The history of the mansion is a rich one, in both senses of the word. The word ‘mansion’ was first commonly used in the English language in the mid-fourteenth century and meant ‘chief residence of a lord’. It stems from the Latin ‘mansio’, ‘dwelling’. The idea of a mansion being a ‘large and stately house’ comes from the 1510s. Of course, the owners of such impressive homes tend to be wealthy. Perhaps this is why mansions hold such fascination for the public at large; they are sprawling, awe-inspiring, ostentatious displays of wealth that are a delight to behold.
Something about an historic mansion is mysterious and haunting. The walls contain the ghostly memories of people who lived in the spectacular, privileged environment of a hierarchical society that no longer exists. Mansions are imposing enough buildings in their heyday but their level of appeal and intrigue tends to increase with age. There are few buildings more awe-inspiring than old, crumbling or dilapidated mansions.
There are many reasons that a mansion might be left to go to ruin, such as war, repossession or simply total abandonment as a result of lack of money. The following are six of the world’s most impressive derelict mansions, and some of the fascinating histories behind each one.
8. Lake Elsinore Naval and Military Academy
The Elsinore Naval and Military Academy was built in Southern California in the late 1920s, but never opened due to the impending Depression which compounded pre-existing financial troubles. In 1933, however, the building was opened as a military school for boys, which thrived and managed to survive until 1977. Since the Academy closed there has been a fire in the main lobby, and numerous classrooms burned down altogether in the 1980s. These days, the building is frequently home to squatters and often the site of vandalism, a real shame for such a spectacular structure.
7. Haddo House, Inverkeithny, Scotland
At number seven is the ruin of Haddo House in Inverkeithny, Scotland. Not to be confused with the popular wedding venue Haddo House in the wider area of Aberdeenshire, Inverkeithny’s version is deemed to have been empty for over seventy years. It was abandoned when the owner didn’t return from war, at which time his wife simply picked up and left.
John Smith and Archibald Simpson are both frequently credited for the architecture of the mansion, which dates from the early- to mid-nineteenth century. The mansion is both spectacular and sprawling: it includes a tower, a dome, and a surprisingly decadent interior, with echoes of Grecian influence evident in the wallpaper design. The mansion is currently owned by the Durno family who have no plans to sell, so sadly the mansion looks set to deteriorate further.
6. Mansion, Taichung, Taiwan
This truly spectacular Taiwanese mansion is number six on the list. Reportedly the former home of a Chinese poet with the surname Chen, the mansion was originally built circa 1930. The building is predominantly built in the Baroque style, which would have signified in Japanese colonial Taiwan a move towards Western culture. In opposition, however, the symmetry of the mansion’s exterior — a main building, or hall, with wings on either side of the courtyard — was traditionally designed, with a view to optimising the Feng Shui of the building. This meeting of Western and Eastern cultures serves to make the deserted mansion especially interesting.
5. Wyndclyffe Ruins, Rhinebeck, New York
At number five is the ruin of a mansion situated in Dutchess County, New York. The mansion was built in 1853 in Norman style, and was originally named ‘Rhinecliff’. The building functioned as a holiday home for original owner, Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, should she fancy a weekend or summer break (incidentally, the phrase ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is said to have originated from these particular Joneses and their ownership of the Wyndclyffe estate).
The mansion underwent several name changes before being left to ruin for good around 1950. Until the 1980s the building had stayed mainly intact, but over the last thirty years has succumbed to decay, and several parts of the building have collapsed. In 2003 a new owner purchased the ruins with an apparent view to rebuilding them, but as of yet the mansion remains unaltered.
4. Tyrone House, Co. Galway, Ireland
Number four is Tyrone House, located in County Galway in Ireland. The house was built in 1779 by Christopher French St. George, a member of a well-connected family in terms of land ownership, the ties of which were mainly forged, in somewhat sinister fashion, by well-placed marriages. The architect John Roberts designed the building, which is built in the Palladian style. The mansion was, rather nicely, built in such a way as to optimise the views of the sea and sunsets offered by Co. Galway. The interior of the mansion was evidently meticulously well-decorated with no expense spared, an example of which is its life-size marble replica of the second Lord St. George. The statue takes pride of place in the front hall, sporting the attire of a Roman emperor, which makes it both an extravagant and fantastic sight in an Irish mansion.
3. The Mansion of Mr. H, Japan
The home belonging to the mysterious Mr. H is at number three. The mansion was built in 1928 by a Mr. H, a Japanese politician in the late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century. Mr. H held a position within the Freedom and People’s Rights movement, a group which was in part credited with the establishment of Japan’s first constitution in 1889. As such, Mr. H could doubtless afford such a spectacular home; unfortunately, the mansion was constructed in 1928, a mere two years before his death. It seems likely that he did not live there much, and it is unclear as to who may have inhabited the house for any length of time. There is no indication as to how long the mansion has been derelict for, but it has remarkably retained the charm and grandeur it must have had in its heyday — of particular note aesthetically is the remains of the ballroom, a well-lit and airy space which is a far cry from the dingy and dark stereotype of a ruin.
2. Villa de Vecchi, Cortenova, Italy
At number two is the striking Villa de Vecchi, located on the shores of Lake Como, Italy. Conceived by the Count Felix de Vecchi, the Villa was built by architect Alessandro Sidoli. The mansion has a particularly creep history; Sidoli died the year before the mansion was completed and never saw his finished project, the import of which is compounded by the far more sinister demises of the de Vecchi family. On one horrific day in 1862, the Count returned home to find his wife murdered and her face horribly disfigured, and their daughter missing. The Count searched the surrounding forests for weeks to no avail, and eventually killed himself. Upon de Vecchi’s death, the villa passed to his brother, whose family lived in the building til the 1940s. The mansion has been derelict since then, and tends to be known — fairly understandably — as the Ghost Mansion, with all sorts of supernatural goings-on reported from time to time. Whether or not the sheer spectacle of the building will cancel out the potential terror it may inspire is a matter of personal preference.
1. The Ruins, Talisay City, Philippines
At number one is the skeleton of this imposing building in Talisay City, Negros Occidental, known as The Ruins. The mansion was originally built by Don Mariano Lacson, in memory of his first wife, Maria Braga, and is of Italianate architecture. The design includes an homage to the owner’s wife in the inclusion of their initials, which are moulded onto the mansion. The mansion fell from its former to glory to its fascinating skeletal form during World War II, when the United States Armed Forces in the Far East allegedly set the building on fire to prevent it from being used as headquarters for the Japanese. The house’s foundations miraculously endured, due to their composition of concrete and steel bars. The mansion remains a large tourist attraction to this day, and is a popular venue for wedding photos, which the guidebook Travel Philippines seems mysteriously to attribute to the pull of the mansion’s surrounding flower beds.