Lifestyle

17 Of America's Coolest Castles

America's founding principles are steeped in the notion that monarchic life is terrible. Yet there are examples all across the country that prove the American people were more than comfortable creating their own noble domiciles.

With this in mind, I combed through thousands and pulled out the 17 best listed below, many of which you can tour—and a few that could, in theory, be yours.

1. Hempstead House

Sands Point, New York
This lavish home on the North Shore of Long Island was initially designed to be a replica of the Kilkenny Castle in Ireland. Though when its owner (railroad robber baron Jay Gould's son) didn't like how it looked, they erected an additional house on the property to serve as the main residence. You may also recognize it from a handful of films that used it as a backdrop, including Malcolm X and Scent Of A Woman.

2. Belcourt Castle

Newport, Rhode Island
Belcourt was built in 1894 for socialite/congressman Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, who referred to it as his "summer cottage", which is absolutely insane unless you consider cottage-sized homes to run around 50,000 square feet and have 60 rooms. In its heyday, the spread—which was inspired by Louis VIII's hunting lodge at Versailles—employed an army of thirty servants. 

3. Biltmore Estate

Asheville, North Carolina
Just one of the many opulent homes belonging to Anderson Cooper's extended family, Biltmore was erected between 1889 and 1895, and still holds the title of largest privately-owned home in America with a head-spinning 178,926 square feet and 250 rooms. It's technically still owned by the Vanderbilt family, but it's also open to public. Fun fact: During WWII several pieces of priceless art were taken here from the National Gallery of Art, to protect them in case of an attack on Washington, DC.

4. Boldt Castle

Alexandria Bay, New York
Situated in the Thousand Islands on the Saint Lawrence River, Boldt was commissioned by the founding owner of New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in 1900 as a gift to his wife. However, construction was abruptly halted midway through when she died. It was left abandoned and in disrepair until the late 1970s, when it was purchased and renovated extensively by the local authorities, who transformed it into a major tourist destination.

5. Castello di Amorosa

Calistoga, California
One of the more recently constructed spots on this list (it opened its doors in 2007), Castello di Amorosa serves as home to both a winery and a fundraising hall in the Napa Valley. Most notably, though, is its architectural adherence to castles actually built in the 12th and 13th Centuries, with design touches that include a moat, drawbridge, defensive towers, knights' chamber, and even a torture chamber. 
 

6. Fonthill Castle

Doylestown, Pennsylvania
This six-story, 44-room, poured concrete estate was built in the early 20th century by the eccentric archaeologist and tile-maker Henry Chapman Mercer, who filled it with all manner of odd and interesting specimens he found around the world. Today, it serves as a museum of his work and legacy.

7. Gillette Castle

East Haddam, Connecticut
This awesomely odd medieval spread sits high above the Connecticut River and was commissioned by the actor William Gillette, most famous for his 1914 on-stage portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. It's chock full of bizarre details, including strange doorknobs and locks, and a series of hidden mirrors that served as a unique surveillance system. 

8. Hearst Castle

San Simeon, California
Arguably America's most famous castle, this palatial 90,000 square foot retreat was commissioned in 1919 by William Randolph Hearst, who hosted a laundry list of the biggest names of the day there, including Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Charles Lindbergh, FDR, and Winston Churchill. It is also, of course, the inspiration for the Xanadu mansion portrayed in Citizen Kane

9. 'Iolani Palace

Honolulu, Hawaii
The only truly royal palace to ever exist in the United States, 'Iolani was used as the official residence of the Hawaiian sovereign, serving as such for a handful of Hawaiian Monarchs until the kingdom was overthrown in 1893. It even had electricity and phones before the White House. Today, it sits on 10 acres in the heart of downtown Honolulu, and functions as a museum. 

10. Lyndhurst Castle

Tarrytown, New York
Built in 1838 for the former New York City mayor William Paulding, Jr., Lyndhurst is a fantastically gothic estate, filled with narrow hallways, vaulted ceilings, and unmistakably creepy vibes. Location scouts would agree, considering it's been used as the set for a number of darker films and TV shows, including films based on the cult soap opera Dark Shadows.

11. Cà d'Zan

Sarasota, Florida
Once the winter home of the main man behind the Ringling Bros. Circus, this over-the-top bayside Mediterranean-inspired retreat was built in the 1920s to serve as both a residence and a museum to showcase he and his wife's extensive art collection. Not bad for an empire built on dancing elephants.

12. The Breakers

Newport, Rhode Island
Another of the Vanderbilt family's other well-known getaways, the 125,000 square foot, 72-room, beaux-arts Breakers was built as the home for Cornelius II in 1893. It's no longer privately owned, but is open to the public and has become the most-visited attraction in the entire state.

13. Vikingsholm

South Lake Tahoe, California
This Scandinavian-inspired 38-room mansion on Tahoe's Emerald Bay was built in 1929 as the summer home for Lora Knight, who at that time was best known as the primary backer for Charles Lindbergh's world-changing trans-Atlantic solo flight.

14. Winterthur

Winterthur, Delaware
Built by the du Pont family in the early 20th Century, this European country house-inspired estate sits on nearly 1,000 acres, and was eventually transformed from a residence to a sprawling showcase for the family's extensive collections of art and antiques.

15. Castle In The Clouds

Moultonborough, New Hampshire
Constructed in 1914 by a millionaire shoe maker for his wife, this fairytale-esque mountaintop mansion overlooks the state's largest lake, and was equipped with many then-groundbreaking amenities including a circular shower and central vacuum system. These days it's owned and operated by a conservation trust, and is open to the public.

16. Castle Farms

Charlevoix, Michigan
Erected in 1918 by the then-Vice President of Sears, Roebuck and Co., this place was intended to serve as a model farm to showcase the company's latest equipment. Though, in the decades since, it's been transformed to function as a concert venue (everyone from the Beach Boys to Bon Jovi have played here), and today it serves as a wedding and event space.

17. Chateau Laroche

Loveland, Ohio
The impressive hobby project of an eccentric WWI veteran, who molded its bricks using cement and quart milk cartons, Chateau Laroche dates back to 1929, and was bequeathed to a local Boy Scout troop when he died in 1981. Rumor has that the place is haunted, and you're free to investigate on-site these days if you're so inclined.


Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor. He would gladly welcome more classic moats and drawbridges in modern architecture.