Friday, November 18, 2005

Feds comb through historic home’s ruins

The New Mexican November 17, 2005
As the community mourned the loss of a historic landmark, federal agents were called to an investigation at the remains of Seton Castle on Wednesday. The building south of Santa Fe was left in ruins by a fire that began around lunchtime Tuesday while construction crews worked on a restoration project. The fire’s cause might be determined as early as today, said James Maxon, an investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s Office. Maxon said he called in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to help conduct a joint investigation because his department doesn’t have the kind of manpower needed. Statements from about 20 people who were either working inside or near the home Tuesday indicate the fire began on the north end, in the music room, Maxon said. “To be honest, we don’t really know one way or the other (who or what started the fire),” he said. “We usually don’t take a guess until we go in there and see what we are dealing with.” ATF helps local fire investigators determine the cause and provides expertise in arson, according to agent Kent Masters, who said the agency has not ruled on whether the fire was accidental. Construction workers were midway through a renovation project on the 70-year-old structure designed by Ernest Thompson Seton. The building’s owner, the Academy for the Love of Learning, had planned to use it as an educational center and had a $300,000 federal grant for the work. Seton, a famed naturalist, artist and author, helped establish the Boy Scouts of America and lived in the 32-room home from 1934 until his death in 1946. He left behind hundreds of paintings, rare books and artifacts. The expansive, multilevel home occupied about 6,900 square feet. “Castle was a little bit of a misnomer ,” said Donato Jaggers, education-resources coordinator for the academy. “Seton was English by birth with Scottish ancestry, and we understand that Seton Castle was a name that he and his wife gave to the house as sort of a grand title.” Seton’s collection had been removed from the castle prior to the construction project. Jaggers said the paintings will be restored and made available for public exhibition. The academy is still reeling from the fire, he said. The building, listed as a National Historic Landmark, was insured for construction risks. The Santa Fe County assessor last valued the property at $763,000 in 2000. Asked what he suspected was behind the fire or if he blamed the construction crew, Jaggers said, “We’re not worried about that at this point. Our main feeling is absolute gratitude and relief that they all got out safely.” Long-time local Lew Thompson has fond memories of time spent in Seton Castle. Thompson lives on land he bought from Seton’s wife, Julia Seton, and had visited the home on many occasions. He recalls sitting for hours in a stairwell that led to the castle’s “second or third basement” with Julia reminiscing about her husband. Thompson was heartbroken over the fire. “I felt like crying, and I couldn’t look,” he said, “but I couldn’t help looking. I saw the plume of smoke from my house, and I went right over knowing all the time I was getting there that it, indeed, was the castle burning. ... It’s a great loss of a Santa Fe institution.” Seton biographer Jack Samson called the building’s demise tragic. “It was a shame, a real shame,” he said Wednesday during a phone interview from his Santa Fe home. “It was a lovely building and a real nostalgic place.” Samson, who was editor of Field and Stream magazine for 15 years, wrote The Worlds of Ernest Thompson Seton. He said the naturalist was influential across the globe and received many foreign visitors. Jason Auslander contributed to this report. Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or jgrimm@sfnewmexican .com

Wednesday, November 16, 2005 - News - Cause Unknown In Seton Castle Blaze - News - Cause Unknown In Seton Castle Blaze: "Cause Unknown In Seton Castle Blaze
POSTED: 7:57 am MST November 16, 2005
UPDATED: 8:06 am MST November 16, 2005
SANTA FE, N.M. -- Firefighters said they do not yet know what caused a fire that destroyed the historic Seton Castle southeast of Santa Fe.
A construction crew was midway through a $2 million renovation of the stately 70-year-old building south of Santa Fe when the fire started Tueday.
Hondo Volunteer Fire Chief Judd Dean says that when the first firefighters arrived, flames had already breached the building's roof.
The 32-room, 6,900-square-foot castle near Arroyo Hondo is a National Historic Landmark and New Mexico State Cultural Property.
In 2003, the family of naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton sold the castle to the Arizona-based Academy for the Love of Learning."

Seton Castle: A Personal Reflection

Yesterday was a long day. I spent the morning on a variety of business matters, attended a funeral and hopped on a plane for a business trip, expecting to meet a friend for dinner in Dallas before turning in for the night. When the plane landed and I turned on my Blackberry, it was filled with messages about yesterday’s events in Santa Fe.

We travel to Santa Fe regularly, most recently in October, when I had the chance to check on the progress of the Castle restoration and have a very good meeting with the curator of the Seton collection for the Academy for the Love of Learning.

The Castle has been something of great interest to me since I first visited it over thirteen years ago.

