Searles Castle Caretaker Sister Josette Parisi Retires
November 27, 2015
by Doug Robinson
Since being assigned to Searles Castle in 1990, Sister Josette Parisi has been the caretaker of Windham’s iconic Searles Castle. During her 25 year tenure as its manager, the castle has been renovated and rejuvenated to its glory days, complete with it original paging system of buttons and bells; the kitchen still retains its Victorian charm.
“The floor is the original rubber asphalt tile over cement with a gray and white jigsaw patterns” according to the written history of the castle.
Today, hundreds of weddings, conferences, and coalitions are held on its historic grounds for the enjoyment of all.
According to the castle’s history, the Sisters of Mercy “acquired the castle in 1952. Since then, it has been used as a novitiate for young women entering the Sisters of Mercy, a retreat house, and administrative offices. Castle College held classes in the castle for over 25 years.”
When Sister Parisi first stepped foot on the castle ground, she went to work to not only to restore the interior of the castle, she also developed a team of professionals who had the knowledge and the drive to partner with her on her vision.
“Through the generosity of interior designers and contributions received from many people, the interior of the building has been refurbished and Searles Castle has been open to the public or cultural activities.”
The castle was originally built “under the supervision of Edward F. Searles.” The 20-room project began in 1905 and was completed in 1915. The finest masons and woodworkers were hired to create “hand-hewn timbered ceilings, an oak balcony, and the marble fireplaces.”
The castle was designed to Searles ancestry origin of Stanton Harcourt Manor in Oxon County, England. The cost to build the castle was $1,250,000.
“Over 500 volunteers have assisted in the restoration of this castle,” commented Sister Josette. “When I first arrived this castle was dark and dreary. We invited a Decorator’s Showhouse, and from that event, we were able to wallpaper the walls in clothe, hang period drapes, and begin to restore this castle.”
One cannot hold their breath as one “passes through the great entrance doors one will be directly in front of the beautifully carved doors from Windsor Castle in England. Notice above the doors, a carved “S” and “H” which may refer to Stanton Harcourt or Searles and Hopkins. The Windsor doors open into the foyer with its walls and large balcony of hand-carved solid oak.”
As one continues to stand in awe, “In the reception hall, to the left there is a circular tower that was refurbished with a 19th century Deer and Rabbit” frieze of English design with reflects the period of the castle’s history.” Once a cloakroom it was built with Italian tile on both the floor and the walls.
The various rooms of the castle still honor and showcase many of the original pieces of furniture used by the Searles. “An antique bench on the left (of the foyer) is an original purchase by Mr. Searles. This is one of a few original antiques left in the castle from the days of Mr. Searles.”
The ship that carried the original fireplace within the castle is told to have sunk in the Hudson River in New York City. “The fireplace had to be cut to be moved.” Records also state that the French government wanted to purchase the fireplace back, for the sum of $50,000, to which Mr. Searles refused.
The beautiful wood grains of oak throughout the castle’s three floors were treated with boiled linseed oil. Floors, which darkened in color over the years, have been sanded and refinished and restored to “the luster of the rock maple.”
And what castle would not be complete without a grand piano, music room, library, grand stairway, sun porch, sitting room, master suites, guest suites, butler’s pantry, and a balcony that overlooks the wooded hills upon which the castle sits.
Written materials put it this way: “Searles Castle at Windham offers a unique setting. In keeping with their mission of hospitality, the New Hampshire Sisters of Mercy have opened the castle to be used for cultural, education, social, and spiritual program.”