If someone described to you the Lexington castle, you would call them a liar. You would say there was no way that a fully formed, turreted, walled, drawbridged, Medieval Times-esque castle was sitting in a field off a rural thoroughfare leading between Lexington, Kentucky’s second largest city, and Versailles, Kentucky’s 42nd. But there it definitely is, massive and gray and inexplicable.
You can’t approach it, the whole ground is fenced off and papered with No Trespassing signs. The gates are protected by a security system. People in passing cars look at you suspiciously as you slink along the outer fence snapping pictures.
Here’s the story:
In 1968, Rex and Caroline Martin went on a vacation. Travelling through Western Europe the couple fell in love, like all provincial American plutocrats, with their forebears’ musty, crumbling, crenulated castles. And so, upon their return, they started building a castle on a patch of ground outside of their hometown of Lexington.
Over the next six years, the outer walls went up, gates were built, towers raised; plans called for 7 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, 3 dining rooms, tennis courts, and an Italian fountain. But in 1975, with in only the castle’s shell completed, Caroline and Rex got divorced and all work on the castle ceased. Not because the divorce stripped Rex of all his money (he stresses to interviewers), but because the relationship he was building the castle to honor was now severed. You can build Boldt Castle for a beloved wife, Coral Castle for a lost wife, and the Taj Mahal for a dead wife, but you can’t really build a monument to the wife who left you because you were a megalomaniac who took her passing remark that she “would like to live in a castle” far too literally.
Broken-hearted, Rex Martin abandoned the project without ever living there. For more than 10 years, the castle sat fallow, the walls decaying and the outer turrets starting to list precariously, the stony hulk a bizarre local landmark to his grief. In 1988, he put the castle on the market, asking only a pittance when compared to the millions he had spent on it. But even when investors showed up wanting to turn the castle into a museum or art gallery or bed and breakfast, he never seemed to be able to part with the structure. He’d let the offers get tangled up in local bureaucracy, stop returning phone calls, dither about the price. Whatever happened between him and Caroline, it transformed the castle they had been building together into some sort of black hole of depression from which Rex, no matter what else he may have done with his life, was never able to free himself either by completing it, destroying it, or being rid of it.
And so it sat there, a rotting, decaying, significantly insane photo-op for passing tourists. During a Royal visit to Lexington, Queen Elizabeth actually drove out to see the half-finished castle that the locals kept telling her about. Instead of impressed, however, the Queen was offended. When her Royal secretary was asked about it by the local media, he called it “an Americanized Mickey Mouse castle,” and that he and the queen “expected Donald Duck to look over the ramparts at anytime.”
In 2003, at the age of 83, Rex Martin finally died, and his children set about—for the first time—trying to sell the castle in earnest. Within less than a year, they sold it for $1.4 million to a Kentucky-born, Miami-residing tax attorney and real estate developer named Thomas Post. Unlike Martin, Post didn’t care about Caroline, he didn’t care about lost love, he didn’t care about the misery of divorce. He immediately set to work finishing what Martin had started: fixing the turrets, finishing the tennis courts, and turning the cavernous void of the house into
Only a few months after the work began, however, the castle burst into flames.
The central house burned nearly to the ground. The gatehouses and towers were severely damaged. Police were pretty sure the fire was the result of arson, but they were never able to pin the crime on anyone in particular.
Regardless, Post refused to give into the obvious will of God that the castle remain forever a pit of despair. He rebuilt the house, he repaired the towers and gates, he installed the long-planned but never competed tennis courts, swimming pool, and obnoxious fountain.
In 2008, after almost a half-decade’s work, the caste, renamed “Castle Post,” opened its doors as a ultra-luxury bed and breakfast for the millionaires who flock to Lexington every year for the horse races.
The success of that business model is questionable, as Post put the castle back on the market in 2010 – now asking for a staggering $30,000,000 – but at present the B&B is still operating. You can rent a room there for anywhere between $200 and $420 dollars a night. And the interior shots of the place (which you can see at the B&B’s website) make it look truly spectacular.
But for all the millions dumped into it, for all the love and heartbreak and disappointment, for all the oohs and ahhhs you’ll get for posting a picture of it on Facebook, it’s hard to deny that the perfectly square, perfectly concrete monument isn’t exactly what Queen Elizabeth’s secretary said it was—a parody of a castle, a dim imitation built by over-rich peasants who have no earthly need for castles except as ways to flaunt their wealth or prove their doubtful love.
(Much of the information for this article came from the marvelous, if a little reactionary, website DuPont Castle.com which collects all sorts of tidbits about all of America’s bizarre attempts to replicate medieval European fortresses.)