NEW INSIGHTS ON THE HISTORY OF
“CASTLE IN THE CLOUDS”

The “Castle in the Clouds” story has been told many times, and in the telling and retelling slightly different versions have resulted.  Because the “Castle” and its buildings are still with us today, and because of its role as a popular tourist attraction, the history of the property has focused primarily on the creation of the estate by millionaire Tom Plant and the life he lived there. I would like to shift that focus to earlier times, and then to a reevaluation of some of the Tom Plant myths.

  After the Revolutionary War settlers began to move to the valley high in the Ossipee Mountains, founding what came to be known as the “Lee Settlement” since the Lee family was the first to arrive, building their six room home in 1792.  Other families followed – the Roberts, the Hornes, the Whittens, the Copps, and the Whithams.  These homes were smaller, generally having only two downstairs  rooms with a sleeping loft above for as many as eight to ten family members. 

 Life was not easy in this self-sufficient community.  They raised their own vegetables and meat and grain for their livestock.  Flax was grown for linen, sheep were raised for wool.  They made cheese, butter, and maple sugar.  An occasional overnight trip to Laconia supplied the rare items they could not make themselves.  Those trips, and for some a weekly walk to church in Melvin Village, provided their only contact with the outside world.  There were no clocks on the mountain.  To keep track of time the Lee house had a window sill marked like a sundial with lines radiating out from a large hourglass. There are photographs that depict daily life on the Lee farm and throughout the settlement where people enjoyed both laughter and hard work together.

 As the years passed many of the young married and moved away and the homes began to fall into disrepair.  At one point a schoolhouse was built in the Whitten field when there were forty settlers and fifteen students.  In time there were fewer students and the schoolhouse, like the other homes, became dilapidated.  Classes were then held in the Lee house.  Keeping a teacher was also a problem as this teacher had to live with the settlement families who took turns housing them.

 By 1879, when B.F. Shaw decided this high hamlet was the perfect site for a summer estate, he found that most of the inhabitants were already gone or willing to sell and was able to easily assemble 350 acres between 1879 and 1886.  The Lee family was the only original settler to remain as their 150 acres still provided a good living.  After Shaw built his fine home “cum” hotel, “Weelahka Hall”, the Lees had a ready market for their produce and visitors to Ossipee Mountain Park dined on farm fresh milk, eggs, vegetables and meat.  The estate and the farm were good neighbors and also good friends as is evidenced by the numerous photos tell the story.

 B.F. Shaw was a self-made man, inventor of the Shaw-Knit machine which made superior stockings.  He used the property primarily as a summer residence, Henry Horne acting as his manager in his absence.  Copies of correspondence between Shaw and Horne demonstrate Shaw’s attention to detail and his concern for his employee.  I have several of these letters in my possession that tell a compelling story of the relationship between these two men.

 “Weelahka Hall” was a large home surrounded on two sides by a two story balustrade veranda, capturing both lake and mountain views.  It was topped by a hip roof with dormers and tall brick chimneys.  Adjacent was “The Lodge”, a single story annex mirroring the architecture of the main house.  In these two buildings Shaw could house up to 35 visitors, initially friends and relations, but later paying guests (if they were properly recommended).  Rambling paths, picturesque bridges beside cascading waterfalls, nearby mountain summits all added to the appeal of the place which became a major tourist destination. Visitors included such notable writers as John Greenleaf Whittier, Lucy Larcom, and Robert Frost.

 On the subject of Robert Frost, an interesting tale is told by Lawrence Johnson in his book -  Frost, The Early Years.  Enamored of a young lady named Elinor White, who Robert Frost followed her to Ossipee Mountain Park in the summer of 1895.  By this time B.F. Shaw had died (in 1891) and the Park was being managed by his family, notably his daughter Jenny.  Elinor had been invited to the park to accompany her sister Leona, who had been commissioned to paint the portraits of Shaw’s grandchildren. Upon arrival from Lawrence, Massachusetts, the girls were housed in a cottage near the hotel.  But Robert Frost was not enthusiastically received by the Shaw’s (in fact was never once invited even to dinner) so he had to find lodging on his own with very limited funds. 

 Undaunted young Frost inquired around and was told there were several semi-abandoned houses high up the mountain.  Investigating this lead, Frost met Henry Horne who agreed to rent his place for a nominal amount if Frost would guard his hard cider from “thirsty neighbors”.   The house was in sorry shape, consisting of a kitchen, a sitting room, and a small bedroom.  There was a straw mattress on the floor, a table, a chair, an old cast iron pot-belly stove and a kerosene cook stove. 

