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Madame Sherri Forest Ft. The “Stairway to Heaven”

Graham is an avid hiker with a passion for history, good food, and chocolate.

Madame Sherri's house in the forest.

Madame Sherri's house in the forest.

Madame Sherri's Castle

Located in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire—situated on a 533-acres parcel of beautifully wooded property near the border of Vermont—are the remains of what once was Madame Sherri's castle.

Although all that remains today are the stone stairs and pillars, it is still a sight to behold. Ghost tales describe Madame Sherri walking down her "stairway to heaven" despite the fact that she died in 1965.

Madame Sherri

Madame Sherri

Who Was Madame Sherri?

Madame Sherri, née Antoinette De Lilas, was born in 1878 in Paris. She and her husband, Andre Riela, a silent film actor and theatrical producer, arrived in New York City in 1901.

The couple changed their surname to Sherri before going into business in the theatre district. Antoinette would soon be called Madame Sherri, which she apparently enjoyed greatly. Not long after their arrival in New York, Andre died.

Madame Sherri earned her fortune by designing theatre costumes, most notably for Zigfield Follies during the 1920s. However, it was her eccentric, party-throwing personality that earned her enduring fame here in the Granite State where she built her summer retreat in the woods of Chesterfield.

During visits with actor-friend, Jack Henderson, Madame Sherri fell in love with Chesterfield and eventually purchased 600 acres.

The mansion, which would later be called the "Madame Sherri Castle Ruins," had French chateaux elements, a chalet roof, and Roman arches. She so adored the creation of her house that she often would physically help workers in its construction.

Sherri's "Stairway to Heaven"

The main staircase, dubbed "the stairway to heaven" was cut into the side of a rock ledge. Flower gardens were carefully planted around the house. The interior of Madame Sherri's house was as unique and exotic as she was. The home was furnished with items bought from around the world.

During the construction of the chateau and certainly after its completion, Madame Sherri was known for her rather eccentric behavior. Chesterfield's locals would often see her dressed in her extravagant wardrobe, driving her Packard Touring sports car, chatting in her flamboyant accent, and hosting glamorous parties at the mansion.

As the years passed, Madame Sherri's Hollywood connections waned. Fewer and fewer guests would visit.

Although there had been rumors that Madame Sherri ran a brothel, that is untrue. She had wanted to turn the chateau into a nightclub but was denied a liquor license.

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The Castle Is Ransacked and Destroyed

After the home was ransacked, Madame Sherri moved into a Brattleboro, Vermont boarding house. She died in 1965 at the age of 84.

In 1962, vandals burned the mansion down. What remains is a crumbling stone foundation and the winding staircase.

A Supernatural Site?

Perhaps the only other thing that remains is Madame Sherri herself. New Hampshire is laced with tales of the supernatural, and there have been a few who claim to have witnessed Madame Sherri walking down her grand stairway.

Directions to Madame Sherri Castle Ruins

From New Hampshire:

  1. Follow Rte. 9 to Rte. 63 South.
  2. Turn right on Stage Road.
  3. Bear left onto Castle Road.
  4. Castle Rd joins Gulf Road.
  5. Watch for the Madame Sherri Forest sign and parking lot on the left.

From Vermont:

  1. Take Rte. 9 East into New Hampshire.
  2. Turn right onto Brown Ave. just after the Riverside Store along the Connecticut River.
  3. Bear left onto Gulf Road.
  4. Watch for the Madame Sherri Forest sign and parking lot on the right.
There is a small bridge that leads into the woods. To your left will be this small pond encircled by stone.

There is a small bridge that leads into the woods. To your left will be this small pond encircled by stone.

Hiking Around Sherri Castle Ruins

There is a small parking lot at the Madame Sherri Forest trailhead just off Gulf Road. At the information kiosk, there is a map so you can decide which trail you'd like to hike. Depending on the season, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and hunting can be enjoyed. Dog walking is also allowed.

