- The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, were both built for the Vanderbilt family around the turn of the century.
- Iolani Palace was once the residence of Hawaii’s last monarchs, making it the only official royal residence in the United States.
- Tovrea Castle in Phoenix makes creative use of its desert setting with its cactus gardens.
- An Ohio Boy Scouts troop owns a nature-surrounded castle called Loveland.
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While the United States may not exactly have had monarchs, it’s always had the next closest thing: really rich people. And if you’re a really rich person who wants to feel royal, where do you live? In a castle, of course.
Most true castles in the world, defined as fortified homes for royals or nobility, were built during the Middle Ages for both wealth-flaunting and militaristic reasons. But the aesthetic appeal of castles lasted far longer than the Crusades, and more than a few American millionaires of the late 19th and early 20th centuries took to building their own lavish Medieval-inspired homes.
Of the buildings that remain standing, only a small handful are still private estates – many have been converted into (or in fact were built as) public attractions like museums. But in any case, lots of these flashy buildings are open to visitors nowadays. Here are some spectacular American destinations to visit on your next road trip.
Iolani Palace is the only true royal residence in what’s now the United States.
Throughout the 19th century, Hawaii was a unified monarchy, largely styled after those of the European variety. Iolani Palace was built towards the later end of the century and was the official royal residence until the overthrow of the monarchy by the US military, where Queen Liliuokalani was eventually imprisoned.
The castle was used as a government building for about 80 years before being restored as a regal site. Today, the castle, located in Honolulu, is open to the public for tours.
Gillette Castle is surrounded by scenic walking trails.
Built by and for actor William Hooker Gillette in East Haddam, Connecticut, in the WWI era, Gillette Castle has been state property since the 1940s. The land it’s on is a state park, and, in addition to exploring the castle itself, visitors can enjoy the winding walking paths on the forested hill.
Lyndhurst is a Gothic Revival-style mansion in the Hudson Valley.
Once owned by railroad tycoon Jay Gould and later donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Lyndhurst is an ornate creation originally built in the 1830s. Today visitors can explore the landscaped grounds, the house, and its mostly original and well-preserved collection of art and antiques.
Hearst Castle may be the most famous in the US.
Built for magazine magnate William Randolph Hearst in the early 20th century, the castle was once famous as a social center for hosting rich, powerful, and famous personalities from movie stars to politicians. After Hearst’s death, the castle was donated to the state of California and to this day is owned and operated by California State Parks.
Sands Point Preserve has been known by many names.
Owned first by the Gould family and then the Guggenheims, this Long Island estate consists of not one, but two buildings that were built to resemble castles. Eventually, the estate became property of Nassau County, New York. Apart from its actual storied history, the estate boasts of having been the inspiration for the East Egg neighbourhood in “The Great Gatsby.”
It’s also known by the names Gould-Guggenheim Estate or Hempstead House.
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is unique for still being owned by its original family.
While most of the properties on this list have changed hands many times over the years, the Biltmore Estate is still owned by descendants of its original owner, George Washington Vanderbilt II. The land is now a working estate which consists of a winery, hotels, and other attractions open to the public.
Boldt Castle was abandoned for decades after its owner’s wife passed away.
Located on Heart Island in the Thousand Island region of New York, bordering Canada,Boldt Castle was built at the very beginning of the 20th century – but abandoned just months from its completion upon the death of George Boldt’s wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt, after which Boldt left the island and never returned. Not until the 1970s was it acquired and restored by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, where today it serves as a popular tourist attraction.
Belvedere Castle in Manhattan’s Central Park was built just for decoration.
Originally built as a purely decorative feature of New York City’s iconic Central Park,Belvedere Castle was an empty shell structure in the mid-1800s. Since 1919 it’s been the home of the Central Park weather station, and, after renovations in the 1980s, it became one of the park’s official visitor centres. Be careful if you’re planning a trip anytime soon, however: the castle is currently closed for renovations until some point this year.
Loveland Castle and its land is the domain of a Boy Scouts troop.
Not all American castles were the playlands of eccentric millionaires – Loveland Castle, also called Chateau Laroche, in Ohio was built by medieval enthusiast Harry D. Andrews on land he acquired for free as part of a promotion by the Cincinnati Enquirer. He used the land to host camping and other outings for the Boy Scout troop he led, the Knights of the Golden Trail, and eventually willed them the property upon his death.
Today you can visit and go on a self-guided tour.
Tovrea Castle in Phoenix has an unusual, layer cake-like appearance.
The building, sometimes referred to as the “Wedding Cake” was built in the late 1920s by Italian-born sheet metal tycoon Alessio Carraro. It was originally designed as a hotel and centrepiece of what Carraro hoped would be a resort town, but was eventually acquired by the Tovrea business family and eventually sold to the city of Phoenix. Guests can visit the castle and its restored cactus gardens.
The Breakers is the one of the biggest and most opulent of the Gilded Age homes in Newport, Rhode Island.
At the turn of the century, Newport was the summer destination of choice for America’s wealthiest families. These mansions, sometimes categorized as castles because of their size and revivalist architecture styles, are a must-see for New England vacationers. The Breakers, an Italian Renaissance-style mansion built by the Vanderbilt family, is now owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County and can be visited by the public.
Bishop’s Palace in Galveston, Texas, was once owned by the Catholic Church.
After the original owners, the Greshams, sold the house the church in the 1920s, it was used an actual bishop’s residence before opening to the public in the 1960s. The Victorian mansion is still open to visitors and is now owned by the Galveston Historical Foundation.
Thornewood was built in the early 20th century, but, in a sense, it’s hundreds of years old.
Thornewood Castle in Lakewood, Washington, isn’t merely replicating a European-style castle – it’s actually made from one. Disassembled pieces of an English castle were shipped to Washington state in the early 1900s under the direction of Chester Thorne, a prominent businessman in the Pacific Northwest. Today it operates as a bed and breakfast and rentable event venue.