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Estate sale offers rare peek at hidden Williamsville castle

The public will get a rare chance to step inside a privately owned castle on an island in Ellicott Creek in Williamsville this weekend.

An estate sale began at 9 a.m. Thursday in the stone home known alternately as "Cambria Castle" or "Oechsner's Castle." It was built on 1.3 acres of Dream Island beginning in 1917 by a German-born mason named Ignatz Oechsner.

Oechsner was "homesick for his native village Oxenforte in Germany on the Meine River" and "determined to build exactly the medieval castle that was so familiar to him in his early boyhood," according to the 1965 book "A History of the Town of Amherst, New York" by Sue Miller Young.

Fossil rock from the Town of Holland was used to build the castle, towers and moat. But Oechsner died in 1942, having never completed his dream.

"It took him 25 years and although he never lived in it, enough was finished so that people were attracted to the castle and gardens, for which a small admission was charged that helped defray expenses," according to Miller Young.

The castle circa 1945. (Photo courtesy of Ed Young's True Value)

The property was then neglected, changed ownership several times and badly damaged by a fire in 1956 leaving only the walls just after it was purchased by H. Reginald Davies and his wife, Winifred. The couple "painstakingly" restored the home's interior in 1958, Miller Young wrote.

Winifred Davies had studied architecture at the University at Buffalo in the 1950s, said Mary Lowther, president of the Village of Williamsville Historical Society.

"She actually drew the drawings for when they restored the building," she said. "It looks exactly the same today."

The castle became a mix of modern and medieval. The exterior features a carrier pigeon tower, gargoyles, animal reliefs, arched cornices and a library room in a turret, Lowther said.

"But being in there you would think you stepped back into the '50s the way it looks – the kitchen, everything," she said. "It's a really unique piece of property."

The current owners are Davies' daughters, Mildred O'Rourke and Onalee Davies, said Lowther, who visited the castle several times at their invitation. O'Rourke died several years ago and Onalee Davies resides in an assisted living facility.

The estate sale continues from noon to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The castle's mailing address is 175 Oakgrove Drive. The buildings are accessible via a bridge at the end of a long private drive on Oakgrove.

"The Castle is now celebrating its centennial, but the massive unconventional structures have suffered to some degree with this age, so the contents must be removed in order to address these issues," according to Edna Louise Estate & Household Liquidations, which is organizing the sale. "We are so pleased to have been allowed to present the contents in their original setting."

A crowd gathers on the first day of an estate sale an island in Ellicott Creek in Williamsville. (Joe Popiolkowski/Buffalo News)

Not all areas of the castle and grounds will be accessible, however, and some areas will be cordoned off by tape or barriers.

"The eclectic tastes on display will not disappoint you, as they run the gamut from gothic to traditional antiques to mid-century modern," according to the estate posting. "Everything is different, creative and artistic, from inspirational grounds to a bit of sensory overload inside."

Cars will not be allowed on the driveway during the sale because it is narrow and is easily congested by vehicles. Customers are asked to park along Oakgrove, where a parking attendant will be stationed.

The property was designated by the village as a local landmark in the early 1990s, which the Davies daughters appreciated, Lowther said.

"They always talked to me about how much they loved their home and how much they wanted to see it preserved," she said. "They really, really cared about the integrity of the building and making sure it stayed like it was. They really, really loved that property."

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