfatuated with it. It wasnt just a ‘big house’, or a house that ‘looked like’ a castle.. it was indeed.. a castle.

    To my great dissapointment, i never did get inside. Had i known it spent a time abandoned, i sure would have gone and tried to get in. Just to see. I do remember hearing late that night … ‘Hey, did you hear? The castles on fire!’ … and word was from those whom were there.. the blaze was spactaculiar.
    What a shame. Gone. Such a short life. A fond memory for so few.

    It was perfect. Perched high atop a rocky hill, secluded in the middle of woods.. there it was. It was cool because this was Greenwood… our neighborhood.. but our neighborhood.. had a real castle.

  4. 4 Russ

    For 7 years, November1934 through October 1941 (ages 9 to 16), I lived at 177 Oak Street at the corner of Acorn Avenue. In those days, Acorn Avenue was an unpaved “private way” not maintained (or plowed in the winter) by the town and was, in effect, a private driveway to the Hoag enclave, 4 houses for Mr Hoag and his 3 children’s families.
    I don’t remember.when I last saw the castle under construction but it was probably before I entered the High School in 1939. It was an exotic place for the boys of the ‘hood to explore and fantasize, especially right after seeing Errol Flynn in Robin Hood or Captain Blood! The state of the construction as I remember it: the wall surrounding it was complete with watch houses at intervals, the framing and some flooring extended to at least the 3rd floor level and the castle was oriented to face a small man-made pond.

    Some familiar with the neighborhood may be intereste4d in what it was like in the ’30s. At the corner of Oak and Nahant a gentleman (named Cutter?) had 3 or 4 milk cows and delivered his milk to us on foot pulling a child’s cart; several families had chicken coops (with hens) ;

    There is a book, “Wakefield Revisited”, that I ran across at Amazon that has a picture of the completed castle. googling “hoag’s castle” led me to this posting.

  5. 5 Dennis Stowe

    I had the priveledge of living in the castle in the early ’70’s. We had a pig roast with 250 guests, spent time in the library reading the old National Geographic collection, enjoyed the view from the upper turrets and talked to Clarence when doors opened for no apparent reason! Our kids loved playing in the great hall, the piano in the music balconey was out of tune but people liked to play it anyway and I never tried on the suit of armor. Yes, it was an awesome place.

  6. Thanks for the memories. Excellent article Mark. Very accurate. I lived next to the castle for many years. We moved into the original house (12 Acorn Ave)some time in the late 1950’s. As a kid growing up I knew Mr. Hoag and his second wife who was an acomplished artist. I used to do a lot of part time summer work at the castle as a teen. Some times something would happen like a door would jam and Mrs Hoag would call and I would run up the hill to take care of it. I got to spend a lot of time in the castle and the Hoags liked my parents very much so they would invite us and our guests up for tours.

  7. I could see it from my bedroom window growing up; it was quite a sight. We’d hike to Rattlesnake Rock, across the bog from the castle & look at it through binoculars – the house, the stone guardhouses and the high-walled driveway court. I was & am amazed at the amount of concrete and stonework he did by hand! Shortly before it burned there was an open house when I was able to tour the house. I understand there had been problems with the low sloped roofs, so leakage was a big issue, (there were many) and the house did not appear to be aging well. The walls and ceilings of the Great Room were paneled with beautiful shellacked Mahogany – mahogany plywood that had been part of shipping crates. He was obviously a very hard working and frugal man who built a unique home, seen and admired for miles.

    • 8 Richard Peterson

      Yes, I remember the rock and the bog. As I recall the bog fed into what we called big blue berry pond. A short distance away next to Acorn Ave was little blue berry pond. I grew up in the original Hoag house which was next to the castle. Bob I knew a family that lived in Greenwood named Irving. They were all redheads as I recall.

  8. 11 Richard Peterson

    Well, as a reference point I graduated from Wakefield High in 1970. A few years ago I was reading an article about the Castle and saw an email from one of the Hoag relatives looking for anyone who had lived in his original house which was just down the hill from the castle. I answered the email and for the next several months had several emails from a number of Hoag relatives which all were fascinating accounts of what it was like living there. Clarence Hoag was very fond of my parents but had little tolerance for us kids. Sadly by the time I was a young adult he had suffered a stroke which prevented him from talking so I never had the chance to build an adult relationship with him. At that time his second wife hired me to do basic landscape work on the castle grounds and other odd jobs. She paid me 50 cents an hour which even back then was low. When they passed on the family rented out part of the castle as an apartment. As I recall that was when the trouble started. A number of trouble makers would go up there at night and harass the tenants sometimes to a point of violence. When they moved out the castle was left empty and then burned down. At the time of the fire I was working as a musician and remember how when I got back around 2 am from a gig I saw all the fire hoses going up Acorn Ave and knew the castle was gone. To this day I remember parking my car on Oak Street and still in my tuxedo, walking up the length of Acorn Ave and seeing the smoking ruins of the castle.


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