The Gingerbread Castle was a small amusement park located in Hamburg, New Jersey. But this site, and the grounds around it, already had a long history of use before it became a castle.
At one time, this place attracted hundreds of visitors daily. More recently, this abandoned building has been visited by lovers of abandoned and unusual places. But today, it’s being lovingly restored.
Before the Castle
In 1768, an ironworks was constructed on the banks of a rural river in New Jersey. Very soon, forges began to be built next to the plant as well. Unfortunately, due to stiff competition in the industry, the ironworks was abandoned in 1774. www.AntiquityEchoes.com went and had a look.
Then, in 1808, the building was converted into a mill, producing flour with the help of the Wallkill River.
In 1921, the mill was bought by Fred Henry Bennett for his company the F.H. Bennett Biscuit Company. The mill produced milk bone biscuits, a dog treat.
Bennett’s businesses were successful, so he bought extra land to expand the mill. He began to process grain to use in biscuits at Wheatsworth, which are whole-grain crackers. They are considered more palatable than ordinary crackers made from white flour. At that point, the site was given the nickname of “Wheatsworth Mill.”
Idea & Construction
However, biscuit sales gradually began to decline, and Bennett needed to think of a way to boost his business.
In the late 1920s, he attended a performance of Hansel & Gretel at the Metropolitan Opera. It was there that he came up with an idea on how to use the spirit of fairy tales to revive his business.
Bennett turned to the world-famous Austrian architect and stage designer Joseph Urban with a request to design and build a theme park with a gingerbread castle in it. By attracting visitors to this theme park, he would undoubtedly see increased biscuit sales from the mill next door.
The project and construction cost $50,000 (nowadays about $700,000) and took two years.
The opening of the Gingerbread Castle took place in 1930, and it soon became a popular tourist destination. On the opening day, a photograph of the castle was printed in Time magazine.
The children’s amusement park was based on the stories of the Grimm brothers, which Bennett adored. Tours were conducted around the site, where the guides were dressed as Hansel and Gretel.
Various fantastic characters had also been included in the design, such as a six-foot armored knight as a weather vane, a gigantic stone cat, and paintings of pink elephants. There were even cookies made out of cork.
The Gingerbread Castle itself was a key feature of the park. The three-story concrete castle had round towers and looked like a house with icing; the main hall could be reached via a spiral staircase.
A year later, in 1931, Bennett sold his company to the National Biscuit Company (now known as Nabisco). Despite this, the Gingerbread Castle and Theme Park was still open to the public. Nabisco used the mill as a processing plant.
In 1943, Nabisco sold the plant to Plastoids Corporation which produced wired and high-frequency transmission cables. The company closed in 1989. Accordingly, the old building also ceased to be used.
Park’s Closure and Reopening
Initially, the Gingerbread Castle had proven to be a thriving tourist attraction. However, over time, in the late 1970s, the castle ceased to be so attractive and vibrant.
The pink facade of the building began to fade, but no one seemed interested in any restoration work so, in 1978, the theme park was closed.
In the late 1980s, new owners appeared and reopened the park. However, attendance was low, and the park soon closed again.
Two attempts since then have been made to restore and reopen the park, but neither of them has been very successful.
In 2004, Frank Hinger, a New Jersey resident, bought the property and even managed to secure a grant for its restoration. However, it turned out that a much larger amount of money was needed to fully restore the building, so the project was abandoned.
In 2007, the castle had a new owner but, despite initial high hopes, the castle lay forgotten.
However, the tide turned in 2018 when Don Oriolo, the new owner of the castle, appeared ready and willing to restore the building to its former glory.
Consequently, the castle is guarded and off-limits to urban explorers while renovations are underway. The most recent reports state that Oriolo has thoroughly cleaned the area and is redecorating both the castle and park. He hopes to have it open for “limited events” soon.
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