Historic Structures

Kimball Castle, Gilford New Hampshire

Date added: September 13, 2016 Categories: New Hampshire House Mansion

As a boy in Penacook, N.H., Benjamin A. Kimball (1833-1920) early showed an interest in mechanics. In his teens, he studied the building and operation of locomotives. So, it was not surprising, that after graduating from Dartmouth in 1854, Kimball went to work in the shops of the Concord Railroad. After two years as a draftsman, he became superintendent of the locomotive department. By the age of 26, Kimball was the railroad's master mechanic and a designer of locomotives. In 1865, he resigned to help found the firm of Ford & Kimball. This Concord, N.H., firm manufactured railroad car wheels, and other brass and iron products. Kimball prospered financially and socially. He served on the boards of banks, utilities, his college, other businesses and institutions. . He was elected to the state legislature and the Governor's Council. But his chief interest was still railroads. In 1879, he returned to the Concord RR as a director. This was the period of railroad consolidation in New England and Kimball was a leading figure in that-movement. He is credited with arranging the 1889 merger of the Concord RR with the Boston, Concord & Montreal RR. The resulting Concord & Montreal RR was until its absorption into the Boston & Maine RR system, the dominant railroad in New Hampshire. During the years in which Kimball guided-its affairs, the Concord & Montreal RR improved-its equipment and facilities, built new branch lines, and promoted tourist travel in the White Mountains and the Lakes Region. (Kimball served as its president from 1895 until the takeover by the B&M RR in 1919) Benjamin A. Kimball was, in his last years, the most important railroad man in the state. Because of his leadership, the New Hampshire railroads became a coordinated and flourishing system. His career well represented the heyday of the railroad in New Hampshire and New England.

One subsidiary line of the Concord & Montreal RR was the Lake Shore RR built in 1890 from Lakeport to Alton Bay along the south shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. Two years later, the Kimballs bought their first parcel of land on Locke's Hill near the Belknap Point station of the Lake Shore RR. In 1891, construction of Kimball Castle began on this hillside site, which commanded what was regarded as perhaps the finest view in the region. It would be Benjamin Kimball's summer home until his death. (Indeed, Kimball died in his Castle on July 25, 1920.) A biographer noted that "Mr. Kimball and his family divided- quite equally their time" between their Concord winter home and their Gilford summer-residence.

Kimball Castle was not the first summer home built in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. The development of the area as a summer resort had begun years before. But, the Castle and its outbuildings are one of the few survivors of an important early phase of that development the building of summer estates by the wealthy. Many other such estates once existed in the area. But their buildings have been destroyed or altered, and their lands subdivided. Kimball Castle was one of the few late 19th century summer estates that still remained with its main house and service buildings intact and virtually unaltered. It is representative of an aspect of American history which is not listed in the "areas of significance" above but which is nevertheless important the growth of seasonal resorts and tourism. For some areas, such as the lakes and mountain regions of New Hampshire, the summer resort business has become a dominant industry, and seasonal homes a major land use.

After Kimball's death, Samuel Powers who had often visited him at the Castle, told the following story of its design. "Many years ago Mr. Kimball made his first trip up the German Rhine. As he sat upon the steamer's deck viewing the vine-clad slopes on either side of the river, he finally came into view of the castles built by the Barons of the Middle Ages and located on the highest parts of the land on either side of the river. It was then that the thought came to him; that he would like to build a castle similar to those, upon a promotory which he owned on the southerly bank of Lake Winnipesaukee; and so he made a landing, secured an architect and arranged with him to make plans for a castle which suited his fancy." Powers claimed that Kimball Castle "is an exact reproduction of the one that he selected upon the banks of the Rhine."

As yet, no particular German castle has been identified as the model for Kimball Castle. And its design is more a free adaptation of the castle idea than "an exact reproduction". The need to light the interior and open the view from the porch forced Kimball to breach the monolithic walls with windows and open arches. And the interiors are more 19th century American than medieval. Nevertheless, the use of the castle style was an unusual step. The Medieval styles were a rich source of motifs and designs for American residential architecture for over a century. And the castle model was used for public buildings, particularly armories. But, few Americans built castles for their homes. (In New Hampshire, only a handful of homes, such as Searles Castle in Windham and Roxmont Castle in Moultonborough were based on the castle.) Kimball's Castle was therefore an imaginative use of a romantic site.