All-American Castles That Rival Europe's Best
Some of the world's most majestic castles can be found right here in the United States.
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Built between 1889 and 1895, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, clocks in at 178,926 square feet, making it the largest privately owned home in America. A staggering example of Gilded Age extravagance, the home features 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool, a banquet hall with a 70-foot ceiling and a bowling alley. Today, guests can stroll through the estate’s many rooms, taking in the elegant period furniture and other furnishings, which include 16th-century tapestries and a thousand-year-old Chinese porcelain bowl.
When newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst was just 10 years old, his mother took him on a grand tour of Europe that forever stuck in his memory. The continent’s castles and towers were Hearst’s inspiration a decade later when he commissioned the design of Hearst Castle, a magnificent property in San Simeon, California. Construction on the massive project began in 1919 and lasted a whopping 28 years, in the end encompassing more than 90,000 lavishly decorated square feet. The magnificent digs hosted myriad luminaries in the 1920s and 30s, including Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, to name a few. It became California state park in 1954 and is open for tours.
A striking example of Gothic Revival architecture, Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown, New York, is famous for its dizzying ornamentation, four-story tower and impressive vaulted ceilings. It’s open to the public these days—guests can observe the perfectly preserved interiors, which remain much as they were in the late 19th and early 20th century. Also on offer: A massive steel-framed conservatory, the country’s first of its kind.
It’s easy to understand why this property is thought to have, in part, inspired the regal estate of Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Oheka Castle’s original design comprised 127 rooms over 109,000 square feet. Its intricately landscaped grounds included a French-style axial sunken garden, an 18-hole golf course and one of the largest private greenhouse complexes in America. Today, it’s a popular spot for weddings—celebrity nuptials include those of Megyn Kelly, Joey Fatone and former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner.
Although it lays in ruin, what’s left of Bannerman’s Castle remains a stunning sight. The abandoned warehouse, nestled among the trees on tiny Pollepel Island on New York State’s Hudson River, was never a true castle—it once housed military equipment—but was built in the early 20th century to resemble a stately Scottish castle complete with winding turrets and imposing towers. Today, guests are free to visit via kayak or passenger boat and can even take a tour of the sprawling property.
Built by William Gillette, the quirky actor most famous for portraying sleuth Sherlock Holmes on the stage, the towering oddity that is Gillette Castle was erected between 1914 and 1919 in East Haddam Connecticut. It’s a strange property, to say the least: Designed to look like a crumbling medieval fortress, no two of the home’s 47 doors—all are adorned with unusual doorknobs and locks—are the same. The castle is also outfitted with built-in couches, light switches of carved wood, and an unusual system of mirrors that allow for surveillance of public rooms from just outside the master bedroom. Today, the State of Connecticut runs castle tours.
Named for gold prospector, performer and con man Walter E. Scott, Scotty’s Castle is a Spanish-style mansion built in California’s Death Valley between 1922 and 1931. Scott never actually lived here—it was built as a winter home by his benefactor Albert Johnson and his wife Bessie, who funded Scott’s prospecting ventures. Today, the property, which is filled with period furnishings and artifacts, is run by the National Park service and open for tours (although it’s currently closed for renovations)
Designed in the Queen Anne style, the grand stone-and-wood Norumbega Castle in Camden, Maine, was originally built between 1886 and 1887 for telegraph baron Joseph Barker Stearns. You can actually spend the night here: Today it houses the Norumbega Inn, run by a husband-and-wife team with ties to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
Chemist James Nichols had English stone castles of old on the brain when he built this imposing summer home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, between 1873 and 1875. Winnekenni Castle, which boasts walls as thick as four feet in some places, takes its name from the Algonquin word for "very beautiful," a nod to the castle’s gorgeous natural surroundings. Today, the property includes 200 acres of conserved land and nine miles of foot trails.
To an architect’s eye, Belcourt Castle in Newport, Rhode Island, looks a bit like a hodgepodge. A little Gothic here, a few Italian and German influences there. But the French Renaissance is its most prominent style, drawing heavily from the design of Louis XIII’s hunting lodge at Versailles. It had a price tag to match: The 50,000-square-foot estate, built for the socialite Oliver Belmont, cost $3.2 million to build in 1894, which translates to more than $80 million in today’s dollars. After passing hands several times, the property was refurbished by its current owners and opened for guided tours in 2017.