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10 Strange Castles Across the U.S.
The USA may not be famous for castles, but it is home to a fair few—although they are considerably more modern than the thousands of historic castles littered across Europe. Some of America’s more well-known castles are found in the nation’s theme parks, including Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland, California, and Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World, Florida. Others lie in well-known cities like Belvedere Castle in New York City’s Central Park and the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C. But there are also some far more unusual American castles, so here are 10 of the strangest.
10 Solomon’s Castle, Florida
In the small unincorporated community of Ona, Florida, stands a castle—complete with a turret and moat—that, from a distance, looks like it’s covered in tin foil. But its shiny appearance is actually due to being covered in salvaged metal plates. The castle was built by Howard Solomon, who called himself “The DaVinci of Debris.”
As well as serving as a home for Solomon and his family, the castle also houses his workshop, galleries to show off his creations, a bed & breakfast, and a restaurant called Boat-in-the-Moat, which is a replica of a Spanish galleon that sits in the man-made moat. Solomon died in 2016 so no longer gives tours himself, but his family has stepped in to fill that role and keep his dream castle going.
9 Chris Mark Castle, Connecticut
Chris Mark was asked by his two young daughters, “Daddy, why don’t you build us a castle?” He had the funds to oblige, so he began building the girls their very own castle. Construction started in 2003 on a plot of land near Woodstock, Connecticut, and by 2010, it was essentially finished. It’s been up for sale multiple times since 2014 but hasn’t yet sold.
The castle is adorned with towers and turrets, and it’s accessed by two stone bridges that cross the moat. The very top of the castle is capped with a glass dome which gives views out to the 30-acre pond on the property. The castle is filled with antiques, and for a personal touch, there are sculptures of his daughter’s faces with their mouths wide open, through which water pours when it rains. Mark’s daughter, Christina, runs the social media accounts for the castle, which often show her dressed up in princess dresses and tiaras.
8 Cano’s Castle, Colorado
Cano’s Castle, named after its builder Dominic “Cano” Espinosa, is a unique aluminum art piece that stands 40 feet (12.2 meters) tall. The main structure of the castle is made of stone, which was then covered in scrap metal. Beer cans make up the bulk of the façade, but Cano also used materials like hubcaps and grills. It’s comprised of four main structures: the two distinctive towers are called the “king” and “queen,” while the other buildings are called the “palace” and “rook.” He began building the castle as an homage to God after surviving the Vietnam War.
Sadly, Cano’s Castle was severely damaged in a fire in January 2022. Fortunately, Cano was uninjured, and the “king” and “queen” towers remained standing. The castle is private property, so no one is allowed inside, but visitors can get a good view from the street and might even get to chat with Cano himself.
7 Gillette Castle, Connecticut
William Gillette, famous for playing Sherlock Holmes onstage, personally designed and oversaw the construction of the quirky castle that served as his home. Built on a hill above the Connecticut River, the castle is designed to look like a medieval fortress (the success of which is debatable). Gillette’s eccentric tastes are fully showcased inside: the 47 doors are designed to be unique, he installed a table that moves on tracks, the walls around the upstairs walkway are shorter than normal (possibly to make himself appear taller when making a grand entrance), and there are secret passageways and doors (again, for grand entrances).
“He was a much better actor than he was an architect,” explains Linda Levine, a program specialist with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. He also had a miniature train that followed a 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) stretch of track around the property and even went through a little tunnel. Gillette lived in his dream castle, with up to 17 cats, until his death in 1937.
Gillette had no one close to him to inherit the castle, but he stated in his will that he did not want it to go to “some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now owned by the state and is open to visitors. It can also be toured virtually online.
6 Ice Castles, Various States
Ice Castles is a company that creates grand ice structures each winter—think Elsa’s ice palace from Frozen (2013). For the 2022-23 season, there are ice castles in Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Utah, and Wisconsin. Brent Christensen founded the company in 2011 after the ice cave he built in his garden for his daughter to play in was a massive success.
