Last September (2013) we visited Castle in the Clouds (originally called Lucknow) and I wanted to leave reporting it until I had been to the NT’s Cragside. Both houses were technologically advanced for their time. This house was built on shoe leather and incorporated hydroelectric power, an ammonia-brine cooled fridges and a water-fed fire suppression system.
Sadly the house’s last owner bought it for his wife, who stayed one night and never returned. It was this owner who renamed it “Castle in the Clouds” and the fact that his wife didn’t want to live there meant the home was preserved, being opened to the public. Following ownership by a spring water company, the estate minus the spring water rights was purchased via public donations.
Indeed, the journey up to the house feels like one into the clouds, spiralling up the side of the mountain. We were blessed with a perfect, sunny day, so we could fully appreciate the view. It is a great place to start a visit to New Hampshire as the view really puts everything in perspective.
Lucknow, built in 1913-1914 high in the Ossipee Mountain Range. The house is an unusual example of Arts and Crafts architecture in New England, expressing that aesthetic movement’s philosophy of living in harmony with nature. There are 16 rooms.
Designed by the architectural firm of J. Williams Beal & Sons of Boston, the house not only exhibits skilled hand craftsmanship in every aspect of its interior and exterior, but also features a number of technological innovations of the early 20th century.
Thomas Gustave Plant (1859-1941) made his fortune in the shoe manufacturing industry, retiring as a millionaire at age fifty-one, having sold his business to the United Shoe Machinery Company in 1910. Plant had been involved in litigation with the United Shoe Machinery Industry over patents and in order to settle, United bought Plant out for $6m. However, during the trial Plant’s details of his relationship with an employee came out and it cost Plant his first marriage. He was divorced by April 1913.
Newly married in 1913 (to his second wife), Plant then focused on the creation of his New Hampshire country estate. Every recent piece of technology was included in the house and the luxury of living there must have been second to none.
In addition to buying the property known as Ossipee Mountain Park, Plant accumulated land from the Ossipee Mountains all the way to Lake Winnipesaukee, eventually owning 6,300 acres. He and his second wife, Olive, were keen riders and enjoyed the trails around the estate.
After a series of failed investments (including into Russian bonds just before the Revolution, layered with an attempt to recover those losses by poor investments into sugar futures), Plant attempted, from the mid-1920s through the era of the Great Depression, to sell the mountaintop estate. His friend took a mortgage of the property (allowing the Plants to continue living at Lucknow) but his death caused the foreclosure. Plant died days later, leaving Olive with just the fee she received as executrix of Plant’s will and her personal belongings. She had to return to Toulon, Illinois and care for her parents.
There was once a wrap around 100ft greenhouse, but today we can only admire the plot. The storms got the better of it.
When visited: September 2013