 Elinor’s duties at the hotel kept her busy much of the time, so Frost was alone a lot of the time.  He occupied himself with clamoring about the mountains, a pastime which was to become a lifetime passion and whose landscape would  always be present in his work. Frost had never lived alone before.  It was being alone at night that was the hardest for him (he had always, until this summer, had his cot in his mother’s bedroom).  To bolster his courage during the long evenings he had brought a single shot pistol which he would occasionally discharge, shooting at the stove lid, frightening the St. Bernard dog Leona had lent him for company. 

 One night, sitting alone in the kitchen, a loud knock came at the door.  Terrified, Frost bolted out the back window as he called “Come In”.  He spent the night, half dressed, wandering the woods, too afraid to go back to the house, too embarrassed of his fear and his appearance to appear at the hotel.  In the morning he returned to find a neighbor in a drunken sleep on the floor.  The experience was a traumatic one for Frost and later, in 1923, he wrote a poem about the event, “The Lockless Door”. 

 Toward the end of the summer, Frost, loath to return to Lawrence to tutor two students as he had promised, so he invited the boys to come to the Ossipees instead. For three weeks they successfully combined study and mountain climbing.

 At the end of the summer the White sisters, Robert and his students all returned to Lawrence. Robert to teach in the small Salem District School #9 and Elinor to teach in Frost’s mother’s newly formed private school.  Robert Frost and Elinor White were married on Dec. 19, 1895, “the beginning of a passionate, soul-deep union that was the last for forty-three years”.

 The correspondence between B.F. Shaw and Henry Horne which I have previously mentioned, was dated between Nov. 1882 and Feb. 1884.  Eleven years later Robert Frost rented lodgings from a Henry Horne.  It is interesting to speculate if they are one and the same man.  However, Frost’s Horne was described as a rough reprobate and Shaw’s Horne appears a capable manager worthy of Shaw’s esteem.  Perhaps further research will solve this mystery some day.

 Soon after Frost’s visit, Jenny Shaw, who had been managing the resort since her father’s death, married Stanley James. In 1899, Ossipee Mountain Park was sold to a Mrs. E.F. Pettingill, from New York, who continued to operate the hotel.

 In 1911 the property was bought by another self-made millionaire, Thomas G. Plant, an inventor like Shaw but a manufacturer of shoes instead of stockings.  His enormously successful Queen Quality shoe and the machinery he patented for its manufacture brought him into conflict with the monopolistic United Shoe Machinery Company. United Shoe first challenged his patent in court and then agreed to buy both his shoe and shoe machinery businesses. 

 Wealthy and unexpectedly retired at the age of 51, Plant decided to build a mountain retreat.  The popular version of the story says that Plant traveled to Europe with his niece Amy and heard from her, as they admired the mountains of Europe, that nothing could compare with Ossipee Mountain Park.  So, supposedly, Plant wired his brother William to buy it for him.  However, recent research would suggest that the story is slightly different. 

 In 1970, Elliott Brown Grover wrote in his memoirs that his father Alfred Crosby Grover was Plant’s agent in the land acquisition.  Grover worked for Plant in his Jamaica Plain factory and had earned Plant’s trust.  Grover writes that Plant had an option on the Ossipee Mountain Park land plus additional land, but went to Europe “to see first of all if there was any other property as beautiful.  So Plant traveled to Germany and down to Spain, but finally decided that the New Hampshire property was the most beautiful, and best suited to his needs and, “nearest to business”.  Plant then cabled Grover “to take up the option”.

 It then became Grover’s “extra job to hire people – dozens of Italian stone masons and carpenters and others – and to do procuring for the house he built there”.  Grover and his wife were frequent guests at “Lucknow”.  In 1914, perhaps as a reward for his help in building “Lucknow” Plant gave Grover the opportunity to run his own shoe company in Manchester, the Plant Brothers and Co.

 The brothers were Tom and Will, sons of Tom Plant’s brother, who “did not know the business, had too much money, and were in reality playboys”.  The deal was that Plant would finance the business and Grover was to run it as if it were his own and teach the two boys.  At the end of five years, Grover could buy the business on his terms or sell the business to the boys on the same terms.  Grover must have bought the business because as soon as World War I started, he went to Washington and secured government contracts for what had by then grown to be six factories to manufacture knapsacks, cartridge belts, holsters, and all manner of military equipment. Grover produced, in addition to shoes, about one third of all such type of military equipment produced in the country. Grover died in 1920, worn out by his wartime efforts.

