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The story of a haunted mansion

October 29, 2010

Drawing courtesy of Whitley County Historical Museum — While no known photos or drawings exist of the Hazel Cot Castle, this is an artist’s conception based on written accounts of what the castle may have looked like, drawn by Allan White in 1984. The mansion was built in an English Manor style out of black walnut timber native to Union Township where the mansion was built.

Three young teens on the construction crew for the Alexander More family’s new barn in the late 1800s, were kept on the property during construction as travel of the time was difficult at best. This was the tradition of the day and the site, on the De la Balme Road in Whitley County was near a property that was touted to be haunted.

Showing off their bravery over their dinner, the young men from nearby South Whitley discussed taking a trip over to the haunted Hazel Cot Castle.

A daughter of the More’s, Mary, who would later become Mrs. Alexander Knisely, heard the conversation. Perhaps she had been pestered by the boys, or was just ornery, but she secretly ran upstairs to procure a white sheet and then took a shortcut to the castle while the boys took the winding road to get there.

She arrived ahead of them and hid at the top of the stairs in a closet with the sheet over her as the boys began a slow search of the premises.

Mary could hear the boys talking as they explored, discussing what they would do if they actually found something.

As they climbed the stairs, she slowly opened the creaky door and stepped into sight, which resulted in an instantaneous discovery of what they would do — the boys ran!

Mary slipped out and ran home, beating them back to hear the boys story. They were convinced, it really WAS haunted!

This story was told by Dr. Orville C. Briggs in the August 1983 edition of “The Bulletin” put out by the Whitley County Historical Society. Briggs’ father, Tom was a first cousin to little Mary.

The Briggs family had another story connected to the Hazel Cot Castle.
Tom Briggs, born in 1870, and his friend William More both grew up near the Castle.

When they were about 10 years old, they went to explore for the first time this haunted castle they had heard so much about.

They went up the stairs to a large dance floor with rooms surrounding it. They were opening the doors to see what was there when they came to
the library with walls lined with books.

In the middle of the room sat a girl with hair flowing to the floor around her and a book in her lap. She asked them, “Have you come to see the haunted house?”

At that point they had seen enough and high-tailed it out of there.

Later speculations were that the girl was an escapee from a Fort Wayne institution for the insane.

So what was this haunted castle and why was it abandoned?

Dr. Eli Pierce and his wife Sarah (Burgess) Pierce came to the county from New York, because Mrs. Pierce was concerned about the crowd in which her boys were traveling.

They traveled to a spot chosen by a scout in what would become Union Township, Whitley County, Indiana. Dr. Pierce’s brother had settled near Fort Wayne and encouraged the move to the area.

They traveled by canal with all their belongings, and equipment for a sawmill with which to build their home when they arrived.

They used the nearby black walnut trees to supply their lumber and built an English Manor style mansion.

The structure had “connecting barns, wide porches, huge columns and a grand interior: 26 rooms, 14 fireplaces, a spacious dining hall, double wide staircases at each end of the home and a huge library containing one of the most complete libraries in northern Indiana,” according to a story written by Laurel Powell in the August 1985 edition of “The Bulletin.” Her husband was a direct descendant of the Pierce’s.

The castle was completed in 1848 and Sarah Pierce was only able to enjoy it for five years before she died.

Dr. Pierce lived on at the castle until his death in 1874. The oldest son W.Y.B. Pierce lived there with his wife who soon died (1877).
W.Y.B. remarried, moved to Wisconsin and left the home with its opulent furnishings and library full of books behind.

For the next 26 years the home was without occupants, except for the reported ghosts, and after the land was sold for cattle grazing, much of its woodwork, marble bathrooms, chandeliers and imported fixtures were allegedly incorporated into other homes in the area before the castle was razed in 1893.

Even a historical marker erected there had its plaque torn from the concrete marker and so nothing remains but the mystery of why it was deserted.

One last story from someone who actually lived in the house.

Dr. Briggs met a man in Fort Wayne who had worked at the Hazel Cot Castle for Dr. Pierce. Briggs inquired as to whether the place were really haunted.

“I say it was!” replied the man. “My room was at the top of the back stairs. I always took a lighted lantern to bed with me. Many was the night I would feel a hand start on top of the covers at the foot of my bed and slowly feel its way towards my throat, and just before it got there, I would throw back those covers, jump out of that bed, grab that lantern and down those stairs I would go.

“I would not go back that night. Oh, that was a terrible place. No doubt about it.”

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