In a different article we’ve ventured into New Jersey’s scariest castle. Now let’s take a trip down to Florida, up to Illinois then over to Iowa and visit some awesome castle-like homes that you simply can’t miss.
Let’s jump right in and begin our tour at the Sunshine State.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
International Harvester magnate James Deering constructed this castle-like Renaissance-style villa at the edge of Biscayne Bay in 1916 as a winter retreat. He named it Vizcaya, a Basque word meaning “Elevated Place.”
Accompanied by designer Paul Chalfin, a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Deering scoured the great French and Italian houses of Europe to acquire the finest antique furnishings for his estate. Resplendent in Old World elegance, Vizcaya’s 34 decorated rooms are filled with gilded furnishings, rich tapestries, carved wood paneling, and sculptures representing four centuries of European decorative arts.
Architect F. Burrall Hoffman designed the mansion around a central courtyard that was later enclosed by glass to protect its valuable contents from the weather. Constructed of native limestone, the villa took 1,000 laborers two years and a reported $15 million to complete. Colombian-born landscape architect Diego Suarez planned the gardens and the great stone barge, an unusual breakwater filled with flowering shrubs and statues of mythological figures associated with the sea.
Inside the mansion, Deering’s bedroom suite in the Napoleonic Empire style includes a marble-walled bathroom decorated with Sheffield silver plaques, a sitting room paneled in woven silk and Italian carved wood with gold leafing, and a bedroom containing gilded mahogany furniture and an Aubusson rug with a sea horse motif, Deering’s symbol for Vizcaya.
The sea horse reappears on the stained-glass windows in the Tea Room, whose canvas panels are elaborately painted with fantasy cityscapes. The gardens were designed to be moved through as through they were one vast, outdoor room.
The reception Room is modeled after an 18th-century rococo salon, complete with wall coverings of painted silk and a plaster ceiling that were transferred from a Venice palazzo. A 17th century altar screen in the Renaissance Hall stands behind a large pipe organ. The hall’s priceless antiques include a 2,000-year-old Roman marble tripod and a Hispano-Moresque rug, one of the few remaining 15-century Spanish heraldic carpets in the world. In 1987 the room was the meeting place for Pope John Paul II and Pres. Ronald Reagan.
Trained in Florence, Italy, Suarez adapted the garden designs of the Renaissance and Baroque eras to Florida’s climate and terrain. Orange jasmine trees were pruned and shaped in the Italian topiary style and Suarez created America’s first parterres, hedges trimmed in curves. Arranged in fan-shaped design, the gardens feature an elegant array of fountains, pools, and cascades, and shaded walkways complemented by sculptures, balustrades, and decorative urns.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is located in Miami, Florida
Presenting a severe granite exterior to Chicago’s exclusive Prairie Avenue, the John J. and Frances M. Glessner House marked a radical departure from other Gilded Age mansions in the area. The massive walls, limited number of windows, and innovative floor plan of the 1887 structure were conceived be Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson, whose imaginative designs helped spur the progress of early modern architecture.
The two-story mansion is characterized by stark lines, a red-tiled gabled roof, and a rusticated Braggville granite faÃ§ade. Unadorned except for Richardson’s trade-mark arched doorways, the house bears few references to styles favored by Victorians.
Glessner Mansion was the last house designed by Richardson, who died of Bright’s disease at age 47, three weeks after he made the last changes to the interior designs. Richardson’s pragmatic approach to his work served as a model for the Chicago school of architecture. Flourishing in the 1880’s and 1890’s, the Chicago school influenced John Wellborn root, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Prairie Avenue neighbors denounced the completed mansion’s forbidding exterior, but the Glessners welcomed the privacy lent by Richardson’s design. From the street the mansion looks dark; in fact, the main rooms are flooded with sunlight through bay windows that over look an interior courtyard surrounded by pink brick walls and picturesque towers.
Richardson regarded furnishings and interior design as part of the overall architectural concept, and his firm fashioned the dining room furniture and the library desk. On Richardson’s advice, the Glessners sought furniture made by practitioners of the English Arts and Crafts movement, which favored craftsmanship as a reaction to the industrial revolution’s mass-produced goods.
