NH Estate is a Visually Stunning Place to Spend a Day
If I won the lottery and could buy any New England property, it would be Castle in the Clouds, the spectacular, 5,500-acre estate built in 1914 in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, by eccentric industrialist Thomas Plant. Not only is the home architecturally fascinating, its location high in the Ossipee Mountains affords stunning views of shimmering, island-sprinkled Lake Winnepesaukee. Each time I've visited Castle in the Clouds, I've been moved by Plant's riches to rags story and enchanted by this captivating setting.
Luckily, when the Castle Springs water bottling company put Castle in the Clouds on the block in 2001, the Lakes Region Conservation Trust did hit the jackpot: More than 2,000 donors contributed to ensure this wondrous landmark would remain forever preserved and open to the public (mid-May through late October). I'll provide you with a glimpse of this treasure in these photos, but nothing compares to touring the castle, hiking the grounds and dining at the Carriage House Restaurant.
If you're visiting New Hampshire's Lakes Region, don't miss Castle in the Clouds: a fascinating and stunningly picturesque place to spend a day.
Falls of Song: A Splendid Sight
Falls of Song, a 50-foot natural waterfall, makes for a splendid sight at the end of a short hike. It's just the first of many scenic marvels you'll behold on a visit to Castle in the Clouds.
Sparkle and Sound
As Shannon Brook tumbles over a jagged cliff, it creates this dazzling cascade that is as mesmerizing to hear—gently and continually whooshing—as it is to behold, sparkling in the summer sun.
Trolley to the Mountaintop
Visitors to Castle in the Clouds park near the Castle Gift Shop and walk to the property's former Carriage House, now home to the Carriage House Restaurant, where they board trolleys bound for Thomas Plant's mountaintop castle abode.
An Impressive Abode
It took 1,000 talented craftsmen more than a year to build this stone home for original owner Thomas Plant. The castle was a wedding gift for Olivia Dewey. The married Plant met his young bride, 24 years his junior, while traveling in France in 1912.
Fit for a Millionaire
A Maine native, Thomas Plant left home at 14 to seek his fortune. He owned his first shoe company by the age of 27. At the time he began construction of Castle in the Clouds, his fortune was estimated at $21 million: the equivalent of $1 billion today.
An Architectural Gem
Designed by Boston architects J. Williams Beal & Sons, Castle in the Clouds and its carriage house were built with granite quarried from the property and hand cut by Italian masons at a rate of roughly three stones each per day.
When Thomas Plant retired to New Hampshire at age 51, his Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, factory was the world's largest producer of women's shoes with 5,200 workers producing 3 million pairs annually. And, it was only one of five shoe factories he owned.
Thomas and Olive Plant named their mountaintop hideaway Lucknow. Olive's poem, Lucknow, asserts that with so many pleasures available, at the end of the day, guests would all surely agree: "I'm in Luck Now at last."
Step Inside the Castle
Self-guided tours of Castle in the Clouds are available mid-May through late October. A wonderful scavenger hunt for children encourages young visitors to look for specific items and details as they explore this extraordinary New Hampshire residence.
The suit of armor in Mr. Plant's office isn't just apropos castle decor. The shoe tycoon is believed to have worn the suit to a costume party. Look at it closely, and you'll detect that Plant was not a very tall man.
Plant's Secret Hiding Place
You were right. Thomas Plant was only 5 feet tall. His second wife, Olive, was 6 feet tall. Mr. Plant could easily duck through the short door to this secret room off the library, confident his Mrs. would not be able to invade his private space.
A Powerful Instrument
The Aeolian pipe organ in the main hall at Castle in the Clouds could be played manually or automatically via player scrolls. Boaters on Lake Winnipesaukee below could hear its thunderous strains whenever it was played.
An Artistic Dining Room
The octagonal dining room at Castle in the Clouds features an intricate painted ceiling. The castle's mostly original furnishings include many pieces custom-made for the Plants by Irving & Casson-A.H. Davenport, Boston's leading furniture makers.
Built at a cost of $7 million in 1913-14, Lucknow (later renamed Castle in the Clouds) featured unheard of conveniences including a central vacuum system, a self-cleaning oven and this brine refrigerator.
The brine refrigerator in the butler's pantry was chilled by an innovative saltwater system in the basement. It is stocked to appear as though the Plants might at any time return to the castle home they cherished.
Wonder and Amaze
This photo is of the castle's first-floor guest room. "Guests who enter to this dwelling, Stand in wonder and amaze," wrote Olive Plant in her poem. "For such a view as is unfolded, Ne'er before has met their gaze."
Bathrooms in Thomas Plant's castle, such as this one in the guest room, were outfitted with Needle surround showers—a plumbing device that was complex for the turn of the 20th century.
Castle in the Clouds' heyday was short-lived. Thomas Plant bought Russian bonds... just before the 1917 Russian Revolution. He invested in Cuban sugar futures... then a hurricane destroyed the crop. He lost more in the 1929 stock market crash.
The Master Bedroom
Castle in the Clouds' master bedroom has spectacular views of Lake Winnipesaukee. Sadly, when the bedroom's balcony was destroyed in a hurricane, the Plants couldn't afford to repair it. Their fortunes had been irrecoverably reversed.
A Sad End to a Grand Reign
By 1940, Lucknow was in foreclosure. During the summer of 1941, three days after being notified his estate would be auctioned, Thomas Plant died at age 82. He was so destitute, friends chipped in for his burial expenses.
Once you've toured Castle in the Clouds, linger over lunch, dinner or snacks and drinks at Carriage House Restaurant in the Carriage House. A bistro-style menu is available for indoor or outdoor dining. Coveted seats on the patio overlook Lake Winnipesaukee.
A $7 Million View
The view Thomas Plant paid millions to own is yours for the price of admission ($17 in 2017) to Castle in the Clouds. As you gaze out over Lake Winnipesaukee from the restaurant, appreciate the fact that this gorgeous sight can never again be taken away.