Born into a poor English family, Catholina Lambert’s parents realized the importance of education, and sent him to school early. Unfortunately by age 10 he was forced to work in a cotton mill. He heard that laborers in America stood a much better chance of become successful (i.e. rich) so at age 17 he came to America to make his fortune. He worked in a silk mill and after 4 years of hard work, the owner offered him a partnership. Before long he was running the NY office. By 1857, Lambert was an American citizen, and also had married into a wealthy family. He soon moved to Paterson mainly because Paterson was home to a flourishing silk industry. By the 1880s, however, the entire silk industry in Patterson had gone into decline with many jobs moving to Pennsylvania where labor was cheaper because it employed mostly children & women. Although the silk tycoons were not known for being the most philanthropic of citizens, Lambert’s wages in the Paterson mills were considered fair. In 1883, striking workers of another mill used Lambert’s wages as a standard to meet in their factory negotiations.
In 1891, he began designing a grand new home to be built on the Paterson property his wife Isabella had bought for him years before. It was located on a hillside below the cliffs of what is now Garret Mountain and was constructed of sandstone and granite. The sandstone was quarried from the surrounding hills. It is estimated that the castle cost one half million dollars. This at a time when the average wage was $1 a day for 10 hours or more of hard labor.
In 1892, after only one year, the home was finished. The Lamberts christened it with a house warming party for 400 of New York City’s elite on January 31, 1893. President McKinley and vice president Garret Hobart visited the castle in 1898, Hobart was a Paterson native and his son was later to be involved in the Castle’s history. In 1896, the 70-foot observation tower was constructed on the crest of the cliff. A long gallery building was also added to the main house and was filled with his huge collection of European artwork.
The 1900’s did not start well for Lambert or for the area. Between 1900 and 1904, Paterson had the Great Fire, 2 floods and a devastating tornado, all affecting area businesses. In 1901 his wife died, and 3 years later, he married Isabella’s younger widowed sister Harriet. In 1913, the famous Paterson silk strikes began. The strikes, together with the absence of capital for loans, due to the beginning of the WW1, had a severe impact on the silk industry. Lambert lost a large part of his wealth and was forced to mortgage his estate.
In 1916, he sold a large part of his collection of artwork, and by 1917, he began liquidating the assets of their company, Dextor, Lambert and Company. Unlike many business bankruptcies of that time, and today, Lambert paid his debts. He was proud to say that he paid every one of his creditors in full, largely from his own wealth. Catholina Lambert died in his castle on February 15, 1923 at the age of 89. He is buried next to his wife, Isabella in the Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Paterson.
Lambert’s son Walter sold the Castle and property to the City of Paterson in 1925 for $125,000. Paterson transferred the title to the castle to the newly created Passaic County Parks Commission in 1928. Garret Hobart Jr., the son of the late Vice President from Paterson, became the head of the Parks Commission. He established the Garret Mountain Reservation as a public park including the Castle, it’s grounds, and hundreds of acres of wooded area behind the cliffs above the Castle. The Parks Commission held its offices in the Castle until the 1960s. The Passaic County Historical Society and the Lambert Castle Museum were inaugurated on Oct. 25, 1934. In 1936, in disrepair, the gallery wing was demolished.
Lambert Castle is now the home to the Passaic County Historical Society. Visit the Official Lambert Castle Museum website, and if you go to Garrett Mountain, don’t forget to visit the museum.
Through the years, the Historical Society amassed tens of thousands of local historical items; many of them housed in the Castle today. In 1976, the Castle was placed on both the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. With generous donations and voluntarism, the Historical Society and the Passaic County government have managed to keep the museum open from 1926 to the present. Together, they manage the surrounding historical institutions: the Dey Mansion, the Paterson Museum, the American Labor Museum, and the Great Falls of Paterson.
The observation tower on the crest of the cliff, complete with refreshment stand and stairway leading to the top observation deck, was open to the public until the late 1960’s. It closed due to disrepair and has not since reopened. Passaic County has recently received a grant from the State of New Jersey to fund a tower restoration project. Soon visitors will be able to go inside and walk up to the observation deck.
In August 1995, the Castle property closed down for major repair and maintenance. After 5 years, it opened again on Sept. 24, 2000 after a much-needed facelift. The sandstone of the Castle was refinished, granite replaced and repaired, drive and walkways rebuilt, the walkway to the observation tower was repaired, and a new northern courtyard was constructed. The interior was completely refinished.
The Historical Society now holds social gatherings, craft shows, and fundraisers at the castle. It is a favorite site for newlyweds taking wedding pictures. The Museum is open to the public throughout the year from Wednesdays through Sundays from 12 noon to 4 pm. There is a nominal fee to visit the museum. The Castle grounds are open everyday from dawn to dusk. The Garret Mountain Reservation Park and the nearby Rifle Camp Park are open everyday from dawn to dusk .