 While Plant was appreciative and supportive of loyal employees like Grover, he was ruthless when it came to acquiring the land he wanted.  He had purchased Ossipee Mountain Park and all the surrounding land from the mountain summits all the way down to the lakeshore.  Only the Lee family’s 150 farm interrupted his grand scheme.  The Lees were the first to settle the mountain and they were the last to leave.  The elderly Martha Jane Lee refused to sell to Plant because he had not met her price and Plant, in retaliation, built the famous 20 foot high “Spite Fence” which was several hundred feet long and blocked the Lee’s view of the lake.  Finally, in Nov. of 1913, Plant paid the Lee’s price and the Lee family moved to Sheridan Road, leaving what had been their home for five generations.

 After purchasing the land in 1911, Plant traveled again to Europe where he met his second wife, Olive Dewey.  He spent the winter of 1912/1913 drafting plans for his 16 room mansion “Lucknow” which was to be perched on the 1,300’ high “Crow’s Nest” promontory that had held Shaw’s observation pavilion.  Construction began in the Spring of 1913.  Tom Plant and Olive were married and settled into a nearby farmhouse, “Westwynde’, to supervise all aspects of the building project and to pursue buying yet more land.  By 1914, when Tom and Olive moved into the house, Plant owned 6,300 acres with 1.5 miles of lakeshore frontage.

 In addition to the mansion, the estate consisted of a large stone ten stall stable with living quarters above and an attached 6 car garage, two gate houses, a 100 foot long greenhouse which curved below the mansion walls, numerous farm buildings (now Ledgewood Farm), and a nine hole golf course.  Work crews also constructed the two mile long entrance road, miles of stone walls, 30 miles of carriage roads, 15 miles of bridle/hiking trails, and a 5 acre lake.  To complete this vast undertaking in only one year, hundreds of laborers were employed and housed on the site in camps and in Shaw’s old “Weelahka Hall” before it was demolished along with all the other Shaw buildings. 

 The architect of “Lucknow” has long remained a mystery.  The popular myth is that Plant fired one after another of three architects and went on to design the place himself.  As clever as he was, it is highly unlikely that a building of this sophistication could have been designed by a shoe manufacturer.  Bryant Tolles, an architectural historian, believes it was the firm of Coolidge and Carlson, of Boston, who implemented Plant’s vision. 

 However, recent research by Penelope Hartshorne Batcheler, retired National Park Service Historical Architect, strongly suggests that J. William Beal, of Boston, was the architect, assisted by his sons John Woodbridge Beal and Horatio (“Ray”) Beal both of whom worked in their father’s firm. Mrs. Batcheler, in conversations with Beal’s grandson Tom Beal, was led to his grandmother’s diaries wherein there are numerous references to Tom Plant, including one entry, July 15, 1915, “Plant settlement announced” which suggests that possibly the Beal bill for his services was contested by Plant.  The diaries of Mary (“Mollie”) Woodbridge Howes Beal are in the collection of the Hanover, Massachusetts Historical Society. Entries read as follows:

             Nov. 28, 1912 – “Met Mr. Plant.  Good Thanksgiving”.

            May 2, 1913 – “Bill stayed in town (Boston) overnight with T.G.P.”

            Sept. 17, 1914 – “Bill and Ray started out at 7:oo a.m. for N.H. Mr. Plant’s”.

            Nov. 9, 1914 – “Bob off at 5 to N.H. with Ray”.

            Nov. 16, 1914 – “Bob off at N.H. again”.

            Nov. 18, 1914 – “John went to N.H. – Mr. Plant”.

            June 23, 1915 – “Bill in Boston every day settling with Plant”.

            July 15, 1915 – “Plant settlement announced”.

 J. (John) Williams Beal was an architect of considerable renown.  Born in 1855, son of a cobbler, according to his grandsons Thomas and Philip Beal. He put himself through M.I.T. by working in a local box factory, the Lot Phillips Co. in Hanover.  He graduated from M.I.T.’s first architecture class. He trained for three years in the Beaux Arts at the Sorbonne in Paris and later served as a draftsman for Richard Morris Hunt and McKim, Mead and White. At that time there were very few self-made architects, the profession being generally reserved for the privileged.  Perhaps because one self-made man respected another, Plant chose Beal as his architect.  

 Beal’s focus on functionality in his buildings must have also attracted Plant to his work.  J. Williams Beal’s two sons, John Woodbridge Beal and Horatio Beal worked in his firm with him.  In the midst of designing “Lucknow” J. Williams Beal had a stroke.  His eldest son John Beal then drove his father and became his “eyes and ears”, learning architecture on the job.

 Despite being dyslexic, John later earned an honorary degree from M.I.T.. According to J. Williams Beal’s grandsons, Thomas and Philip Beal, it was John who supervised the drawings for “Lucknow” and who had the most contact with Plant.  Horatio (Ray) Beal graduated from the Providence, Rhode Island School of Architecture, and probably helped with the design of “Lucknow”.  According to grandson Thomas Beal,  J. Williams Beal “set the stage” for “Lucknow” and his sons John and Ray, executed the project, often assisted by their brother Bob who was a successful landscape architect.