It takes literal tons of ice to build the castles. For example, the castle in New Hampshire in 2019 required 20 tons (18 tonnes) of ice. Of course, the nature of ice melting in the sun and then refreezing when the temperature plummets means that the ice castles are constantly changing. When freshly shaped icicles are added to the castle, they are coated with a spray of water to freeze them solidly into place. The castles feature frozen thrones, tunnels, and ice slides, all of which are lit up with colorful LED lights at night.
5 South Hero Miniature Castles, Vermont
South Hero is a small island town that is home to less than 2,000 people and a collection of miniature castles. Built from stone, the small structures stand a few feet tall and feature many of the classic castle elements, such as turrets and moats. A few of them even have (or, at least, had) running water and electricity.
They were built by Swiss immigrant Harry Barber, who married a local and settled in the town. He worked as a gardener, among a few other jobs, and was commissioned to build the tiny castles on properties around South Hero. Barber died in 1966, and some of his creations have sadly been dismantled, but a few of them can still be spotted around the island.
4 Castles of Ida Grove, Iowa
Another small town littered with unusual castles is Ida Grove, Iowa, although they are much larger than South Hero’s. Inventor and entrepreneur Byron Godbersen, who died in 2003, fell in love with castles after a trip to Europe and decided to replicate castle architecture in his hometown. The LA Times describes Ida Grove as a “Midwestern Camelot with turrets, moats, flying buttresses, and ornate balustrades.”
Midwest Industries, which Godbersen owned, was given the castle treatment, as was the company’s private airplane hangar. The town’s official welcome sign is a stone observation tower, and the creek that runs through the golf course is spanned by a suspension bridge with turreted stone arches at each end. Even the town’s skating rink was designed to look like a castle.
3 Montezuma Castle, Arizona
Montezuma Castle is a pre-historic dwelling that is built into a limestone cliff around 80 feet (24.4 meters) above the ground. Despite its name, it’s neither related to the Aztec emperor Montezuma II nor actually a castle. It was given this name by European settlers who were unaware that it was built by the Sinagua people between 1100 and 1300, many years before Montezuma was even born.
It’s thought they built the so-called castle up in the cliff because it freed up the valley floor for farmland and also offered a secure place to live. Twenty rooms are spread across the five-story structure, which was built with limestone rocks and clay. Much of the flooring is the cliff ledge itself, but where the ledge didn’t extend far enough, wooden beams were laid.
Theodore Roosevelt designated Montezuma Castle as a National Monument in 1906. Visitors could go inside the building via ladders until 1951 when the ladders were removed over safety concerns and to preserve the structure. Nowadays, tourists can view the structure from below and learn about its history in the visitor center.
2 Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins, Missouri
Like many state parks, Ha Ha Tonka State Park features stunning scenery. Unlike other state parks, though, it also features the ruins of a castle. Amid the trees on a bluff overlooking the Lake of the Ozarks stand the eerie remains of the castle that businessman Robert Snyder began building in 1905. He wanted his castle to be as authentic as possible, so he employed 100 Scottish stonemasons. But just one year later, Snyder was killed in one of Missouri’s first car crashes, meaning he never got to see his dream completed.
Snyder’s sons finished the project in 1920, and financial issues led to them turning it into a hotel in 1935. Seven years later, in 1942, the castle caught fire, which reduced it to the state it can be seen in today. The state purchased the property in 1978, and visitors to the park can explore the ruins.
1 Bishop Castle, Colorado
In 1969, Jim Bishop began building a small stone cabin in San Isabel National Forest. “But people kept asking if I was building a castle, so I thought, if people want a castle, I’ll give them a castle,” he recalls. Jim’s father, Willard, helped build the stonework around a metal water tank back when the project was merely a family cabin, but otherwise, the structure is the work of Jim alone. He states that it was “built by one man with the help of God.”
Bishop Castle currently stands at 160 feet (48.8 meters) and features a grand ballroom with stained glass windows. A metal dragon’s head, which can breathe fire thanks to a burner from a hot air balloon, is affixed to the outside of the ballroom. The stone structure is covered in ironwork balconies, bridges, and spiral staircases. There’s often a notable lack of guardrails, meaning climbing to the top of the towers will truly test anyone with a fear of heights.
Entrance into Bishop Castle is completely free (and also undertaken at your own risk), but there is a donation bucket and even a gift shop.