When most people think of castles, they think of the Middle Ages, European lords, the Crusades, etc. Many castle lovers have trekked through Europe and the Middle East touring these grand structures from another era. Outside of the famous Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World, we don’t usually consider castles part of the American landscape. But there are hundreds of so-called castles scattered across the United States. Some are castles in name only, and are either huge mansions worthy of a visit in their own right, or tourist traps worth avoiding. But some of these structures have many of the elements of a great medieval castle, with the kind of appeal that inspires the history and architectural buff, shutterbug and romantic in all of us.
5. Old Louisiana State Capitol
As anyone who’s seen more than a few American state capitols can attest, far too many were constructed as imitations of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Architect James Dakin wanted to be different when he built the Louisiana State Capitol in 1847. The result: a neo-Gothic medieval-style castle on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. The building served as the state capitol from 1847 until a new capitol building opened in 1932. Not everyone has been enamored with the design. None other than Mark Twain famously noted. “It is pathetic … that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things … should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place.” But the castle is a beloved landmark in Baton Rouge, earning a host of nicknames — the Castle on the River, the Louisiana Castle, the Castle of Baton Rouge. The building has been extensively restored through the years and today is a popular site for weddings, receptions, fundraisers and other special events. It also serves as the Museum of Political History. The museum is open five days a week and admission is free.
4. Loveland Castle
It often takes a larger-than-life figure to build a castle, and Harry D. Matthews certainly fits the bill. After serving as a medic in World War I, Matthews returned home to find his fiancé had married another man. Spurned, Matthews spent the next half-century building a 10th-century-style castle on the banks of the Little Miami River in Loveland, Ohio. Matthews — who had a genius-level IQ and published many books — carried the river stones he needed for construction up the steep bank to his growing castle. Matthews died in 1981, but his castle, also known as Chateau Laroche, has been lovingly restored and renovated. The castle also serves as the headquarters for the Knights of the Golden Trail, who vow to uphold the 10 Commandments. Loveland Castle is open for tours year-round, with a bargain admission price of $3. Guided tours must be reserved in advance.
3. Castello di Amorosa
Most of the several hundred structures often considered castles in the U.S. were built in the late 19th and early 20th century. One notable exception: Castello di Amoroso, a very modern (it opened to the public in 2007) castle in California’s Napa Valley wine country. Despite its relative youth, the castle looks as if it were transported directly from the Middle Ages, featuring defensive towers, half-ton doors, a drawbridge and moat and an actual dungeon. Oh, the builders used antique bricks and tiles imported from Europe. Owner Dario Sattui, a fourth-generation Napa Valley winemaker, had long been enamored with medieval architecture, visiting ancient structures around the world and collecting thousands of photos. He originally planned an 8,500-square-foot structure; what he ended up with is an enormous, 121,000-square-foot, 107 room 13th century Tuscan-style castle with eight levels, including four underground. Castello di Amorosa is an actual winery, producing wines that garner strong reviews. As I-WineReview.com noted, “Dario Sattui has invested a small fortune and many years building his castle (but) our tastings show he obviously hasn’t skimped on the vineyards and winemaking either.” Tours are available year-round and include a guided walk through the castle and winery and a wine tasting.
2. Boldt Castle
George Boldt made a fortune in the late 19th century operating hotels that catered to the rich elite of the day. In 1900, he began building a castle and estate on an island in the St. Lawrence River, planning the structure as a summer home and a tribute to his wife, Louise. He never finished. In 1904, Boldt’s wife died unexpectedly and Boldt abruptly abandoned construction on his summer estate. The unfinished castle and outbuildings on the island sat unoccupied, deteriorating, until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority purchased the property for $1 in the 1970s. Today, more than $15 million in renovations later, the castle is a popular tourist destination. The castle itself is the highlight of tours, but several other buildings are also open to the public, including the Power House (at right in the above photo), the Alster Tower (at left) and an enormous yacht house on a nearby isle (at rear in above photo). The castle is open for tours from May through October.
1. Hearst Castle
As wealthy newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst entered his 50s, he wanted something more from the family’s San Simeon, California, ranch his father had bought a half-century before in the 1860s. Hearst asked an architect to design a bungalow for the ranch, saying, “I get tired of going up there and camping in tents.” One thing led to another, and architect Julia Morgan’s “bungalow” morphed into one of the most famous castles and estates in the world. The centerpiece of the Hearst estate is the 68,500-square-foot Casa Grande, which features 115 rooms and 30 fireplaces. There are three other large guesthouses, a spectacular indoor swimming pool, and an even larger outdoor pool that features the façade of an ancient Roman temple Hearst imported to the U.S. Today, the main castle is open for tours as part of the California State Parks system. If you can’t make the trip in person, check out this 360-degree panoramic tour of Hearst Castle.
The author has traveled to every corner of the United States in search of travel adventures.