Saturday, August 9, 2008

Castle in the Clouds

This 16 room, arts and crafts style "castle in the clouds" was the home of shoe manufacturer, Thomas Gustave Plant, and his second wife Olive. The name they gave their mountaintop estate, "Lucknow," turned out to be something of a misnomer. Almost as soon as they moved into their new home in 1914, their considerable fortune began to dwindle, due to misguided investments, some made at the suggestion of Plant's pal and hunting buddy, Theodore Roosevelt. Plant died penniless in 1941. Lucknow was sold to settle debts. Olive moved back to her family in Illinois

Plant, who stood only 5 feet 1 inch tall, was a great admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte. In the library are the emperor's portrait, bust and copies of his battle plans. Also in the library, cut inconspicuously into the wood paneling, is the chair-rail-high doorway to Plant's secret room. During his lifetime, Plant possessed the only key and was the only one allowed in the tiny space. 

Other intriguing features of the home:

  • The kitchen floor is made from interlocking rubber puzzle pieces fitted together so snugly that no adhesive was needed.

  • Several of the bathrooms are equipped with "needle showers." These innovations of the late 19th century provided a flow of water not only from above but also via jet sprays from a series of ribcage-shaped pipes that nearly encircled the showerer.

  • In Plant's office, you can view a short-statured suit of armor which the diminutive millionaire enjoyed wearing to costume parties.

  • The game room features a large, built-in organ designed by the Aeolian Organ Company which could be played manually or mechanically. It's music was piped throughout the house via a series of ducts.

  • On Plant's orders, granite stones used to build the home were cut into pentagons., a task so labor-intensive that masons were able to complete only a few stones a day.

After touring Lucknow, visitors can enjoy lunch or a light snack in a renovated stall at the Carriage House Restaurant, the estate's former stable.

The tour is self-guided. Go at your own pace. Stay as long as you like. 

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