The property that surrounds Belhurst Castle was originally the site of a Seneca Indian village and home to the Council of the Six nations of Iroquois. In the early 18th century, the land became part of the state of Massachusetts and was purchased by two 18th century land developers in the spring of 1738. The land was again sold to a group of businessmen in 1810. These men built and operated Ontario Glass Manufacturing Company, the first glass company west of Albany. In May of 1824, the land was divided among the stockholders of the Ontario Glass Manufacturing Company, and William DeLong received the largest and most desirable portion of land, which is the area that is now home to Belhurst Castle.
Mr. DeLong quickly sold the parcel of land to Joseph Fellows, a lawyer who was a native of Warwickshire, England. Mr. Fellows came to Geneva in 1820 as a sub-agent in the area. Ten years after his acquisition of the property, Mr. Fellows built the first “modern” residence on the land called the “Hermitage,” but never resided in the home. Instead, William Henry Bucke lived there under a deed of trust. Mr. Bucke used the alias Henry Hall, but most people in the area knew him as Bucke Hall. Because of his desire for seclusion, he lived in the “Hermitage” alone, except for one servant. In the spring of 1836, Hall fell over an obstruction and broke his leg. Hall did not seek medical treatment and died of blood poisoning a short time later. Upon his death, it was learned that William Henry Bucke had been treasurer of the famed Covent Garden Theater in London. He had embezzled theater funds, married his stepmother, fled to the United States and assumed the name Henry Hall in an effort to avoid capture!
From the time of Hall’s death until 1852, the property changed hands twice and was then purchased by Harrison G. Otis on November 10, 1852. It was Otis that named the property “Bellehurst,” meaning beautiful forest. Over the years, the property changed hands within the Otis family and on February 28, 1877, Mary Otis sold a strip of land along the lake to the Syracuse, Geneva & Corning Railroad Company. Mrs. Otis made the railroad company agree to maintain and preserve a right of way across the tracks so that she could have access to the lake. The railroad company is still obligated to comply with the agreement made with Mary Otis more than 130 years ago.
In 1878, the property, along with the land that is now Glenwood Cemetery, was taken over by the United States Trust Company, and the Otis family relocated to Virginia. The property remained vacant for seven years. During this time it was known as “Otis Grove,” a popular picnic area for the residents of Geneva. The “Hermitage” was still located on the property and it was rumored that the house was haunted. Many believed there was an escape tunnel built by Bucke Hall as a means of escape if the authorities found him.
On May 13, 1885, Mrs. Carrie M. Young Harron, wife of Samual V. Harron of New York City, came to Geneva, inspected “Otis Grove,” asked the price, and purchased the property that very day! After purchasing “Bellehurst,” Mrs. Harron moved to Geneva, accompanied by her manager, captain Louis Dell Collins, a native of Rose, New York, while her husband remained in New York City. Shortly after arriving in Geneva, Mrs. Harron divorced her husband, and on June 6, 1888 married Captain Collins. In the spring of 1888, Mrs. Collins had the dilapidated house that the Otis family lived in torn down in preparation for the four-story mansion she was building.
Fifty men worked for four years on the construction of Belhurst Castle. During this time, one man was killed when he fell from the tower and another went insane while putting on the roof. All the materials used to build and furnish the castle were imported to Geneva. Many items came from Europe. During the time of construction, 1885 – 1889, there was a lot of talk among the locals about what Mrs. Collins was building on the property. A woman of her means made quite an impression on the people of Geneva. The townsfolk were all aflutter about the poultry house that was built. It was brick on the outside and plaster on the inside, heated by a Furman Steam Boiler, and had wire partitions to separate the many breeds of fowl. Mrs. Collins’ prize possession was a pair of Japanese Golden Pheasants, birds that can be seen depicted on the china in Edgar’s restaurant today.
Genevans were also impressed by the elegant boathouse built to hold a 20-passenger gasoline propelled steam yacht. Unfortunately, the boathouse was consumed by fire several years later. The fire took four days to burn completely. Upon Mrs. Collins’ death in Savannah, Georgia on April 5, 1926, Belhurst Castle passed to her grandson, Hal Harron, Jr. He lived in the house for a short time, but later leased and sold it to Cornelius J. Dwyer, a colorful and engaging man with a wide circle of friends throughout the country. Dwyer, known as “Red,” purchased Belhurst in 1932 and on April 18, 1933 opened it as a speakeasy and gambling casino. Belhurst became an outstanding showcase restaurant and casino under Red’s direction. Gambling was conducted upstairs and liquor was run down from Canada during prohibition using the canal system.
In 1952, the Kefauver Commission succeeded in convincing Red to “stop or be stopped” and the gambling days at Belhurst Castle were over. Red continued to operate Belhurst as a restaurant until 1975 when the property was purchased by Robert and Nancy Golden. The Goldens continued to run Belhurst as a restaurant while residing upstairs. Eventually, they converted the second and third floors and one out-building into twelve guest rooms and opened the premises as a hotel.
On November 2, 1992, Mr. Duane and Deb Reeder became the present proprietors of Belhurst Castle. A second out-building and the ranch house built in the 1950’s by Red Dwyer were converted to guest rooms. Under the direction of the Reeder’s, Belhurst became a highly-acclaimed restaurant and hotel, with the gorgeous Castle Ballroom as a popular venue for weddings and special events. In the Fall of 2003, the Reeder’s began an expansion on the Belhurst property. Construction of the 30,000 square-foot facility adjoining the 1880’s Belhurst Castle was completed and has helped Belhurst become a premier attraction in the Finger Lakes.