America has no royalty, but it does have dozens of castles, big, little, old and new. I discovered one via Facebook and suggested we include it on our summer trip. We left the Interstate for Loveland, Ohio, following the GPS which took us to a sharp turn at the top of a steep road.
“Do I really want to see it?” I wondered when my husband aimed the van down the sharply winding road with trees covering the road ahead at each turn. After a few breathtaking moments on the road designed by the castle’s builder, Harry Delois Andres, we landed in the gravel parking area. The sign said, “Entrance fee: $5.”
“Do you have a senior discount,” my husband smiled asking the obvious.
“No, but you are welcome to work,” the gatekeeper said. Volunteers maintain the grounds and continue to build on the castle.
We paid the fees and walked over to the small French Normandy styled castle. The volunteers appeared to all be men. One briefly pointed out features, including the attached, one-horse stable where videos introduce Andres. The ‘stable’ barely seated half a dozen people. Videos document Andres’ life, including his time as a nurse in World War I when he ‘died’ of meningitis. His body went to the morgue. His autopsy ended when he bled after the first cut. An experimental shot of adrenaline revived him. Intriguing information about Andres, the castle-builder, but we came to see the stone building.
“It’s a one-man castle,” I said after seeing the compact kitchen, small bathroom and snug bedroom. Even the ballroom on the second floor was a fifth the size of most ballrooms. Still the completed castle reflected Andres’ vision. As a WWI nurse, he had seen European castles. He designed his with the 10th century tapered windows to keep out flaming arrows and steep, tight winding stairwells to discourage sword fighters from ascending. He found and displayed original suits of armor.
The castle idea began during the years Andres taught a boys’ Sunday School class and a Scout troop. He dubbed them the “Knights of the Golden Trail,” or KOGT. Andres wanted the dozens of boys he taught to embrace and live by the 10 commandments and the Golden Rule. Pictures of KOGT boys line the walls of the foyer – now gift shop. The KOGT inherited what is now a non-profit facility.
Originally, his classes camped in the area. One day he looked at his knights and declared, “Knights need a castle. If you will pick up rocks from the river bed, I will build you a castle.”
In 1929, the boys began toting rocks and Andres began terracing the steep hill for the castle, picnic area and gardens. Ultimately, Andres did more than 95 percent of the work to build the castle. One of the videos shows him as an old man choosing stones from the nearby Little Miami River.
“Every spring the river washes down more rocks,” he says tossing rocks toward his big white plastic bucket.
In 1955, Andres began living in the castle.He continued to add to it until his death in 1981. Volunteers have carried on his vision. Still after all this time, with its stone walls and floors the castle feels more spartan than royal.
Volunteers maintain the grounds and have added the chapel room he always envisioned. Andres, a lifelong bachelor, once studied architecture. He also served as a teacher and newspaper editor. Neither his life nor his castle reflect the richness associated with royal castles.
Within a couple hours of taking that first detour, we had seen everything and returned to our vehicle. I closed my eyes at the thought of meeting another car on the narrow, winding return path. My husband expertly focused and steered around the blind corners. We encountered no one before we reached the top. There we quickly returned to the ease of the Interstate in search of another adventure, even one with a hit of hint of illusive royalty in America.