I had been aware of the Castle for many years, since I have been a Seton enthusiast for a very long time. Although I have spent a lot of time in and around Santa Fe, I had never been to Seton Village or Seton Castle. One particular day, as I was perusing collectible books in antique book stores in Santa Fe (regrettably there aren’t nearly as many as there used to be), two different dealers suggested that we drive out to the Village and gave us directions. We took that a sign that this was the right day for such a visit.

We drove out to the Village and wandered around a bit and were finally directed to the Castle by a neighbor. I very rarely have knocked on the door of someone I do not know, so it was with great trepidation that, with my wife’s encouragement, I knocked on the door of Seton Castle. We were greeted by Dale Barber, Seton’s son-in-law, and husband of Dee Seton Barber. He invited us and told us that Dee was away for a few minutes but would soon be returning.

When she returned, Dee greeted us warmly and we talked. She gave us a tour of the Castle. I remember nearly every detail, including my first look at The Sleeping Wolf. Dee told us of the many pilgrims who made their way to the Castle and to her astonishment at their letters she was receiving from all over the world, especially from former Soviet bloc countries, including the Czech Republic, which told of Woodcraft groups that had remained active through the years on an underground basis. She told many more stories.

We stayed far longer than we had planned and the sun was setting when it came time to leave. I will always remember the sight of sunset from the porch of Seton Castle. At that point, it was perfectly clear to me why Ernest Thompson Seton and his wife Julia chose that particular site for their final home.

More to come

I hope other will choose to share their personal stories too.

Link to New Mexican Report

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Historic Castle Burns Tuesday

Curator: Extent Of Damage Too Early To Tell
POSTED: 7:39 pm MST November 15, 2005
UPDATED: 7:43 pm MST November 15, 2005
SANTA FE, N.M. -- A national historic landmark in Santa Fe has been reduced to stone and ash.
On Tuesday, fire tore through the Seton Castle, which is very well known to some and virtually unknown to others.
The sprawling building was home to Ernest Thompson Seton, who was a noted naturalist and co-founder of the Boy Scouts Of America.
It was under renovation, and crews had just broken for lunch Tuesday afternoon when fire decimated the building.
By most accounts, the fire moved very quickly, collapsing parts of the third story onto the rest of the building with minutes.
The castle was designed by Seton and built around 1930. It rambled along according to his design, which made for a unique place 45 rooms large.
The Academy For The Love Of Learning bought the castle three years ago and was renovating it to become their base of operations and a learning center.
"We'll spend some time assessing. I'm sure we'll be talking with engineers to find out what's happened to the building. The wooden parts of it are gone," said David Witt, Seton Castle curator. "As (for) the rest of it, I don't know. They've done a lot of stabilization on it in the last eight months and so maybe that saved it. It's too early to tell."
Fire crews on the scene this afternoon weren't sure where or how it started, though some of the workers believe it began in the west end of the building.
Seton Castle is being restored using a grant from the federal government.
That grant is more than $300,000.

Seton Castle destroyed by fire (The New Mexican)

The New Mexican November 15, 2005
A wind-swept fire in an area with little water destroyed the historic Seton Castle Tuesday. The fire began shortly after noon and was still burning two hours later. The cause is unknown at this time.The castle was likely a total loss, spectators at the scene said, but the historic documents and artifacts from the home had been removed before a renovation project started earlier this year."All of our vision was built around what we were going to do here. I'm sure the work will go on, but it's a shock", said Sage Magdalene, administrative assistant for the Academy for the Love of Learning Center, which aquired the property.Construction crews were midway through a year-long construction project and were working inside the castle when the fire started. All escaped without injury.The 32-room, 6,900-square-foot stone-and-mortar castle on 80 acres is a National Historic Landmark and New Mexico State Cultural Property but was in dilapidated condition. Naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton built the castle 70 years ago.Aaron Stern, whose Academy for the Love of Learning Center bought the property in 2003, wanted to restore Seton's legacy and use the space for teaching children and teachers and holding conferences on environmental and cultural issues.Stern planned to make the castle and surrounding property a place where children can learn about nature and the ideas espoused by Seton, who founded Boys Scouts of America. Seton authored more than 60 books on nature and other subjects, and left behind thousands of his own paintings and drawings. Seton lived at the castle from 1934 until his death in 1946 at age 86. His wife, Julia, founder of Campfire Girls, died in 1968, and daughter Dee Seton Barber lived in the castle until 1998.While famous for starting the Boy Scouts, Seton abandoned the group because he believed it had become too militaristic.Even in serious disrepair, the castle has received numerous visitors over the years.Researchers have also used Seton's work at the Seton Institute in Manitoba, Canada, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute. Look for additional details in tomorrow's The New Mexican.

Seton Castle Fire

I have just learned that Seton Castle burned to the ground today. The Castle was in the midst of a year-long restoration. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

The contents of the Castle, including Seton's classic painting The Sleeping Wolf were in storage during the restoration and were not damaged.

I will post news reports and updates as they become available.