CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — For almost 100 years, the stairs at Madame Sherri’s castle have stood in the forest of West Chesterfield.
Even when the abandoned building burned to the ground in 1963, the granite steps remained.
But on Saturday, the upper section of the stairs collapsed. There are no reports that anyone was injured during the collapse.
“We don’t really know what happened,” said Jack Savage, the president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, owner of the 513 acres of the Madame Sherri Forest. “My guess is, gravity finally won.”
Savage said the Forest Society recently hosted a work party at the castle, cleaning up graffiti and weeding.
He said with all the rain the area has had over the past few days, it wouldn’t surprise him to hear the ground under the steps was saturated and something just gave way. He cautioned people to stay away from the remaining steps and the rubble.
Savage said they’ll get out to West Chesterfield this week to take a look and evaluate the safety of the remaining structure.
“I know it’s a very popular place,” he said. “People will likely want to go see what’s there no more, but we ask that they stay away from the rubble so they don’t get hurt.”
In 2019, Savage told the Reformer they had no plans to stabilize the structure and were allowing nature to take its course.
The Chesterfield Conservation Commission, which helps maintain a network of trails in the forest, also told the Reformer they had no plans to keep the stairs from falling down.
Madame Sherri, who was born Antoinette Bramare in 1878 in Paris, built her castle in 1929. She had worked as a costume designer for the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway and moved to Chesterfield after attending a party at silent screen actor Jack Henderson’s house on Gulf Road.
Madame Sherri threw lavish parties at the castle, but when she ran out of money, she abandoned the home. On Oct. 18, 1962, it burned down, leaving only the stonework from the foundation, columns, a fireplace and, most notably, the arches of the castle’s grand staircase. Madame Sherri died in Brattleboro in 1965 at age 87.
Shortly after Madame Sherri died, West Chesterfield resident Anne Stokes purchased the land. Over the next several years, Stokes hosted several concerts and parties, using the foundation and stairway as a stage for elaborate sound and lighting displays.
In 1976, she donated a conservation easement of 488 acres to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, also known as the Forest Society, and in 1991 she donated ownership of Madame Sherri Forest to the SPNHF. The easement itself was transferred to the Nature Conservancy and in 2005 Stokes donated to the Forest Society the remaining 25.5 acres containing the remnants of the castle, the parking lot, and the primary trailhead.
Over the years, as the legend of Madame Sherri grew larger, visitors from around the world made the pilgrimage to the site off of Gulf Road.
Savage told the Reformer in 2019 that of the Forest Society’s 185 properties, the castle is one of the most often found on social media, in stories and even on television and in movies.
Savage told the Reformer Sunday he’s sure the ghost of Madame Sherri had nothing to do with the collapse.
“She was a party girl,” he said. “I don’t imagine she would have minded all the people who visited over the years.”