7 Castles You Didn’t Realize Were In Illinois

Illinois Castle

It’s rare to see an actual castle in the United States of America. Structures that bring to mind Medieval and Renaissance Europe are often difficult to imagine in the USA. However, there are several castles throughout the USA. The state of Illinois has many, and many are worth visiting.

7. Cook Hall in Normal

Like many college campuses in the United States that were built in the late nineteenth century, Illinois State University has a castle on its Normal, Illinois campus. The University’s gymnasium was built between 1885 and 1886. The structure reminds one of the castles in Britain and Germany. The style is called Altgeld in honor of Illinois’ Governor John Peter Altgeld. The majestic stone building features gothic style turrets with towers and battlement. “The Old Castle” opened in 1886. The building was designed by local architects, Miller and Fisher. The building features Bedford limestone and is completely fireproof. For its fiftieth anniversary in 1936, the class of 1886 renamed the building Cook Hall in honor or of the University’s President John Cook. Today Cook Hall houses the University’s music facilities.

6. Stronghold Camp and Retreat Center in Oregon

Stronghold Camp and Retreat Center in Oregon, Illinois has a main building that is built like a castle sitting on acres of beautiful property along the Rocky River. Walter A. Strong, the owner and publisher of The Chicago Daily News, purchased the property in 1928 and built his dream summer home to be a castle. Strong quarried the stone for the castle and it was completed in 1931. Strong’s children sold the castle and property to the Presbytarian Church after their father’s death soon after the home was completed. In 1963 the Church opened the land to Christian and secular programs. The land now has 7 retreat houses, cabins, a camping area, and dining and meeting rooms. Groups come to the Stronghold Camp for retreats, church picnics, summer camps, business meetings, a challenge course, and seminars. The castle is also a popular wedding venue. Group tours are offered throughout the year.

5. Altgeld Hall Castle in DeKalb

Altgeld Hall Castle is another University castle building built in 1895. This castle structure was one of the first buildings at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. The style is typical Altgeld style, Tudor, German, and Gothic. The building was meant to be unique to the campus and a bit different from the other Altgeld style castles built on University campuses during the late nineteenth century. The building was housed classrooms and the University library for decades. Today it is home to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb’s administrative office. Students call Altgeld Hall the “Castle On the Hill”.

4. Wayne Dunham Castle in Wayne

Wayne Dunham Castle is a beautiful French Chateaux style home surrounded by a horse farm located in Wayne, Illinois in the Charles area along the Fox River. The land, called Oak Lawn Farm was in the Dunham family since the 1830’s. Mark Dunham inherited the land in the 1880’s and began building his family home in 1883. Mark Dunham loved breeding horses and expanded the land to 2,000 acres to breed French Draft horses. His love of and visits to France and the Loire Valley led him to build a French Chateaux style castle on the land to become his family’s home. Dunham worked with architect Smith Hoag to create the magnificent Chateaux style Castle that was made with limestone and brick with a magnificent turret and a colored slate roof. Dunham decorated the castle with French antiques, tapestries, artwork, and parquet flooring. Dunham’s home and land were handed down through several generations. At one point the castle was turned into an Inn. Eventually the property was sold out of the Dunham Family. In 1950 the land became a riding club and the home was converted into 4 apartments. It’s since been returned to a single family home. The horse farm continues to attract visitors.

3. Bettendorf Castle in Fox River Grove

The magnificent Bettendorf Castle is located in Fox River Grove, Illinois. The castle was a dream of Theodore “Teddy” Bettendorf, a native of Luxemburg. As a young boy Bettendorf paid close attention to the masonry skills of the builders in his native Luxembourg. When he came to the United States of America in 1931, Bettendorf aspired to build a beautiful castle like the ones he grew up admiring in Europe. It took many years to build, and Bettendorf collected stones from Illinois farm fields, quarries, and lakes, but he built an amazing castle. The Bettendorf Castle features a water filled moat, a working drawbridge, an observation tower, and a wishing well. Today Bettendorf Castle also features an outdoor fire place and an outdoor bathroom. The venue is used today for weddings, children and adult educational events, yoga classes, and tours with small and private groups who wish to learn about the history of Bettendorf Castle, the efforts to preserve the castle, and the renovations that have happened over the decades since Teddy Bettendorf created his dream.

2. Ravenstone Castle in Harvard

Ravenstone Castle is located on a hillside in Harvard, Illinois. It was the dream of Jose and Rose Michel to build a sixteenth century style castle. The Michel’s began building their dream castle with their children in 2001. The family spent years building the castle from the ground up. Today Ravenstone Castle is the host to several events, tours, and wedding events. The beautiful Ravenstone Castle is everything of a Princess’ dream. The architecture is classic European castle style, including a turret. Inside the Michel family have decorated the rooms with international antiques. Each of the rooms has a unique theme. Ravenstone Castle also serves as a Bed and Breakfast. The 3 guest rooms include the Queen Elizabeth Room, the King Arthur Room, and the Egyptian Suite. Breakfast included is English style. Along with accommodating wedding parties, Ravenstone Castle offers events including Tapestries, Tea and Tarts, Butterfly Faire, Autumn and Halloween Faires, and Christmas at the Castle.

1. Water Tower in Chicago

The Water Tower in Chicago is probably the most well known castle in Illinois. The Water Tower is a Chicago landmark. The castle like structure was built in 1869 to surround the city’s pumping station which pumped water from Lake Michigan. The structure is 182.5 feet tall and protects the 138 foot stand pipe that holds the water pumped in from the Great Lake. William W. Boyington designed the Water Tower and used yellowing Lemont limestone to build it. The Chicago Water Tower is the only structure in the area to survive the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 when every other structure in the area burned to the ground. The Water Tower is located in a prominent spot on Michigan Avenue and is a prominent structure in the city. In 1918 a plaza and small park was built around the Water Tower. The Chicago Water Tower has been renovated twice, in 1913 and again in 1978. It’s the second oldest Water Tower in the USA behind Louisville’s Water tower. It remains an iconic symbol of Chicago.

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