Castle Building reached a feverish peak all throughout Europe around the 15th Century. This was of course quite a while before the Pilgrims made their way across the Atlantic Ocean and you would think this means the United States missed the whole castle building frenzy. But it didn’t. There are quite a few amazing and beautiful medieval castles peppered all across North America. Technically, none of these castles can be called true castles because they weren’t built with defense and armament in mind; They were more designed as manor houses but they still incorporated all of the wonderful and impressive architectural stylings that we come to associate with true castles.
During a period of time from the late 18th century to the early 19th century much of the world went through a period of time, in terms of architecture, called the Gothic Revival. This revival was a renewed interest in the architecture and styling of the medieval castles and buildings that were built during the Middle Ages. The focus was on the late period castles that were more of a manor home than a fortress.
Most early American industrialists – the ones who pioneered modern industry and earned untold fortunes – thought of themselves as royalty, and had appropriate homes built to reflect this self-appointed position. However, as time passed, fortunes waned, families grew, and the properties were gradually sold or donated to more philanthropic uses.
10. Gillette Castle – East Haddam, Conn.
William Gillette’s castle may have only 24 rooms, but it’s chockfull of oddities and mysteries cooked up by Gillette himself: a movable table on tracks, a surveillance system using hidden mirrors, and each of the home’s 47 doors, no two of which are alike. Gillette left no heirs, but stipulated in his will that his estate not fall into the hands of a “blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.”
9. Coral Castle – Homestead, Fla.
As with the Taj Majal, Coral Castle was built as a monument to love, but in this case, the love was unrequited. The methods by which Latvian immigrant Edward Leedskalnin single-handedly built the enigmatic structure remain a mystery as much of those of the pyramids, after which much of the architecture was designed. Every piece of the castle—from the two-story tower to the throne—were built over a period of 28 years from the stone found just inches beneath Leedskalnin’s soil.
What makes Coral Castle so weird is it was built by one 130-pound man with no machinery or equipment except a mule. Coral blocks, larger than the blocks of the Great Pyramid in Egypt, were pulled from the ground and transported to this site (not once but twice). One ton rocks were turned into doors that can be swung by a small child. Coral Castle combines astrology and psychics and ancient construction secrets, all motivated by a heart-broken immigrant whose bride-to-be jilted him at the altar.
He worked until his death in 1951 and only told people he knew “the secret of the pyramids.”
8. Wing’s Castle – Millbrook, N.Y
After returning from Vietnam with no money, Peter Wing began building his 12th-century-inspired labor of love with recycled materials from area railroads and barns. More then three decades later, he’s still building, and the crowds keep flocking to view his Buddha-belly fireplaces, clover-shaped bathrooms, and walls with mocking stone faces. “My other choice,” Wing says, only slightly sarcastically, “was a tinfoil ball.”
7. Winterthur Manor – Winterthur, Del.
When Henry Francis Du Pont’s collection of American decorative arts outgrew his 100-room European-style country house, he did what any self-respecting tycoon would do: He added 75 more rooms. The manor’s indoor, cobblestone “courtyard” is surrounded by the fronts of four actual colonial-era houses that lend an air of walking down a street from a bygone era.
6. Hempstead House/Castle Gould – Sands Point, N.Y.
Considered one of the most lavish homes on the Gold Coast during the Gilded Age, Hempstead House and its counterpart, Castle Gould, are among the few remaining estates from their era. Although the rare orchids of the Palm Court, medieval tapestries, and Rembrandt artworks have long since vanished, some extravagances have endured, such as stone gargoyles and the organ “pipes” visible on the walls that never worked and were built merely for show.
5. Iolani Palace – Honolulu, Hawaii
The only official royal residence in the United States, Iolani Palace played more of a symbolic role for the Hawaiian nation than it did as an actual home. The original palace, demolished in 1874 to make way for the present structure, was the vision of King Kalakaua, a well-traveled magnate who wanted his kingdom to enjoy the status of other modern nations. The palace later served as a place of imprisonment for Hawaii’s last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani.
4. Belcourt Castle – Newport, R.I.
When August Belmont commissioned the building of his Louis XIII-style hunting lodge in 1891, the blueprints called for the entire first floor to be devoted to the millionaire’s beloved horses, with two carriage entries flanking the north facade and 30 stables on the first floor—but only one bathroom and bedroom and not a kitchen to be found in the remainder of the 60-room villa. It is rumored that the back of Belcourt was purposely designed to face Belmont’s neighbors, whom he despised for being nouveau riche.
3. The Breakers – Newport, RI.
The Breakers is one of the Vanderbilt mansions of Newport. It is located on Ochre Point Avenue, part of the Bellevue Avenue Historic District. It is regarded by many as the most opulent of all of the mansions. Construction of the home began in 1893 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who used The Breakers as merely his summer home. Cornelius spent $7 million dollars on construction, a bargain in today’s standards, but with inflation, that number equates to around $150 million. The fine details and quality materials that make up the mansion could not likely be reproduced today.
The mansion contains pieces imported from Africa, Italy, and France, such as marble, mantel pieces, and other details. The Breakers was passed down from Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, to his wife Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt. She passed the property onto her daughter Gladys. Countess Sylvia Szapary then sold the property to the Newport Preservation Society in 1972, with the stipulation that the family could still live on the closed-to-the-public third floor (and still to this day). The Breakers is now a leading tourist destination in Newport.
2. Vikingsholm – Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Vikingsholm Castle, which is one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the Western hemisphere. The castle sits at the head of Emerald Bay and served as the summer home for Mrs. Lora Knight, who had the house built in the late 1920s.
One of the interesting architectural designs, is the sod roof which covers both the north and south wings of the complex. The interior of the home has paintings on some of the ceilings and walls and two intricately carved dragon beams. The six fireplaces are of Scandinavian design with unusual fireplace screens. Most of the furnishings in the home were originally selected by Mrs. Knight and reflect typical pieces used in Scandinavian homes of the period. A number of original antiques were purchased and others were reproduced to exact detail, even to the aging of the wood and duplication of scratches. The castle offers tours daily during summer months.
1. Hearst Castle – San Simeon, Calif.
Quite possibly the nation’s most famous castle, William Randolph Hearst went to great lengths to bring back the best of European architecture—most notably ceilings from churches and monasteries—which were pieced back together in California. In the Santa Lucia Mountains of California on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Craftsmen labored nearly 28 years to create a magnificent estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens. Terraces, pools and walkways. Its rooms were furnished with an impressive collection of Spanish and Italian antiques and art. The official name of the castle is “La Cuesta Encantada” or the Enchanted Hill” but better known as Hearst Castle.
At one time, the property included 240,000 acres of property surrounding the castle. This included 60 miles of the California coast line.