Dan Hust | Democrat
Joe Moshini’s craftsmanship is evident as is the restoration efforts by local volunteers in this closeup view of his “Sunken Gardens” castle and fountain.
Forgotten, not gone
Story by Dan Hust
SWAN LAKE September 3, 2013 Evidence of Swan Lake’s long-forgotten stone “castles” lies throughout the hamlet often in stone walls that wear a master craftsman’s touch.
Thanks to a group of locals, however, the stone castles themselves are being rediscovered.
Chief among them is one right next door to the former Stevensville Hotel. Across County Route 142 (Briscoe Road) from Swan Lake itself, Helen Siedlecki, Nancy Levine and a group of residents and Daytop volunteers have cleared away the brush from one of Joe Moshini’s four miniature castles.
According to Irwin Sasnowitz and Dr. Donald Roth, Moshini was a black-bearded Italian immigrant who lived next to the firehouse and worked for the Bants, who owned the President Hotel where Presidential Estates now sits.
A skilled mason, Moshini was commissioned to build gorgeous stone walls and steps around the community, including the Commodore Hotel, which once overlooked the lake next door to the Stevensville.
His work, undertaken from 1928-1935, was so well-regarded that he was asked to design a “sunken garden” between the two hotels, featuring a medieval-looking castle perched atop a fountain, lit by lamps in the water and on the trees.
Until this spring, however, the unique structure was recalled only in the minds of those who had seen it before time and nature buried it completely.
Yet protected from the elements, the miniature castle survived the decades fairly intact.
Swan Lake native Janelle Deppa suggested a restored castle might be another asset for the hamlet, and Levine well-known for her Sullivan Renaissance efforts that have transformed the downtown area agreed.
“Helen [Siedlecki] helps me with Renaissance work and said, ‘Oh, I want this to be my project for the summer!’” Levine said.
With permission and support of the Gallo family which owns the land, plus help from Daytop and locals, Siedlecki and Levine cleared away the years of brush and dirt and in the process uncovered a work of art.
They erected a sign pointing the way to the castle, which is becoming a tourist attraction.
“It was yet another treasure we found,” Levine recalled.
And it will be turned into a standout offering, as the plan is to make it next year’s Sullivan Renaissance project for Swan Lake, with the goal of restoring the fountainworks and lighting.
There are other Moshini-built treasures scattered throughout Swan Lake, including two more similarly-designed castles. One can be found on the entrance road into Presidential Estates, the other along County Route 74 (Stanton Corners Road).
A fourth castle used to exist near the firehouse, said Levine, but was removed to make way for a building.
Other stone sculptures by Moshini still exist, too, from a portion of an eagle to urns, pillars and steps. Even after decades of wear and tear, the constructs remain fascinating and impressive.
“It’s amazing,” affirmed Levine. “And to think it’s still all standing!”