Wing's Castle - A Love Story
With hard work, Peter Wing's dream to build a castle for his wife Toni came true. Now, she shares that dream with visitors to Wing's Castle bed-and-breakfast.
People say romantic things when they are in love and want to get married: "I want to show you the world!" "I want to give you the moon and the stars!" But when Peter Wing asked Toni Ann Simoncelli to marry him, he promised to build her a castle with his bare hands where they would live forever. And he did. It's a love story that was more than 44 years in the making.
Peter and Toni first met when Toni moved to Millbrook, New York when she was 13 years old. Alphabetically, they always sat near each other in the classroom. "Peter had a good sense of humor and kept me laughing all through high school," said Toni. "He was very kind and considerate and he would always see the happy side of things."
"I want to build you a castle right here and put you in it. Will you marry me?"
They remained friends after high school, when Peter left for the Navy and was stationed in Vietnam, while Toni went off to college. They finally started dating when Peter returned home. Peter became an artist, creating murals, sculptures and architecture, and producing local children's Shakespeare theater.
One day, Peter brought Toni to one of the most picturesque spots in Millbrook where he sat her on a rock to enjoy the view. "There was nothing here but a cow pasture and a beautiful rock cropping at the time," said Toni. It was about to become so much more.
It was here where he asked Toni to be his wife, but his proposal came with a promise. "I want to build you a castle right here and put you in it," he told her. "Will you marry me?"
Toni said yes and they married in 1970 when they were 23 years old. "I never questioned that the castle wouldn't happen, but he left out the part where I would have to mix mud and lug bricks," she laughed.
An Extensive Project
For inspiration, the couple, who enjoyed antique cars, would drive around the area, studying other castles and architecture, such as Dick's Castle (in Garrison, New York) and Eric Sloane's restored barn in New Milford, Connecticut.
"We loved (Eric's) concept of just one big room with bedrooms off the back of it," explained Toni. "So, there was a little vacillating if we should do a barn, but the castle was predominantly in our brains."
Interestingly, Peter had never built anything of such magnitude before. "He had basic knowledge from shop class in high school and from living on a dairy farm – located adjacent to where the castle now sits – where he learned to weld," said Toni. "That helped him because he did all the iron work – railings and gates – in the castle."
Throughout the process, Peter asked many questions, made sketches of what he wanted to do and talked to the experts, including Toni's father who had built his own home and would give him pointers.
With brand new materials, such as drywall, Peter first built a traditional stick-structure home. "Then he surrounded the interior and the exterior with older, recycled materials, giving it the look and feel of the age," said Toni. "That's what his vision was as an artist. He wanted it to look like an ancient castle."
'An Amazing Journey'
Together, they spent the next couple of decades building Wing's Castle, with 80% of the castle built from items they found in local antique shops or from derelict barns they purchased and then dismantled, keeping the usable materials.
"We were people with a lot of ideas and energy, but we didn't have the money to back it up, so we needed to find material sources," said Toni. "We bought used brick as well as used stone that came from a railroad bridge that Peter blasted on his own."
"We built the castle as our home, but as we progressed toward the finish line, we had no pension plan or savings."
Watching Peter work on the castle thrilled Toni. "Every little piece of it was just outstanding, especially as he started getting to the details," said Toni. "It was a slow, tedious process, but it was an amazing journey to watch as Peter created — something he was born to do. As far as creativity went, he was over the top and outside of the box, and it didn't matter what medium or what direction it was, he would really try to outdo himself."
The castle includes a moat, a two-level annex, a room called the dungeon and another chamber room. The impressive details can even be seen as you walk the property.
During that time, the couple lived in the building and also became parents to Charlie and Tara.
"We were romantics, dreamers," said Toni, who also worked as a physical therapist. "We built the castle as our home, but as we progressed toward the finish line, we had no pension plan or savings. Everything we had went into this, so we needed to move forward with some kind of plan. We either had to sell it or figure out how to keep it."
Peter's Dream Lives On
Peter came up with the idea to turn Wing's Castle into a bed-and-breakfast, allowing guests to stay in their dream home.
Just as they started to open their doors, tragedy struck. On September 28, 2014, Peter died in a one-car accident while driving a 1937 Morgan. He was 67.
"It was absolutely surreal because within an hour he had this accident and he was gone," said Toni.
Today, Toni still lives at Wing's Castle and many tourists enjoy the castle and the views every year. "I decided to stay, pursuing our dream to live here forever and make it into a bed-and-breakfast to sustain us," she said. "I feel Peter's presence. Every place I turn, everything I touch he put here, so it's like he's still here."
Toni even provides a guided tour of the entire property for those who stay. Looking back, she hopes that her castle inspires others to dream.
"It's okay to have dreams and ambitions and work toward them and not be afraid of failure," she said. "We were two very naive young kids starting this project and not having a clue of what we were getting into. But now it's here."