If you’ve ever walked on Irving Avenue by the campus of SUNY Upstate Medical University, you might have seen a stone wall and not thought twice about it, but Dr. Marvin Druger of Syracuse University would ask you to stop and realize that this is all that remains of the former Yates Castle.
The year was 1852 and a man named Cornelius Longstreet had purchased 42 acres of land on the outskirts of Syracuse in what was then considered “The Highlands.” Longstreet was a successful clothing manufacturer who decided to hire renowned architect James Renwick to build a castle for him and his family on the land. Renwick spent three years of his life overseeing the project, becoming so absorbed in it that he spent some of his honeymoon in Syracuse to watch the construction. During the construction, he also designed such notable buildings as the St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
When the castle was completed in 1855, it consisted of 24 rooms, each with its own fireplace. The interior had an extravagant design full of ornate features and imported fixtures. The grounds included bridges, a gazebo, a barn and gatehouse.
Longstreet had hoped the home would become a playground for him and his friends, but he was soon disappointed when he realized it was too far for his friends to visit since the only way to get there was on foot or by carriage. Therefore, in 1867, Longstreet decided he was missing the social center of the city too much and needed to move, stating “Nobody, including myself can be happy here” naming the home “Longstreet’s Folly”. Luckily, at the same time, another clothing merchant, Alonzo Yates, wanted to move from his mansion on James Street to a larger home with more land. Yates had made a fortune sewing wool uniforms for soldiers during the Civil War. That April, Yates paid Longstreet $30,000 and they simply traded houses.
The home was renamed as Yates Castle and Alonzo and his wife quickly began living a life of entertainment. They often threw parties that were reviewed in the local paper and talked about for weeks. The lavish lifestyle didn’t last long though. Mrs. Yates fell for an opera singer and the couple soon divorced. Alonzo was crushed and lived much of the reminder of his life in solitude. He would eventually marry his house-keeper and passed away in the home at the age of 53.
Much of Alonzo’s fortune was left to his young son, Alonzo Junior, who was less then 10 years old at the time of his father’s death. When of age, Alonzo Junior began a reckless lifestyle using his father’s funds. He lived a luxurious life with stories suggesting he used money to light his cigars. In 1899, Alonzo Junior died at the early age of 26 and his family was unable to save the castle. Many of the items inside the house had been sold and the castle was vacated.
In 1905, neighboring Syracuse University obtained the building and renovated it for use. Over the next half a century, it was home to the Teacher’s College and then the School of Journalism before being vacated in 1953. That year, it was purchased by the State University of New York and a plan was put into place to demolish the building. A large outcry went up to save the castle. The Post-Standard featured a letter to the editor that stated “If it is torn down at the present time, history clearly suggests that those responsible for its destruction will in 20 years be universally excoriated, no matter how excellent their intentions.” Those efforts failed, and the next spring it was demolished as a new wing for the neighboring medical school was built.
The stone wall that remains on Irving Avenue is a portion of the east wall that once lined the perimeter of the estate.
This story was inspired by the passion and devotion of Dr. Marvin Druger to Syracuse University and the surrounding area.