TUPPER LAKE - It was the view that clinched it for him.
Andy Ramsgard's wife heard about a partially built castle stowed away in the woods of Tupper Lake that was on the market, and he was intrigued. An architect who specializes in creating fantasy buildings for other people, he saw the castle as a fascinating challenge, so he stopped to take a look at it the next time he was in the area.
"I was like, 'Whoa, I don't know if I can really do this. This is a pretty daunting task,'" Andy told the Enterprise. "Then I got up on the roof and I was just blown away by the view. Absolutely the best view in the Adirondacks."
Andy Ramsgard, his wife Sherie and their kids Rex and Ruby are working tirelessly to complete the castle that was originally started in 1987 by Edward Leary, who died during its construction. The Ramsgards purchased the property in April.
(Enterprise photo — Brittany Bombard Proulx)
The castle went on the market a few years ago after the death of former Tupper Lake probation officer Edward Leary, who conceptualized the castle and began its construction but didn't have time to complete it before his life ended. It was listed at $189,000. Andy and his wife, Sherie, closed on it the second week of April and started work on it in May, traveling on the weekends from their Skaneateles home to the castle, which sits down a dirt road off Old Wawbeek Road.
Sherie is originally from Lake Placid, leaving after her 1984 high school graduation. She and Andy saw the castle as a way to re-establish family roots in the area. They also saw it as a way to spend quality time together as a family with their children, 12-year-old Rex and Ruby, who is 9.
"It's obviously a lot of work," Sherie said. "But the kids are at an age where they're really excited, and they're really getting involved and helping with the design, and we're all learning interesting things."
Sherie said they are on a four-week streak of heading to Tupper every weekend for work sessions. They've had great weather each time.
There is much work to be done on the mostly concrete structure, which is 6,000 square feet and four stories tall.
Andy works a lot of the plans out in his head. Sometimes, Sherie said, he will run into a problem and get really still and tell his family to hold on for a minute because he's thinking.
"Then he lets us in on the whole thing and we see how he's working," she said. "We call him the castle McGyver."
They created an initial to-do list on their blog, "Building an Adirondack Castle," that involves planning, measuring, cleaning and airing out the building and organizing the building materials to start with, along with buying all the necessary equipment for the project. Then they planned to take down the wood form that was created to pour concrete into in the cistern area of the castle. Edward wanted to use the cistern area for water collection or as a pool, but the Ramsgards plan to use it for a wine cellar. Also on the to-do list is securing the structure, performing a percolation test to find out whether the soil will absorb enough liquid for a septic system, and cleaning up the property.
Andy said he wants to have the building completed in about two years. And by completed, he means what most people would consider about 90 percent complete.
"It's the kind of thing I would like to embellish for a lifetime," he said. "There will always be projects. For me, the best part of any project is the process."
He plans to use the castle as a second home for his family. The family likes to ski, hike, whitewater raft, and do other outdoor activities. They have always enjoyed spending time in the Adirondacks, and now they will have an excuse to spend more time here.
"It's the best part of New York state," Andy said.
Living in the past
Most people in Tupper Lake referred to him as Ed Leary, as did the newspapers, but his sister, Karen Watson, said he preferred Edward. She said it reflected his tastes for older times.
"He always had a fascination for medieval times," Karen said, and she figures that's why he taught himself Latin and Greek. He also spoke French, Spanish and German, and was well known as a linguist.
He also had a collection of old slot machines.
"He was a real eccentric," she said. "He didn't go in for the cool things."
The two grew up in Illinois, outside of Chicago. After finishing his master's degree at Fordham University, Edward moved to Tupper Lake to teach Latin and Spanish. After about two years, the school phased out Latin, so rather than move somewhere else to continue teaching, he decided to stay in Tupper Lake and apply for a job as a probation officer.
"He loved Tupper Lake," said Karen, who lives in New Hampshire.
Some people saw Edward as a loner, but Karen said he had many friends and, after he died, many people told her how grateful they were to Edward for things he had done for them, like keeping their children out of jail.
"He was a compassionate probation officer," said Mike Richer, who was on the rescue squad with Edward.
Edward also was a volunteer for the squad for about 25 years, and he worked the Wednesday day shift with Mike for at least 20 of those years. Mike said Edward loved to talk about the progress of the castle.
"His passion was always building this castle," Karen said.
In about 1984, Edward began the process of buying 60 acres of land with friends, who then split it evenly three ways. The land got caught up in estate dealings for a few years, but Edward began pouring concrete in about 1987.
Edward did most of the work with Jim Bombard and his father, who were masons. He kept his plans secret and told everyone what to do verbally. Karen said she showed Edward's plans to Jim after Edward's death, and he was shocked.
"He said, 'Oh my God, I can't believe Ed had plans for this,'" Karen said. "He thought it was all in his head. (Edward) loved secrets and intrigue, it was just part of his nature."
Edward died in 2005 of a spinal infection after being in and out of the hospital for treatment for the condition. Karen said she thinks the castle had become too much for him. When she went to visit him in the hospital, he told her she should sell the castle if he dies.
"'I don't want you dragged into this,'" he told her. "It was much more of a job than he had been anticipating, and that just kind of did him in.
"The castle had become his idol. It had become his reason for living."
After Edward's death, only half of the fourth floor was finished and there was no roof. Jim went to Karen with plans to finish the castle off to at least protect it from the elements.
"My brother did not trust people easily," Karen said. But when he was sick, "He said, 'You can trust Jim Bombard,' and that was like the stamp of approval."
Jim completed the work just before getting sick, Karen said. Jim died May 23, 2009.
After that, Karen and her family put some time into fixing up the castle. She said her son is an architect and he was interested in the building for a little while, until he realized the family doesn't retain any ties to Tupper Lake with Edward gone.
"What he tried to do was so unusual and amazing that we didn't want it to just go to anybody," Karen said. "This has been a wonderful dream that Andy has picked this up. ... He's got the bug that Edward had."
Karen said she's been following the Ramsgard's blog and looks forward to the castle's completion.
"I would love to see it," Karen said. "I would love to have a meal in the great hall. My brother's dream was to have all his friends over for a meal - a banquet - in the great hall. He told me that before he died."
Another man's vision
Unlike Edward, Andy said a castle probably would have been the least likely type of architectural structure he would have built for himself.
"It just wouldn't have been anywhere where I thought I'd go," Andy said. "But he's got it so far, and the bones of the building are so strong. And, design-wise, you have to pay homage to it, and you sort of have to keep going along with it."
But Andy does find castles to be an interesting architectural type.
"Everyone has in their mind's eye what a castle is, but nobody can immediately define it," Andy said. People have a hard time defining the word, but "they know it when they see it. And that sort of intrigues me."
That allows a lot of freedom to design the edges and borders of the concept and play with the original idea of a castle, he said.
He was also intrigued that Edward got approval from the state Adirondack Park Agency to build to 65 feet.
"Realizing that nobody ever will ever be near you, and that view is preserved forever is the best part of the whole process," he said.
Follow the Ramsgard's progress on their blog, "Building an Adirondack Castle," at www.learycastle.blogspot.com.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.