Madame Sherri stairs

The uppermost arch in the iconic stairway at Madam Sherri’s Forest in Chesterfield, seen here in a photo from several years ago, collapsed over the weekend.

Madame Sherri stairs

The back end of the stairs at the site of Madame Sherri’s Castle in West Chesterfield crumbled over the weekend.

Jack Savage, with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which owns the site, said the reason for the crumbling could have been a combination of heavy rains shifting the ground, and a weakened structure from years of exposure.

“I don’t know why it fell other than gravity works and gravity is constant,” Savage said. “If a stone is up in the air it wants to fall down.”

No one appeared to have seen the stone stairs crumble, but hikers started posting photos of the fallen stairs this weekend after the crumbling was discovered. Savage said members of the Chesterfield Conservation Commission have taken charge and roped off the area.

“Our primary concern is safety,” Savage said.

After an inspection of the remaining structure, Savage said it appears the stairs that are still standing are stable, but he cautioned it is still not safe to climb them. The society has consistently tried to discourage people from going on the stairs.

“We’ve long had signs asking people not to climb on the staircase,” Savage said. “We’re asking everyone to stay off and stay back.”

That may be easier said than done. The site remains a popular destination for hikers and tourists. There are hiking trails on the 500-acre property, as well as the remains of Madame Sherri’s Castle.

“It’s the kind of place that spawns the imagination of a different era,” Savage said.

The property is named for Antoinette “Sherri,” Bramare a Parisian theatrical costume designer who worked in New York during the early 1900s. Madame Sherri and her husband built a summer house in Chesterfield, which was known for wild parties at the home, according to the society’s information. She was also known to speed around Brattleboro, Vt., in her chauffeur-driven Packard.

She eventually lost her fortune and the house fell into disrepair. It was heavily damaged in a fire in 1963 and Madame Sherri died in 1965 in Brattleboro.

New Hampshire resident Ann Stokes bought the property and donated it to the society in the 1990s. The property includes Indian Pond and the trails connect to the Monadnock Greenway Trail leading to Mount Monadnock.

The news that the stairs had been damaged drew interest throughout the state on Monday, and Savage said Madame Sherri would have enjoyed the attention.

“I don’t think Madame Sherri would have minded all the people,” he said.

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