Isabella’s Spectral Form Chills Guests at Geneva’s Belhurst Castle

Photo by Michael Kleen

The ghost of an elegant opera singer is said to wander the grounds of this 19th-Century mansion in New York’s Finger Lakes.

Designed by architectural firm Fuller & Wheeler and built between 1885 and 1889 for Mrs. Carrie M. Young Harron Collins, Belhurst Castle is a Romanesque Revival-style mansion on Seneca Lake in Geneva, New York. The property has a long and colorful history, and is rumored to be haunted by several ghosts, including an opera singer named Isabella.

In 1824, an English lawyer named Joseph Fellows acquired rights to the property and built a home called the Hermitage, which he leased to a mysterious man named Henry Hall. “Henry Hall” was actually the assumed name of William Henry Bucke, who fled to the United States from London, where he had been treasurer of Covent Garden Theater. Bucke had embezzled theater funds and married his stepmother, who according to legend was an actress or opera singer named Isabella. Bucke died in 1852 of an untreated injury.

Harrison G. Otis purchased the property and named it ‘Bellehurst,’ or “beautiful forest”. The Otis family lived there until 1878, when it was taken over by the United States Trust Company. Local residents picnicked in “Otis Grove” in the shadow of the abandoned Hermitage, and spun yarns about escape tunnels William Henry Bucke/Henry Hall had built leading to Seneca Lake. The old house, they said, was haunted.

In 1885, Carrie M. Young Harron, wife of Samual V. Harron, fell in love with ‘Bellehurst’ and purchased it on sight. Unfortunately, Carrie was also in love with another man: Captain Louis Dell Collins. She divorced her husband, married Collins, and the two began construction on a lavish estate. The mansion was built from Medina sandstone. It’s said one worker died and another went insane during construction.

The mansion eventually passed to Cornelius J. “Red” Dwyer, who in 1933 opened it as a speakeasy, restaurant, and gambling parlor. The illegal casino lasted until 1952, when authorities threatened to shut it down. Red continued to operate the restaurant until 1975. Robert and Nancy Golden converted Belhurst into a hotel, and in 2004, new owners, Duane and Deb Reeder, added a 30,000 square-foot expansion known as the Vinifera Inn.

Belhurst Castle was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Visitors whispered this property was haunted long before Mrs. Collins built her estate. Henry Hall’s strange flight from London to the shore of Seneca Lake spawned Belhurst’s most prominent legend: that of a glamorous opera singer named Isabella and her lover, “Spanish Don”. Isabella supposedly died when an escape tunnel collapsed on her, and now her spirit wanders the shore searching for her lost love (that’s one version, at least).

Others say Belhurst is haunted by the ghost of Dick O’Brien, a caretaker who died in 1972. Disembodied laughter and harmless pranks plague the bar and restaurant. None of these tales has kept guests away. The stories only add to the mystery and romance of the elegant mansion.

Belhurst Castle and Winery, at 4069 W. Lake Road in Geneva, New York, is open to the public for events and overnight stays. There’s also a spa, winery, and restaurant. Belhurst Castle Chambers Hotel offers a variety of Victorian-style accommodations. Call (315) 781-0201 or email frontdesk@belhurst.com for availability.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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