We spent the night in Geneva, New York and stopped at the top of Seneca Lake to ski in the park along the northern shore. It was a beautiful day but too cold for most people. On the way to Bellhurst Castle, where we would spend the night, we passed through town and spotted a new micro brewery, Lake Drum Brewing. I like the name and thought it was interesting that they named their place after something other than the the lake they were on. Could there be a connection. I googled “Seneca Lake” when we got to the room and found this wiki passage:
“Seneca Lake is also the site of a strange and currently unexplained phenomenon known as Mistpouffers. In this area, they are called the Seneca Guns, Lake Drums, or Lake Guns. These are mysterious cannon-like booms and shakes that are heard and felt in the surrounding area. The term Lake Guns originated in the short story “Lake Gun” by James Fenimore Cooper in 1851.”
At the hotel, near the first floor men’s room, I took a photo of a 1973 Philadelphia Inquirer article about one of the owner’s of the castle. I OCR’d the text in the photo:
This Gambler Is Rich
Kefauver Foe Lives in Luxury
GENEVA, N. Y.
Here in the Finger Lakes, in the wine regions of upstate New York, the big industries are tourism and wine growing. If you own a food store, you jack up the prices in the summer and spend all winter counting money. If you own a few acres of vineyard land, you’re a prosperous gentleman farmer selling grapes for $360 a ton to the wine companies that line the lakes.
But there was a time when Cornelius J. (Red) Dwyer had a third industry going. On the second floor of his huge, looming castle here on the banks of Seneca Lake, Red Dwyer ran one of the hottest gambling casinos in the east. From Saratoga to New York City, the high rollers would gather together their cash and come here to be separated from it in style ‐ all while Sophie Tucker sang in the corner. It went on for 20 years until Sen. Estes Kefauver called Dwyer before his crime investigating committee and persuaded him to find honest employment.
Dwyer turned the place into a restaurant ‐ a pretty good restaurant – and that’s what Belhurst castle is today.
Now, at 83… Red Dwyer spends his days puttering around his 30 oak-studded acres, luxuriating in splendid retirement. He has parlayed a floating crap game in a New York railroad town into a castle by the lake and in his declining years he can take pride in being one of the most successful gamblers of all time.
“I’m relaxing these days,” he says. But that’s a recent development. Dwyer was born in Lyons, N. Y., son of a dirt-poor Irish railroad family. He quit school at 14 to work as a fireman for five years for the New York Central railroad. But he found gambling more profitable. He opened a pool hall and floating crap game in Lyons and before he was done owned casinos in Miami, Saratoga, French Lick, Ind, and he ran another at Cat Cay, a millionaires’ playground in the Bahamas.
His biggest single score was a $50,000 hit from a newspaperman in Saratoga and he‘s done well enough with cards and dice to buy a new Cadillac every year since 1922. “Some years,” he said, “I’ve had as many as three: When I bought my 50th, the Cadillac people threw me a big party.” Dwyer went broke in the crash of ’29, but he bought his castle four years later with money he made running booze by speedboat into the State from Canada. His only arrest was in 1931 when the Feds nailed him for illegal possession of alcohol. He paid a $10,000 fine.
The castle itself is a monstrous, 26-room affair, ornately, carved on the inside and ivy-covered outside. It was built in 1888 by a family named Harron, direct decedents of Henry Clay of Ohio. Dwyer can’t guess at its current worth.
“It’s irreplaceable,” he says. “You just couldn’t build it again.”
Today the castle is Dwyer’s only holding. He says the politicians forced him out of Saratoga by charging outrageous sums for graft. In Geneva the local pols had less expensive tastes.
“A young man couldn’t make it today the way I made it,” he says. “There’s too much mob control in gambling now. I knew them all in my day but they never bothered me. Why not? Well, I was lucky, I guess.”