The Ringling Circus elephant building

Alfred T. Ringling, he of circus fame, discovered the picturesque Berkshire Valley in the early 20th Century. Declaring it the most beautiful place he had ever seen, he purchased 100 acres and a pond in Petersburg (now the Milton section of Oak Ridge) and set about building a winter HQ for his circus. A 26-room mansion was built between 1917 and 1918, along with a series of outbuildings for his circus menagerie. Most of them survive today, in private hands.

A sketch map from 1966 locating (with some errors) the Ringling outbuildings.

The “No, 7 building” in the sketch map denotes the elephant building. Like the others, it was concrete with area fieldstone decorating the walls. It’s gone to ruin — the glass-roofed ceiling collapsed about 1996, according to the locals — but what’s left has been incorporated into the Berkshire Valley Golf Course.

I took the following photos in the spring of 2004 when the property was being transformed into the golf course.

A view of the Ringling elephant house ruins. In the distance, to the right, is another Ringling building, now occupied by Jefferson Medical Imaging.(Photo by Paul Havemann)
View of the Ringling elephant house ruins. The floor sloped down beneath the sloped ceiling. (Photo by Paul Havemann)

These close-up photos give an idea of the size of the place.

My favorite view of the Ringling elephant house from 2004, back when the Berkshire Valley Golf course was under construction. (Photo by Paul Havemann)
The inlaid stones on the pillar (at right) spell out the year the elephant house was built — 1917 — and ‘RTR’ for Robert T. Ringling, who took over the circus after Alfred Ringling died. (Photo by Paul Havemann, 2004)

Today, the Berkshire Valley Golf Course plays host to thousands of golfers every year. As a county golf course, it’s open to the public. Food and drink are available in the clubhouse, even if you don’t golf. And you’re able to borrow a golf cart and head over to the ruins yourself, if you wish.