Source: Randall Realtors Real Living/Christie's International Real Estate

There Are Castles in America. Here Are Three You Can Buy

Fairytale living in New York, Connecticut, and Kentucky.

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 6,000-square-foot Highlands Castle has 180-degree views of the Adirondack Mountains.
The 6,000-square-foot Highlands Castle has 180-degree views of the Adirondack Mountains.
Source: Keir Weimer/Sotheby's International Realty

“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 in Woodstock, Conn.
Chrismark Castle in Woodstock, Conn.
Source: Randall Realtors Real Living/Christie's International Real Estate

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.

The castle has 12 fireplaces, elevators, central air, and a backup generator—plus a lot of antiques to be negotiated.
The castle has 12 fireplaces, elevators, central air, and a backup generator—plus a lot of antiques to be negotiated.
Source: Randall Realtors Real Living/Christie's International Real Estate

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.

The owner scoured antique shops that would fit with the grandeur of the castle.
The owner scoured antique shops that would fit with the grandeur of the castle.
Source: Randall Realtors Real Living/Christie's International Real Estate
Among the castle’s curiosities is an auditorium and stage, a group shower, and a 1,400-square-foot kitchen.
Among the castle’s curiosities is an auditorium and stage, a group shower, and a 1,400-square-foot kitchen.
Source: Randall Realtors Real Living/Christie's International Real Estate

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.

The centerpiece is a glass-topped observation tower.
The centerpiece is a glass-topped observation tower.
Source: Randall Realtors Real Living/Christie's International Real Estate

“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.”

The castle looks out over 30-acre Potter Pond.
The castle looks out over 30-acre Potter Pond.
Source: Randall Realtors Real Living/Christie's International 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. 

The castle is made from 800 tons of stone.
The castle is made from 800 tons of stone.
Source: Keir Weimer/Sotheby's International Realty

“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. 

A 2,000-foot driveway leads to the castle.
A 2,000-foot driveway leads to the castle.
Source: Keir Weimer/Sotheby's International Realty

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.” 

Among its attributes: a secret passageway, a hand-hammered copper tub, and a two-story tower with a balcony overlooking the lake.
Among its attributes: a secret passageway, a hand-hammered copper tub, and a two-story tower with a balcony overlooking the lake.
Source: Keir Weimer/Sotheby's International Realty

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.

The castle offers a clear view of Lake George.
The castle offers a clear view of Lake George.
Source: Keir Weimer/Sotheby's International Realty
The property includes a two-bedroom carriage house and a two-bedroom gatehouse.
The property includes a two-bedroom carriage house and a two-bedroom gatehouse.
Source: Keir Weimer/Sotheby's International Realty

 

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.

The 12,118-square-foot castle has 16 beds and 16 baths.
The 12,118-square-foot castle has 16 beds and 16 baths.
Source: Comey & Shepherd Realtors/Christie's International Real Estate

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.

The castle was conceived of after a trip to see the ancient buildings of Germany.
The castle was conceived of after a trip to see the ancient buildings of Germany.
Source: Comey & Shepherd Realtors/Christie's International Real Estate

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.

Part period, part modern, the castle is known as the “Crown Jewel of the Bluegrass.”
Part period, part modern, the castle is known as the “Crown Jewel of the Bluegrass.”
Source: Comey & Shepherd Realtors/Christie's International Real Estate
The castle’s grand staircase and the great hall.
The castle’s grand staircase and the great hall.
Source: Comey & Shepherd Realtors/Christie's International Real Estate
Period-style chandeliers and light fixtures, inside and out.
Period-style chandeliers and light fixtures, inside and out.
Source: Comey & Shepherd Realtors/Christie's International Real Estate
The castle includes a library, a billiards room, and a banquet room modeled after Versailles.
The castle includes a library, a billiards room, and a banquet room modeled after Versailles.
Source: Comey & Shepherd Realtors/Christie's International Real Estate
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