 Thomas Beal reports that much of the house materials were prepared at the Bath Iron Works where an outbuilding was used to fabricate the door and window frames as well as the decorative beams and rafters.  He believes the stones were shaped there also.  The workmen were, according to Thomas Beal, of French lineage, coming from an island near Sable Island and Halifax, Nova Scotia. However, his brother Philip Beal is sure that all building materials came from the property.  The five point building stones for the mansion and its stable were quarried and shaped on site by Italian immigrant workers, some of the material having been blasted from the house site and the rest from a quarry on the property.  Philip Beal also believes that all the timber was cut and processed on site, and remembers a sawmill operating there.  He definitely remembers his father John W. Beal talking about the quarry. 

 Philip Beal reports that his father, John W. Beal, visited the Castle every two weeks to check on how much work had been done and how much should be paid.  John W. Beal was an excellent businessman, bringing projects in on time and on budget.   He was also a good negotiator who could successfully solve problems and differences of opinion.  As a result he got on well with his businessmen clients, including Thomas Plant who could be exceedingly difficult to work with.  J. Williams Beal considered Plant  to be “a wild man, a dangerously hard drinker, a reckless gambler, a promoter who only operated at full speed”. 

 Thomas  Beal describes, how his grandfather’s firm and Tom Plant would work together.  At this time Plant was working in New York City during the week.  He had his own railroad car which would be hitched on to the Boston-bound Friday train, the “Empire Limited” which left New York after the market closed.   At Providence, R.I.,  John  Woodbridge Beal would come aboard with the latest drawings, so many that they had to be carried by a porter.  The men would then go over things until the station in Boston, where Plant’s car would be transferred to the Boston and Maine Railroad bound for Meredith, N.H., where Beal would take his leave just as Plant’s train left the station. In Meredith Plant would be met by a wagon drawn by two prize horses which went at top speed to the Ossipees.

 J. Williams Beal suffered a stroke in 1912-1913 (perhaps caused by the stress of working on the Plant project at this time?).  He died in 1919 and the work of his prestigious firm, then with a staff of twenty-five specialists, was carried on by his sons. The firm was especially known for its public buildings, but they also designed many fine homes.  “Lucknow” was undoubtedly one of their finest. Only the best materials were used.  The colored granite stone was quarried locally and shaped into five sided pieces.  The oak beams were reportedly fashioned and decorated by shipwrights in Maine and shipped by rail to Laconia, by boat to Moultonborough, and then by horse drawn wagon up the mountain.  The roof  tiles were from Spain, the fireplace marble from Italy, the leaded casement windows from England.  The best artisans from New York and Boston worked on the interior, including glass decorations by Tiffany Studios.  No expense was spared and when the project was complete it was reputed to have cost over $1,000,000, an extraordinary amount at that time.

 According to Philip Beal, no building plans remain because  it was not the custom at that time to retain “as built” plans.  Plans were done in pencil on one sheet of heavy vellum, and any changes were made on the job in pencil on that one drawing.  At that time architects did not have the ability to reproduce drawings. The Beal firm routinely threw away drawings after a job was completed since storage of such bulky items was difficult.

 Thomas Plant fell on hard times in the 1920s and 1930s due to a series of bad financial investments.  He attempted to sell the estate in 1925 and again in 1934, on both occasions producing elaborate brochures describing in detail all aspects of the property, documents which accurately depict “Lucknow” in its heyday. In the 1934 brochure Plant wrote immodestly, “Lucknow is a country home for a man of big thoughts and ideas, who can enjoy big things in a big way”.  Certainly “Lucknow” did provide living on a grand scale, but no man with “big thoughts and ideas” was to be found. 

 Subsequently “Lucknow” was mortgaged and ultimately foreclosed, although the bank allowed Plant to remain in the house until his death in 1941.  “Lucknow” was then sold to banker Fred C. Tobey, a friend of Plant’s, who bought the property at auction as a timber investment and summer home.  In 1956 the estate was then sold to the brothers Richard and Donald Robie who tackled much needed maintenance and opened the property to the public as “Castle in the Clouds”.

 In 1991 the property was bought by the Castle Acquisition Partnership to develop Castle Springs bottled water which began production the following year. Four years later, 1995, Lucknow Brewery opened to produce an award-winning beer but only for a short time. In January 2002 the property, minus the water bottling plant and brewery, was bought by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust who will continue to keep the property’s 5,400 acres and the Castle open to the public, so that this exceptional regional resource can continue to be enjoyed by everyone.