Situated on the eastern slope of Wantastiquet Mountain (also known as Rattlesnake Mountain), Madame Sherri Forest is a 533-acre property most generously endowed by Anne Stokes, who had purchased the property from Madame Sherri before her death.

The purchase would be finalized the day Madame Sherri died. The property abuts the even larger, 847-acre Wantastiquet State Forest and links to the Monadnock Greenway Trail. With that vast acreage, your hike can be an afternoon stroll or extreme trailblazing.

Once you pass the information kiosk, there is a small bridge that leads into the woods. To your left will be this small pond encircled by stone.

Our Hiking Experience

We had time for a short hike which worked out wonderfully after a drizzly afternoon lunch. By the time we arrived at the forest, the rain had stopped and the sky had begun to clear.

As you begin your hike, there is an immediate fork in the road. To the right, not far from the parking lot is what remains of Madame Sherri's chateau. You could certainly wander miles into the woods from that location, however, the park does ask that you stick to the trails and watch that you do not harm the many plants, moss and other biodiverse elements of the forest.

To the left, a few steps up the path, there is a sign which indicates a short hike in one direction and a longer hike in the other.

The trails are well marked.

The trails are well marked.

Come Prepared and Properly Outfitted

The ground was damp from the previous rains. The trails are well marked, although they are not groomed, nor are they cared for during the winter months. As hikers, you must be prepared with appropriate hiking boots and a first aid kit.

There are craggy, slippery rocks and ravines that dip directly from the trail's edge.

The trail to the Indian Pond was nearly all uphill. It is a gradual incline, but depending on your physical health, take note.

While walking through the wooden areas, we couldn't believe how still the woods appeared. Birds were busy chirping, but other than their song, the woods were silent. It is a very peaceful place.

a-hike-through-madame-sherri-forest-and-a-look-at-her-stairway-to-heaven

As we approached the pond, ducks took flight. There is no doubt that wildlife abounds here.

Another sign indicates how close you are to the border of Vermont. Brattleboro is just a walk up the pathway.

While Madame Sherri's house was in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, her life would end in Brattleboro, Vermont, just up the road.

It occurred to us that several paths were used as carriage routes. The paths are wide enough to accommodate such a vehicle and one edge was lined with stone. The opposite side of the trail was flush to a steep incline.

To travel at night, this trail must have been pitch black. It would have been critically important to have the stone-lined paths in order to keep the carriage from tumbling into the ravine and into complete darkness.

As we started our walk back, we noticed the abundance of dropped acorns. They were some of the largest acorns we'd ever seen, some as large as a quarter. Taking a closer look, we noticed that deer had begun munching on them. The bright green, bitter acorns were only partially nibbled upon, but soon, this forest would offer these deer a feast.

Half-eaten acorns.

Half-eaten acorns.

Enjoy a Good Meal at L.A. Burdick

Within a short drive to or from West Chesterfield is the tiny town of Walpole, New Hampshire. Located in the charming town center is L.A. Burdick's flagship restaurant and chocolate shop where much of the exquisite chocolate is created.

Regardless of when you visit Burdick's, be certain that you order a cup of their hot chocolate (dark is my personal favorite). You've never had anything like it.

Here is a look at a few of their menu offerings:

  • Eggs Benedict with Serrano Ham, Toasted Brioche, Roasted Red Potato - $13
  • Artisanal Cheeses, Crostini, Seasonal Fruits (Individual Cheese /2oz - $5; Selection of Five / 10oz - $20)
  • Steak Frites, herb butter, sauce Bordelaise, pommes frites - $19
  • Fine Herb and Gruyere Omelette, pommes frites - $13
  • Salade Lyonnaise, Frisée Warm Bacon Vinaigrette, Lardons, Croutons, Poached Duck Eggs - $12 - Add Duck Confit - $17
  • Pan Roasted Duck Breast, Mushroom Risotto, Dried Cherry Gastrique - $24

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Graham Gifford

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