GILFORD, N.H. – For sale: Crumbling castle with commanding views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the threat of a wrecking ball in its near future.
Kimball Castle in Gilford — built by a wealthy railroad baron — is a shell of its former self and now up for sale for $799,000.
Once stunning in its grandeur and featured on postcards, the castle has long been neglected and is deemed by town officials to be “an unattractive nuisance” and an “extreme hazard.”
The Gilford Board of Selectmen earlier this year approved demolition by its owner — Kimball Castle Properties LLC.
The property is bound by a number of restrictive covenants that make prospects of finding a buyer bleak. Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the only thing a buyer could do with it is construct a 40-room inn and 75-seat restaurant — based on conditions attached to another prospective development plan from 1996. That plan failed to attract enough financial backing to go forward.
“Anything else would take agreement by the attorney general, the selectmen and the court,” Dunn said.
The medieval-style castle was built in the late 1890s by Benjamin Ames Kimball, who was president of the Boston, Montreal and Concord railways and had also served as president of several Concord banks. He designed the two-story granite edifice after castles he’d seen on Germany’s Rhine River.
Much of the stone was quarried from Locke’s Hill, atop which the castle sits on 20 acres. Until his death in 1920 at age 86, Kimball liked to sit on his stone deck gazing down upon the wide section of Lake Winnipesaukee known as “the broads.”
No Kimball has lived in the castle since Benjamin Kimball’s daughter-in-law died in 1960. She left the estate and about $400,000 to a charitable foundation, with the stipulation it create a nature preserve on the site and that the property not be used for commercial development.
The preserve was never created, the money vanished and, in 1981, New Hampshire’s attorney general took control of the land and offered it to the town of Gilford to create the preserve and save the castle.
By then, scarred and stripped of much of its woodwork by vandals, the castle was already badly deteriorated. Trespassers had left doors and windows open. The atrium skylight was destroyed and water had been pouring into the structure for years.
In 1980, then-town administrator Steve McCabe predicted, “It’s going to be the wrecking ball for the castle” unless someone steps in to save it.
No one did.
Gilford residents did not want to spend the money to reverse the castle’s decay.
Town administrators convinced the attorney general’s office that the only way to save the castle was to permit commercial development. The principle investors in the 1996 project — David and Mary Jodoin — are the sole partners in the Kimball Castle Properties LLC.
They not only received approval to raze the castle, but were ordered to by the town’s building inspector, David Andrade. The deadline was May 15, but the Jodoins have been granted two extensions — and now have until Oct. 15 — to demolish the castle and several buildings.
“Although it is very painful for me to impose this order on you as the castle holds historic and sentimental value to the community,” Andrade wrote, “due to the extreme hazards it presents, I find it necessary to protect the safety of all.”
The Board of Selectmen held a public hearing Wednesday on changes in the deed proposed by the owners, including ending the public’s right to access the property.