The Castle, a graceful, vine-covered Tudor Revival mansion now a part of Boston University, was originally built as a residence for William Lindsey (1858-1922), a prominent Boston businessman who made his fortune with a patented cartridge belt used by the British Army during the Boer War. The building ranks as one of Boston’s most picturesque structures and was cited by architectural historian Bainbridge Bunting in his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay as displaying “the most convincing medieval effect of the area.”
This description would have greatly pleased William Lindsey, who derived his inspiration for the Castle from the great manor houses of Tudor England. The imposing style of these medieval mansions held a special allure for Lindsey, who, besides being a successful businessman, was also a poet and playwright. His writings, such as The Severed Mantle: A romance of medieval Provence and The Red Wine of Roussillon, a blank-verse drama set in France during the Middle Ages, reveal the same fascination with the antique and the romantic that pervades the design of the Castle.
Located at 225 Bay State Road, the building was designed by the architectural firm of Chapman and Frazer, then the Back Bay’s leading advocate of late medieval/early Renaissance styles. Studies for the house began in the winter of 1904; construction was completed in 1915 at a cost of more than $500,000. Much of the exterior was modeled after the beautiful, old English mansion Athelhampton Hall in Dorsetshire, which Lindsey had visited and admired. The south wing of Athelhampton—with its great mullioned windows, stone dormers, and beautiful Gothic Bay—served as the inspiration for the Castle’s south wing and stone bay. The stone—a variety of Ohio sandstone known as Buff Amherst—was selected for its warm color. The stone carvings on the building’s exterior were done by Hugh Cairns, who also sculpted the frieze above the porch of Trinity Church in Copley Square.
While the interior of the Castle was executed in several period styles, the result is still English and harmonious. The Great Hall, with its dark mahogany paneling, beamed ceiling, and massive hooded fireplace, is distinctly medieval in feeling. Suspended from the two-story ceiling is a stained—glass lantern which, according to tradition, came from Arundel Castle, the ancient family home of the Dukes of Norfolk. It is made of gilded metal, and each colored glass pane bears a coat of arms and the motto Nil desperandum (Never despair). A gilt crusader stands leaning on his sword between the panes of glass.
To the right of the Great Hall overlooking the Charles River is the Library. Here, the medieval motif is modified by classical columns and pilasters, a modillioned cornice ornamenting the built-in bookcases, and gently entwining vines of roses, thistles, and pomegranates in the plaster frieze. The rose, a centuries-old symbol of the Tudor family, reappears in the decorative work of almost every room. The swan crest over the fireplace and in the ceiling design is from the ancestral line of Mrs. Lindsey.
The elegant Music Room at the front of the house is also done in Classical Revival style. The light color, the large windows, and the mirror over the mantle suggest the joyful and opulent character of the dances and concerts for which this room was designed.
Directly across the Great Hall from the Library is the Georgian Revival Dining Room. Fluted engaged columns frame the green marble fireplace, and the Tudor rose is once again evident in the robust garlands of fruits and flowers ornamenting the walls and ceiling. The tapestry on the wall opposite the fireplace, depicting four women and the two men in the landscape, is of French origin.
William Lindsey insisted on the finest quality and craftsmanship in both the design and décor of the Castle. The English oak and mahogany paneling throughout the first floor was hand-carved by craftsmen brought from Europe. Lindsey furnished the Castle with antiques and art treasures collected from around the world, some of which have now been donated to the Castle by his descendants. Among the original furnishings was a Renaissance bronze church door from Italy, which now stands in the Great Hall between the Music Room and the Dining Room. The door’s panels depict the Temptation of Eve and the Three Graces and bear the date Anno MDLXXX (1580).
Tragedy struck shortly after the building’s completion. Married in the Castle in 1915, Lindsey’s eldest daughter and her bridegroom sailed for a European honeymoon aboard the ill-fated Lusitania and were among the more than 1,000 passengers who lost their lives when the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine. The grief-stricken Lindsey later constructed the magnificent Leslie Lindsey Memorial Chapel in Emmanuel Church on Newbury Street in his daughter’s memory.
Boston University received the Castle in 1939 as a joint gift of Mr. Oakes Ames and University Trustee Dr. William E. Chenery and his wife; Mr. Ames had purchased the Castle in 1926 from William Lindsey’s widow. From 1939 until 1967, the Castle served as the home of Boston University’s presidents. During Harold Case’s tenure as president, he welcomed over 20,000 students into the Castle for a series titled “Adventure in Conversation,” to which students were invited to discuss academic topics and current events.