Do You Remember Castle Stevens?

9/11/2012

Do you have memories of Castle Stevens, the ancestral home of the Stevens family that occupied Castle Point prior to the construction of the Howe Center?  Do you have photos or even movies? If so, we need to hear from you.

Hoveida Farvardin, Stevens’ First Lady, has taken a deep interest in the history of our alma mater and its founding family.  She is leading an initiative to raise awareness about the history of Stevens and making a video about the Castle that can become a valuable asset for our Innovation University.  At the time of its demolition in December 1959, Castle Stevens was, arguably, the most historic edifice on the west bank of the Hudson River.  Mrs. Farvardin wants to capture its rich history and preserve these memories, narrated by people who experienced the Castle and have first hand knowledge of it, for future generations of the Stevens community.   Working with her on the project will be Richard Widdicombe, retired director of Stevens’ S.C. Williams Library, Adam Winger, digital initiatives librarian at the Williams Library, and John Dalton ’60, who authored a series of four articles in October 1959 on the Castle’s history.  They are launching two parallel efforts:

  1. Compiling factual information about Castle Stevens and its place in Hoboken and American history; and interweaving it with
  2. Memories of the Castle from those who worked there (e.g., Bob Seavy, M.S. ’48, Chuck Wellhausen ’45) or those who enjoyed social events there or ate in the basement cafeteria (e.g., surviving alumni from the “Silent Generation,” those born between 1925 and 1945).

Anyone wishing to contribute memories should contact Adam Winger at Adam.Winger@stevens.edu or 201-216-5416.  We hope to begin interviews subsequent to the Fall Old Guard Luncheon at Stevens on October 4.

Background – Some History

With roots dating back to the American Revolution, Col. John Stevens and his sons, John C., Robert L. and Edwin A., were America’s first family of engineers.  In 1787, Col. John Stevens’ father, the Honorable John Stevens II, served as president of the New Jersey Convention called to ratify the Federal Constitution, becoming the third state to do so. 

Considered a mild madman by his contemporaries, Col. John’s Castle Stevens was considered one of the most noted homes in mid-19th century America when it was built in 1853-54.  From this site emanated a series of inventions and ideas considered earthshaking by his contemporaries, including:

  • In 1804, the “Little Juliana” was the first successful application of steam to propel a boat, featuring twin screw propellers.
  • In 1805, Col. John Stevens proposed construction of an underwater tunnel from Greenwich Street to Hoboken, with two 14-foot diameter tubes specially reinforced to withstand high pressure with a pump designed by Colonel Stevens.
  • In 1809, the Phoenix, America’s first steamboat to be used in commercial transportation, made its maiden voyage from New York to Philadelphia.
  • Col. John Stevens also drew up plans for a Hudson River bridge that would serve as a convenient means of travel between the two states, as well as an aqueduct to convey fresh water to the City of New York.
  • In 1825, he constructed a circular railway in front of the ’76 House at First and Hudson Streets, the first steam carriage on wheels in America.

Like Panasonic, Colonel John was “slightly ahead of his time.”  His three sons also left their mark on America.  Robert was a highly successful engineer, best remembered for his development of the T rail used on railroads and the design of America’s first ironclad ship.  John Cox Stevens served as first Commodore of the New York Yacht Club with headquarters at Castle Point.  With Robert’s assistance, he was instrumental in arranging the race that saw the “America” defeat the best of the British yachts in a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851, thereby instituting the America’s Cup challenge races.  Though noted as an engineer and industrialist, Edwin A. Stevens left his mark on history with the 1870 founding of Stevens Institute of Technology, America’s “Innovation University.”

Col. Stevens’ “Villa on the Hudson” became known to generations of students as the Stevens Castle or Castle Stevens.  Until its 1959 demolition, it served at times as a dormitory, a cafeteria and as office space.  The architectural beauty of the rotunda, circled by a balcony at the second floor level, and crowned by a stained glass window atop the dome, belonged to a bygone age.  The unsupported cantilevered staircase with its elegant hand-carved balustrade was one of only two such “floating staircases” in America.  Social events held at the Castle were notable affairs.

However, with maintenance costs running $30,000 per year (roughly $240,000 in today’s dollars) and the school in need of space for a student center and administrative offices, the Stevens Board of Trustees approved its replacement, and the Castle succumbed to the wrecking ball in December 1959.  – By John Dalton ’60