Europe is rife with castles for sale—ancient dwellings with moats and gothic arches, stone walls, and magnificent gardens, decorated with elaborate wooden built-ins and a couple of armor suits flanking enormous fireplaces. Legit castles.
Without a history to warrant such abodes, the United States has mostly had to make due with tacky, castle-themed McMansions. Still, there are a few exceptions, and most have been on the market for well over a year.
“The buyer pool for this kind of property is small,” said Keir Weimer, associate broker with Select Sotheby's International Realty, whose office represents a castle in the Adirondacks. “It has to be somebody who can appreciate an eccentric and generous property and is OK with the seclusion and privacy that a castle can afford.”
That’s a nice way of saying that an American castle’s custom nature costs a lot—often far more expensive than even the most luxurious homes nearby (stone ain’t cheap)—and that the location may leave something to be desired. (You have enough land and access to water to make a moat, after all.)
On the upside, buyers won’t be beholden to any landmark codes or the sense of historic patronage you may find in Europe. Which means you can live whatever American fairytale you’d like.
Chrismark Castle — Woodstock, Conn.
Listed for: $39 million
A storied property is usually a good thing—unless the stories are tinged by sleaze and scandal. Such is the case with the 18,777-square-foot Gothic-style creation at 450 Brickyard Rd. in the unassuming town of Woodstock, Conn.
This nine-bedroom, 10-bath property would be news enough without the personal stories behind it. There’s a moat, fed by a 30-acre pond. There’s a drawbridge. There’s a 1,400-square-foot kitchen. There’s a stage and auditorium. There’s an underground three-car garage, maid’s quarters, an au pair suite, and 25 different species of hardwood throughout.
There’s also—and here’s where the story takes a turn—a lavish group shower.
Chrismark Castle was built in 2003 for Christopher Mark (get it?), the great-grandson of steel mogul Clayton Mark Sr., and there have been reports that the property was used for several suspect activities.
The first, Castle-Models.com, was shut down by local politicians as an illegally run commercial business on a residential property. According to the Worcester Telegram, the now-defunct website advertised women, rated on how "ethnic" they were, for $125 per hour “photo sessions” (with a two-hour minimum): “And with the laws of attraction in hand, comes desire, intrigue, and lust, which man has learned to exploit and sell as if it were a commodity,” read the site.
Then there were the zebras. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as president of exotic animal refuge Wilderness Kingdom, Inc, Mark was running a “traveling zoo.” Controversy erupted when, during his messy divorce proceedings, it was discovered that a camel had died of neglect. Mark and his wife blamed one another.
This Games of Thrones-esque intrigue may partly explain why the castle has lingered on the market, dropping $6 million in price. There are few people in the market for a castle, and even fewer in the market for a castle notorious for animal cruelty and “modeling” agencies.
Due to its sheer size and quirkiness, it’s also “an endless task to keep it up,” noted John Pizzi, sales associate with Randall Realtors, which has represented the property for the 18 months it’s been on the market.
Buyers up to the task can command a 126-foot-high turreted observation tower. The main home goes up a mere 35 feet because that’s the height local fire trucks can reach. (A source said the owner was willing to buy fire trucks that went higher, but town legislators balked.) There are 12 fireplaces, elevators, central air, and a backup generator, and it’s fully wired.
“It has state-of-the-art electronics,” said Pizzi. “You can walk around the castle with an iPhone and control all kinds of things.”
Pizzi also pointed out that Mark used granite that was quarried right on the 350-acre property, 75 acres of which are for sale. Mark bought a small foundry so he could have all the ironwork done just right, and he traveled through Europe for 18 months, looking for architectural details and antiques to fill and define the castle.
“The castle isn’t sold furnished,” said Pizzi, “but everything’s negotiable in real estate.”
Highlands Castle — Bolton Landing, N.Y.
Listed for: $12.8 million
The legend of 18 Skyline Drive involves either the world’s best father or the world’s most indulgent, depending on your point of view. Back in 1975, John Lavender promised his son he would build him a castle. Some 800 tons of stone later, Highlands Castle now has a great hall with 25-foot-high beamed ceilings and 21 floor-to-ceiling windows inset into stone walls; a private driveway a third of a mile long; and 180-degree views of the surrounding Adirondack Mountains and Lake George below. Also: life-sized lion statues, iron gates, and solid oak trim-work, cabinets, doors, and floors. It’s set on 8.7 acres.
“Most fathers would give their kids a sand castle, not an actual castle,” said broker Weimer.
Curiously, the 6,000-square-foot main house technically has only two bedrooms, each in its own wing. The master wing includes a sitting room in a two-story tower, with a balcony overlooking the lake. The guest wing has a secret linen closet—not quite as sexy as a secret passageway, though those can be found elsewhere—along with a hand-hammered copper tub. Both come with radiant floor heating and locally sourced stone and lumber.
There’s also a two-bedroom carriage house and a two-bedroom gatehouse. So in total, this is a six-bed, six-bath spread.
It has been listed for two years—just over a year with Sotheby’s—and has gone from a $14.8 million ask down to $12.8 million. After their children had enjoyed storybook weddings at Highlands Castle, the economy faltered; the Lavenders tried to rent it out for weddings and getaways but again, town fathers stepped in. As such, Weimer doesn’t recommend buying the property as a business venture. “It’s best suited for people who own several homes and want another vacation property.”
With the kids gone, the Lavenders no longer need to live in an Upstate version of Xanadu (“It’s very comfortable inside, but at the end of the day, it’s still a castle"). The furnishings and elaborate tapestries aren’t included in the price but may be acquired in a separate transaction.
Castle Post — Versailles, Ky.
Listed for: $15 million
Renovating a home can break up a happy marriage. It appears building a castle can, too. That’s the lore behind 230 Pisgah Pike, a 16-bed, 16-bath, 12,118-square-foot home just outside Lexington, Ky., in a town called Versailles.
According to estate agent Chad Dickerson, that's a coincidence. Local contractor Rex Martin and his wife Caroline visited Germany in the late 1960s and decided to build themselves something that evoked the castles they saw there (although this one is more King Arthur than King Ludwig). They started building what was then known as the Martin Castle in the 1970s but split up before it was finished. The Post family bought it in 2003 at auction for a reported $1.8 million and officially completed it in 2010.
Now it’s a boutique hotel, billing itself as the “Crown Jewel of the Bluegrass,” with rates from $195 to $420 a night. The 50.5 acres include tennis and basketball courts, along with a library, billiards room, game room, card room, and a banquet hall modeled after the real Versailles. Also: rooftop shuffleboard.
You do not need to keep it running as a hotel. It happens to be set in the heart of horse country, just around the bend from Keeneland Race Course and the Bluegrass Airport. Dickerson said the property's land, with grass growing atop rock formations known as karst, which makes it extra nutritious, is especially suited for raising healthy horses.
Though it hasn’t languished on the market for decades, as the mid-construction castle did pre-hotel, the price has been slashed by half; it started out with a $30 million ask in 2010, and was down to a wee $15 million as of last year.