American Castles

You can’t turn around in the United Kingdom without tripping over a castle. From the big fancy 900-year-old jobbies like Windsor Castle (the oldest inhabited castle in the UK) to 800-year-young ruins like Tintagel (rumored to have ties to King Arthur-yes THAT King Arthur,) the UK is practically bursting at the seams with majestic, fortified, stone dwellings.

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But ho, ho, ho, dear reader! Did you truly believe that the UK or Europe had the market cornered on the chateau? Think again!  Purists will argue that to be a true castle there needs to be inhabited by a noble-person or royalty and it needs to be fortified in case of attack. I think we can agree that even though the US scrappedthe monarchy, American royalty exists in the form of old-moneyed families who have built pretty swanky castles on US soil.

 

The Vanderbilt clan is a good example. They’re so important spellcheck doesn’t even question their name.In 1862, bouncing baby boy George was born to the family, and by his 30th birthday Biltmore Castle (now referred to as Biltmore Estate) was well under construction! Situated near Asheville, North Carolina, construction was completed in 1895 and it was opened to the public.

 

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The Vanderbilt Cas- sorry, chateauesque-style mansion, may not have the age and prestige of a Northern Irish, Scottish, English or Welsh castle, but here is what it does have:  Marble and limestone floors designed by fancy people based on realcastles in France, and over 250 rooms overstuffed with furniture, tapestries, hundreds of carpets, prints, linens, hangings, from around the world, all dated between the 15th and 19th century. These include a whole whack of chandeliers and bronze candlesticks.

But if Vanderbilt’s tastes are a little chichi for your liking, perhaps you would be more interested in scholar and war veteran Harry Delos Andrews’ hand builtChateau Laroche (French for The Rock Castle.)

 

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WWI, Harry D. contracted spinal meningitis and was declared dead. However, he was just lulling that nasty virus into a false sense of security. But sadly the hospital in France where he was convalescing didn’t pass the message along to the folks back home. When he returned to the U.S. several years later to find his fiancé had married another man, Andrew threw a bit of a hissy fit, swore off romance for life, became a scholar, a boy scout troop leader and spent the rest of his life building a castle. He didn’t complete his life’s work so he willed it to his troop, Knights of the Golden Trail, who have (mostly) completed the chateau.

 

 

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Another big name in American castles?Disney, duh.Cinderella Castle in Disneyland is just one of several Disney castles you can find in the US. Though it doesn’t have the real marble and limestone of the Biltmore Estate, the golden stars dotted across it are real gold leaf, which Walt himself ordered applied. It’s also surrounded by a 12,800-m3moat (though don’t try and retract it when the wicked witch comes a ‘knocking, it’s just there for looks.)

 

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Though it wouldn’t protect any of the park’s guests or employees from invasion, at 58 meters tall you can’t deny it’s palatial cred.

So while the UK may have lots to brag about with over 1500 castles (and they are totally worth every boastful word,) the American castle-scape has some magic of its own. Also, I don’t think that the Queen would ever let anyone party this hard at the Balmoral.But she’s totally even a little jealous…

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American castles are generally what what architects refer to as a “folly.” Swanky way of sayinf they’re good for being pretty but look like they’re useful too. We just think those historians and architects are being stingy and should admit that as pretty as a lot of European castles are, they’re not gonna keep out any fire-breathing dragons or whatever.