Shoe magnate Thomas G. Plant once wrote, with considerable understatement, that his New Hampshire hideaway was "an estate for a man who enjoys big things."
And there's no denying that his dream home, now a tourist attraction known as Castle in the Clouds, is built on an epic scale.
Here, atop a 1,300-foot-high hilltop overlooking the vast confusion of island-dotted bays and waterways that form Lake Winnipesaukee, Plant built his stately pleasure dome. Using granite stones and oak beams, artisans labored three years to build an eagle's nest of a home, a place where Plant and his new wife could sit and survey their woodsy wonderland.
Plant has long since died, but his rock-solid, castlelike home still stands. And for the hundreds of lowlanders who flock daily to the home Plant called Lucknow and to the thousands of acres of woods and mountains that surround it, Castle in the Clouds is a peak experience.
Here at the edge of an ancient volcano, the views are as expansive as anything you'd get from a flying carpet: the green forests, the nearby hamlets, numerous islands. The Belknap Mountains rise on the southern horizon.
Visitors can tour the old mansion, saddle up for rides through the mountains, hike to waterfalls and dramatic lookouts, or toss handfuls of Purina Trout Chow to the giant rainbows that swim in the waters of Shannon Pond.
The castle itself is the biggest draw. Crowds gawk at the sturdy stone edifice Plant moved into in 1914. The millionaire, who began working at a menial job in a shoe factory at the age of 13, showed such ingenuity and creativity that he owned the business by 27. He soon purchased additional factories, retired at the age of 50 and began planning his home in the sky.
Most of Castle in the Clouds' granite building blocks are shaped like pentagons. It reportedly took a stonemason a full day to shape and lay three stones; at one point Plant employed about 1,000 stonecutters.
Inside, a self-guided tour leads through the old kitchen and pantry, dining room, game room, bedrooms and the library. And there's even a secret room, reached by a hidden door.
The dramatic library, guarded by a pair of griffins carved from a block of mahogany, is filled with Napoleonic memorabilia _ statues, portraits, and prints of the emperor leading his troops. Besides a knack for empire building, Plant and Napoleon shared a height of about 5 feet.
Plant's old home has taken on a new luster of late. New owners, a water-bottling firm, have commissioned the rebuilding of a massive oak arbor, restored the floors and painted the walls. They also constructed a plant to bottle the crystalline waters bubbling up out of numerous springs on Faraway Mountain.
This spring is one of many rising in the volcanic stone of the Ossipees; Plant's property comprises the entire watershed for many of the springs that gurgle to the surface on the grounds of his former estate.
Much of the water pooled in the rock-walled cistern is then channeled toward the bottling plant by an underground pipeline. The rest, with other streams, culminates at the Falls of Song, a popular sightseeing spot on the castle grounds.