The longer wing of the L-shaped house includes a dining room, a kitchen, and a parlor where the Glessners displayed their collection of early Dutch engravings. Forming the cornerstone of the house, the library features a beamed ceiling and a huge partner’s desk that could be used by two people at once.
The shorter wing of the house contains the master bedroom suite, which is decorated with wallpaper and fabrics designed William Morris, the foremost proponent of the Arts and Crafts style in England. The living hall, which is located upstairs, contains two prized Isaac Scot pieces. The second-flour courtyard guest Room features fireplace tiles designed by William De Morgan. The servants occupied rooms above the kitchen, now used as office space, and the attic served as a butler’s apartment, sewing room, and storage area.
The mansion changed hands several times after John Glessner’s death in 1936. When it was put up for sale in 1966, a group of local citizens established the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation to purchase the mansion and halt plans for its demolition. Many of the Glessners’ possessions have since been returned to the house by their descendants. Today Richardson’s architectural masterpiece and much of its original furniture are on display for the enjoyment of the public.
Glessner House Museum is located in Chicago, Illinois
Brucemore, a classic Queen Anne-style mansion, was built in 1886 for Caroline Sinclair, the widow of Thomas Sinclair, who was the founder of the Sinclair Meat packing Plant. Set amid a 26-acre estate the elegant house offers insight into the lives of three generations of Iowa industrialists.
Caroline Sinclair spared no expense on this house for her six children. The red brick-and-limestone mansion was constructed at a cost of $55,000, 10 times that of the average dwelling in Cedar Rapids.
Designed by the architectural firm Josselyn and Taylor, the three story house was dubbed by many as “the finest residence this side of Chicago.”
Among Brucemore’s 21 rooms are a Great Hall, a grand staircase, 8 bathrooms, and 9 bedrooms. The house also boasts 14 fireplaces, which were an indulgence, given that central heating had already been installed. The mansion’s steep gabled roof, large chimneys and porches are characteristic of Queen Anne architecture, as is the combination of smooth brick on the lower levels with decorative slate shingles on the upper story. The stylized relief decorations are also typical of the period.
In 1906, Caroline Sinclair’s children had grown up and she no longer needed to live in such a large house, so she exchanged it for the smaller residence of George Bruce Douglas. A founding partner of the Quaker Oats company, Douglas also owned a linseed oil manufacturing company and the Douglas Starch Works.
Douglas renamed the Sinclair mansion Brucemore, a combination of his middle name and the Scottish word moor, from his ancestral home. Other nods to Douglas heritage include a collection of family portraits and the rendering of Mary, Queen of Scots, which hangs in the Great Hall.
Douglas and his wife, Irene, added 26 acres to the property’s original 10 or so, and remodeled the mansion at a cost of $30,000. The main entrance was moved from the north to the south faÃ§ade and a north terrace, breakfast porch, and sun-porch were added. They also put in a duck pond, gardens, and a swimming pool.
The couple filled the Great Hall with Renaissance-style furniture and installed butternut paneling and ceiling beams, and later added a Skinner pipe organ. Mrs. Douglas’ refined taste is on display in the 1935 Swan Room, where some 20 swans are carved on the furniture and the fireplace mantel.
The civic-minded Douglases set on the boards of several local hospitals and churches and acted as benefactors for organizations, including a camp for handicapped children. The family tradition of community service was carried on by Margaret Douglas Hall, who inherited the house in 1937. In 1981 she bequeathed the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, stipulating that it be used as a community cultural center and museum.
Margaret and her husband, Howard enjoyed entertaining guests in their spacious residence. In 1962 they hosted former presidents Herbert Hoover and Harry S. Truman, who were in Cedar Rapids for the dedication of the Heber Hoover Presidential Library-Museum in nearby West Branch.
Bruce more is located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
We hope you’ve enjoyed this tour through awesome American castle-like real-estate.