Gingerbread Castle and Wheatsworth Mill

Gingerbread Castle and Wheatsworth Mill 

Everyone remembers their childhood, but for most people it is remembered in an objective way. We recall the critical events, the familiar faces and places, certainly, but for all but a few of us, we completely lose touch with way it feels to be a child - to inhabit a world unbounded by physical limits, mortality or fear. Children inhabit the same physical world as the rest of us, but they see it in magical and disproportional terms that few adults can understand. F.H. Bennett was such an adult. In the late 1920's, while attending a stage show of "Hansel & Gretel", he had an idea. He envisioned a place that would bring families together using the whimsical spirit of fairy tales. He approached Joseph Urban, a world-renowned set and prop designer, to help bring his dream to life, and a few years later, Gingerbread Castle was completed. When it opened in the 1930's, Gingerbread Castle was a children's park designed around stories collected by the Brothers Grimm. Children dressed as Hansel and Gretel would take families on tours through the grounds. Along the way, visitors were greeted by statues of various fantastic characters, often depicted in scenes from the stories of which they were part. The castle itself was the highlight of the tour. Guests were brought in through the 'dungeon' and up a spiraling staircase to the main hall. The walls appeared to be made of peppermint sticks and other treats mortared together with icing. High above jack climbed a beanstalk and a giant peered in at the room and its occupants.

Gazing out from any of the castles many arched windows today, one simply cannot overlook the looming facade of a long abandoned and rather unnatural looking industrial building. A structure which (in one form or another) predates the castle on the grounds by well over a century. Given its mass, it stands almost claustrophobically close to the castle walls. Its tall bleak form towering in almost comical contrast to whimsical castle which it dwarfs. This unnatural looking building was put to numerous uses during it's lifespan, and though none may be so interesting as the castle next-door they are still worthy of mention nonetheless.

What is now an Escheresque collection of towers and stairways was birthed into this world in 1768 as an ironworks on the bank of a rural river in Northern NJ. By 1774 the ironworks had become abandoned due to competing forges in the immediate area. Years later, in 1808 the disused building was re-purposed as a grist mill, taking full advantage of the Wallkill River which runs through the property. Things didn't really pick though until Fred Henry Bennett came into the picture in the early 20th century, purchasing the mill and surrounding property after the success of his company (F.H. Bennett Biscuit Company) and their creation of the Milk Bone dog treats. Soon thereafter the mill expanded and began the refining grain for use in the company's Wheatsworth biscuits, a whole-grain cracker snack-food billed as being more healthy than the standard white flour crackers of the day. The crackers proved quite successful, so much so that the monicker “Wheatsworth Mill” was soon given to the facility.

Time progressed and as stated above; Bennett created the Gingerbread Castle and associated park within the center of the property on which the mill stood. In 1931 the F.H. Bennett Biscuit Company was purchased by the National Biscuit Company, which was later abbreviated to its present name - Nabisco. The Gingerbread castle was not part of the sale however, and remained an operational theme park open to the public. Right next-door Nabisco continued to use the plant as a grain refining facility until it was sold off to the Plastoids Corporation in 1943. The Plastoids Corporation further modified the already strange building to suite the companies production of wire and high-frequency transmission cables. The closing of the company in 1989 marked the end of use for the old building. Its faded name remains printed across the uppermost portion of the tallest tower, weathered to illegibility.

Long ago this plant produced goods ranging from iron, to biscuits, to industrial cables. Now the only things it creates are the giant shadows which block out the sun hours before it would naturally set beyond the horizon. Dead in the heart of this early night can be found the Gingerbread castle. Its bright and colorful paint faded and its multitude of frolicking fairytale characters all but vanished. A high chain-link fence, crowned in barbed wire, acts as a last defense against thieves and vandals who found the castle walls to be anything but impregnable. This dilapidated monument to whimsy, surrounded by a sharply realistic metal wall, is not unlike the fantasies of our childhood that it indulged. Like the castle, proving too delicate to survive in the real world, our dreams and imagination are locked safely behind steel fences and then simply left in some dark corner to rot, their purpose forgotten.

Though commonly known as "Gingerbread Castle", the building actually bears the title "Gingerbread House".

A caged sphere caps the old lime kiln, around which the castle was built.

In the darkness below the caged sphere was where the witch once lived. She would often capture children and put them in her cauldron... as part of the tour. 

Mother Goose raining Nabisco Weatsworth cookies down upon unsuspecting children.

Later in its life Gingerbread Castle had a dinosaur park... now extinct.

We returned at night to film the grounds by the amber glow of nearby parking lamps.

The mill in its original form, before the massive additions were constructed.

This is an older video of ours. When watching, you may notice that it has a different "feel" to it than our current-day films. This is because the style of our cinematography has progressed over time, and our equipment has changed and improved throughout the years. We have chosen to leave our older videos available for viewing online to illustrate the evolution of our work.