A long-awaited restoration project will bring a piece of New Jersey’s amusement park history back to its original appearance. The new owner of the Gingerbread Castle in Hamburg, Sussex County has begun an extensive restoration project on the structure, which was once the centerpiece of a small fairy tale themed amusement park. Don Oriolo purchased the property about a year ago after being aware of it for many years.
The theme park stood adjacent to Wheatsworth Mill and was built on the base of the mill’s nineteenth-century kiln. Original owner Fred Henry Bennett commissioned Austrian-American architect Joseph Urban to build his park after attending a performance of Hansel and Gretel at the Metropolitan Theater in New York, for which Urban was the set designer. Urban was internationally renowned for his grand architectural designs, including New York City’s now-demolished Zeigfield Theater and Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. The castle and mill feature an installation of Arts & Crafts style decorative tiles by the Michigan-based Flint Faience & Tile studio. Its construction of poured concrete has allowed it to withstand environmental pressures with minimal structural damage.
The park was popular in the mid-twentieth century and at its peak included numerous statues and a ridable miniature railway. It was closed in 1978 and briefly reopened in 1989. Since then, it has been purchased by a number of developers, but was left in an abandoned state until Oriolo purchased it last year. The mill and castle were locally designated as a historic district in 2009. Since 2012, Preservation New Jersey has listed the property as an endangered resource.
Oriolo has stated that he is relying on historic photographs of the castle in its heyday as a guide for his restoration work. Though the site is currently in disrepair, many of the original details and fairy tale characters remain including a concrete sculpture of Humpty Dumpty perched on the garden wall. Oriolo has enlisted the help of local artisans and artists to recreate the original details and to restore the “iced gingerbread” look of the exterior.
Currently, the grounds have been cleared of debris and overgrowth and the building itself is undergoing a stabilization process. Oriolo hopes to reopen the castle to the public in a limited capacity by next park season.