Did you know that a within a fairly short drive from the Seacoast of New Hampshire is a forgotten German castle with an uncertain future and ghost stories to match? The story is that of Kimball Castle in Gilford. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, yet the castle has no electricity or running water. Sadly the windows are boarded up and the five bedrooms, two bathrooms and adjoining servants' quarters all need repair and extensive restoration.
In 1895 Benjamin Ames Kimball purchased 300 acres on Lockes Hill, set out on Belknap Point. Spectacular views from the castle encompassed 300 degrees of "The Broads" of Lake Winnipesaukee. It took two years (1897-1899) and $50,000 to complete the castle. Kimball was president of the Concord & Montreal Railroad during an era when there was great upheaval in the industry due to consolidations and mergers. Historians say the building design copies a castle along the Rhine River in Germany that Kimball spotted while on vacation. Kimball spent winters in Concord at the mansion that still stands in front of the Capital Theatre on Main Street. In the summer he moved to Gilford and had a railroad station built down the hill from his property so he could commute to and from work in his private rail car. Kimball died in 1919.
The estate remained with the family until 1960 when Charlotte Kimball, Benjamin's daughter-in-law and last heir, died. Charlotte stipulated in her will that the property never be used for commercial purposes. She left the estate and several hundred thousand dollars to a charitable foundation with the stipulation that they create a nature preserve on the site. The preserve was never created and in 1981 the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office took control of the land and offered it to the Town of Gilford if they could save the Castle and create the preserve.
Various town committees studied the site for years but voters decided they did not want town money spent restoring the Castle. Finally, the Attorney General threatened to take the property back if the Town did not make some progress. In 1990 the Town convinced the Attorney General that the best way to carry out the goals of Charlotte Kimball's will was to remove the stipulation against commercial development on the land surrounding the Castle and subdivide it off. The Town then created the Locke's Hill Nature Preserve on the remaining 260 acres and laid out hiking and skiing trails on it. Today the castle is in pretty sad shape and was recently put up for sale. The current owner had hoped to create a landmark Hotel similar to the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield or the Balsams in Dixville Notch. The property needs extensive repair and it seems as though their majestic days have passed like the summer breezes do across lake Winnipesaukee.
As the breezes flow in and out of this drafty castle the stories of otherworldly inhabitants are whispered. I have heard that the grave of their prized thoroughbred horse (who is buried on the grounds) is haunted and that strange apparitions have been seen in that area, yet when approached they seem to disappear. People have stated that they have felt a presence in and around the house and believed that someone was watching them, and many cold spots have been discovered throughout the castle. I have also heard that a former caretaker reported that large heavy doors would open an close at will most unexpectedly. Also strange lights have been seen in the former sewing room of Mrs. Kimball. The kitchen is said to be a very active area for whatever presence that still inhabits the castle with sightings of a silent, mysterious woman wandering about. Perhaps if there are ghosts they are most unhappy about the many years of vandalism that took their toll during the 60's and 70's when the castle was stripped by vandals who have took every piece of rare tapestries, hand crafted furniture, and exquisite paintings from the castle. The gates were ripped off their supports and even a fireplace mantel from one of the bedrooms was taken. Also, the oak banisters on the balcony were stolen and all of the four dragon gargoyles on the castle's parapets were taken. Certainly enough to make any spirit, alive or dead upset.
The castle grounds are basically off-limits to the public and visitors are not allowed without prior permission. You can visit Lockes Hill which was once part of the Kimball estate, and is now the Kimball Wildlife Forest, preserved for the study and enjoyment of wildlife habitat. A two-mile trail loops over the summit of Lockes Hill and provides gorgeous views of approximately 40 islands in Lake Winnipesaukee. You can find the trailhead on Route 11 in Gilford. I visited the castle last month and found that it's terrace gardens have been overthrown by tall grasses and weeds. The windows are boarded up tight with it's memories locked inside. Seeing this place makes you feel as though you stumbled upon it in the middle of the woods. It has been forgotten to all except for time, which is having it's way with it. visit www.kimballcastle.com
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