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The Castle in the Clouds
Thomas G. Plant
Thomas G. Plant was born in 1854. He started his career as a shoemaker, and gradually worked himself up through his excellent and efficient work. He eventually became a shoe manufacturer, and his footwear became so successful that he built several factories.
Around 1890 he sold the lot, and ended up with some twenty-one million dollars !
His cousin advised him to buy large areas of land in Moultonborough, with an exceptional view of the Ossipee and Belknap Mountains and Lake Winnipesaukee.
The Connecticut River forms the border between Vermont and New Hampshire. Just ahead lies the pleasant town of Littleton, stuck against the mountainside. A view like in Switzerland, with a simply outstanding panorama !
Past the city of Thornton, the hills start to rise up in the landscape. They are further apart and the panorama becomes more open. In contrast, the Vermont hills are packed more closely together, each one higher and steeper than the next...
In Moultonborough, everything revolves around vacation and tourism. The large lakes and the rolling hills offer endless opportunities for summer and winter sports.
Eventually Plant's estate covered some 2,520 hectares, or 6,230 acres. The panorama from the top of his mountain was so extraordinary, that regularly viewing trips were organized, and visitors gladly paid 25 cents for the view !
In 1911, Plant decided to build a house, and he hired several architects. He was a perfectionist and designed the plans for the exterior and interior finishing himself.
Unfortunately, his views almost immediately brought him in conflict with his architects, given his many innovative and progressive concepts. He therefore fired them, and looked for other architects, who were willing to follow his ideas...
The Castle in the Clouds
The entrance to the Castle in the Clouds is located on route 171.
The trail that gives access to the house is just a small, steep and winding path between the trees, and sometimes just a scant foot remains between the sides of the car and the trees... As a matter of fact, I'll tell you an anecdote later, about this particular access road !
Along the road you'll see the Castle Springs falls, which is a scenic viewpoint for great pictures. The mountain has its own natural spring, where even to date fresh spring water is being bottled, under the name "Castle Springs".
From the parking lot, the estate can be reached with a trolley.
But let's get back to this rather peculiar access road. During the construction, Mr. Plant had ordered TWO roads to be built to the estate. The first one, the small and winding path, would lead from the main road to the house. The second one was to lead from the house to the source, and then back to the main road.
So, the workers built both roads with two wide and comfortable lanes.
But when Mr. Plant returned from a trip from Europe, he wasn't pleased. He ordered the first road to be demolished, and instead had them build the present small and winding path ! His reasoning was that visitors would be more impressed during the long climb to the house...
Plant was a well-traveled person, and in his plans he used a mixture of European elements, such as Spanish tiles for the roof, but also English, Norwegian, Swiss and Japanese materials and influences.
He wanted a house that could withstand the test of time, and designed all the facades in granite blocks. For this, he hired 1,000 Italian stonemasons and builders, who cut stones during more than two years !
In 1913 his Castle in the Clouds was finished, and the whole object had cost him 1.5 million dollars.
The most exceptional feature of the house is obviously the phenomenal panorama of the mountains, the valley and the lakes. Nevertheless, the house is designed masterfully, and the beautiful and timeless English cottage style still looks fresh and modern, even after 90 years.
There are many windows, which makes the interior very light and open, in contrast to the mores of the times. It is obvious that the house was destined to be his main residence, and not to impress other wealthy families.
The finishing is luxurious but not gaudy, with everywhere a serene wooden finish. The house contained a lot of advanced and ultramodern equipment for that time, such as an intercom, self-cleaning ovens and a central vacuum cleaning.
The interior also reveals his hand, and no bedroom is without windows. Most rooms are therefore octagonal, which makes the layout sometimes a bit odd.
Plant built a golf course on the estate, and as an accomplished ecologist he even foresaw the necessary sheep to mow the lawn !
Thomas G. Plant was rather small in stature with only 1.55 m of height, but to compensate this he married a lady who measured 1.85 m, and was 27 years younger...
He was a personal friend of Theodore Roosevelt, who regularly came by and even had his own room in the house.
In order to increase his fortune, Plant invested in all sorts of projects, but unlike his previous luck with his shoe-empire, everything he touched afterwards changed to mud...
Roosevelt gave him several financial tips, but his qualities as a consultant clearly proved to be not as great as his statesmanship !
Theodore advised him to buy Russian Bonds, but after the 1918 Russian October Revolution, these weren't worth a dime.
Then he advised Plant to massively invest in sugar, but almost instantly the world prices collapsed, and again he lost heavily...
Finally Plant threw himself in the stock market, but the 1929 Wall Street crash finally broke his financial back.
He muddled on another ten years, but in 1940 the bank sold his estate to three investors. These established a company to bottle the spring water, and Plant himself was graciously allowed to live in his home until the end of his days.
Plant died in 1941, after having lived on his estate for 27 years.
In 1991, the Lakes Region Conservation Trust purchased the property and immediately sold some expensive lakefront sites, with which they recovered a large part of their investment.
At present, the surface of the domain is still 2,080 hectares or 5,140 acres.
check out their website : www.castleintheclouds.org