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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

You don't have to leave Kansas City to see castles — or live out your fairytale fantasy

 Exterior view of Workhouse Castle
Esther Honig
The long abandoned Workhouse Castle, in the 18th and Vine Jazz District, is one of a handful of Kansas City-area castles.

Although the Midwest isn't exactly known for its medieval history, the Kansas City region has still acquired some sprawling, fortress-inspired buildings over the last 150 years. Some are well maintained and still used as homes, while others are crumbling but fascinating relics.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure! newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

When you think of Kansas City and its surrounding areas, castles are probably not the first thing that come to mind.

But the Midwest is still home to some sprawling, medieval-inspired estates, commissioned by wealthy people who wanted a home suited for royalty. Some are well maintained and still used as homes, while others are crumbling but fascinating relics.

Take a drive around the region to see some of Kansas City’s coolest castles on both sides of the state line.

Sauer Castle

Christina Lieffring

Sauer Castle is one of the most famous in the area. Located in Kansas City Kansas, the Italianate villa is in numerous guidebooks, and it’s got a spot on the Atlas Obscura website and its own Wikipedia page.

An architectural gem, the house was built in 1871, and sits on the national and state registry of historic homes. Sauer Castle originally included a winery, grape arbor, bakery and schoolhouse. Today it’s surrounded by tall aluminum fencing and has lost a great deal of its majesty.

Hopefully, this will hopefully not last for long. The property avoided a tax sale a couple of months ago. According to Fox4, the castle has a new owner, a Johnson County construction executive, who vows to rehabilitate the home.

The Sauer Castle is also the subject of numerous websites dedicated to ghost sightings and haunted houses, which detail urban legends that have captivated locals throughout the years.

Legends say that a woman hanged herself from the tower, a man supposedly murdered his family and killed himself in the castle, and so on. And reportedly, the original owner Anton Sauer and several of his family members passed away in the house.

Although the site is currently a private home and visitors are not allowed on the property, it won’t hurt to look from afar.

Caenen Castle

 Exterior view of Caenen Castle.
Aaron Leimkuhler
Caenen Castle in Shawnee, Kansas was built as a private home, but has served many purposes since 1907.

This castle in Shawnee, Kansas, has seen a number of changes since its construction in 1907. Up until 2019, it housed Chef Renee Kelly’s restaurant and catering service. But nowadays, it is home to Wandering Vine, a romantic wine and dining experience.

Originally, the castle served as home to a big family of Belgium immigrants. Wealthy farmer Remi Caenen built the house with stones he quarried by hand, and it took two years to complete his masterpiece. Caenen was a dairy farmer who bought and sold farmland in the region.

According to the Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department, after the Caenen family moved out of the house in 1925, it changed hands multiple times and served as a “nursing home for the mentally disturbed,” a nightclub and a Halloween haunted house.

Workhouse Castle

 Exterior view of Workhouse Castle
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Architects A. Wallace Love and James Oliver Hog designed the Romanesque revival style castle in 1897 located in Kansas City’s 18th and Vine District as a place to lock up ne’er do wells.

Over a century ago, Kansas Citians did have a way to live in a castle if they wanted to go that route. Commit a petty crime in just the right jurisdiction, and voila, pick a room! (Or more likely, have one picked up for you.)

Architects A. Wallace Love and James Oliver Hog designed the Romanesque revival style castle in 1897 located in Kansas City’s 18th and Vine District as a place to lock up ne’er do wells. Until its closure in 1924, the jail housed both men (who had to perform handyman-type public works jobs) and women (who sewed prison uniforms).

After serving as a storage facility and Marine training camp, the site was ultimately abandoned in the 1970s.

In 2014, there was a concerted effort by locals to clean up the site and turn it into a venue and community center. But despite the work of over 350 volunteers, the project fizzled and the site remains abandoned today.

In 2022, according to Flatland, developers from UrbanAmerica and the Eighteenth and Vine Redevelopment Corp. proposed turning the workhouse into a 60-room boutique hotel and event space. It is unclear where developers are on this project, but it is still listed on UrbanAmerica’s “Active Projects” page.

There is a fence around the castle, so if you visit you will have to take photos from the street.

Weatherby Lake Castle

 Exterior view of Weatherby Lake castle
Anne Kniggendorf
KCUR 89.3
Weatherby Lake castle was inspired by a castle in Ireland.

According to Zillow, this lovely lakeside castle sold in 2021 for more than $3 million. Like a couple of other castles on the list, this castle still serves a someone’s home.

Built on three lots overlooking Weatherby Lake, this massive 15,000 square-foot mansion has 10 bathrooms!

According to The Kansas City Star, a couple built the structure in the early 1990s, taking inspiration from a castle in Ireland that has since been converted to a hotel.

Every bit of the house is custom-made: Gothic-style front doors, wrought iron gates, the intricate wooden handrails and stairs. All that's missing from this medieval-style home is a moat — although, does Weatherby Lake count?

Tiffany Castle

 Exterior view of Tiffany Castle
Brian Spillane
Tiffany Castle in Kessler Park was built in 1908 and features battlements and a three-story tower.

If you’ve ever taken a gander at the homes near Kessler Park in Kansas City’s Pendleton Heights neighborhood, you’ll likely have stumbled upon Tiffany Castle.

The historic-landmark home at 100 Garfield Avenue sits on the bluffs overlooking Cliff Drive. According to an article by Northeast News, Flavel B. Tiffany, one of Kansas City’s first eye doctors and a native of New York, commissioned architect Clifton C. Sloane to design the home in 1908.

The Northeast News says Tiffany was struck by castles he saw on his travels in England and Scotland, and he wanted his home to resemble them. The house was built of quarried limestone and features battlements and a three-story tower.

Today, the castle is a private residence. The current owners are fixing up the place and the landscaping is immaculate. You can keep up with the castle improvements on its Facebook page.

Coronado Heights Castle

 Exterior view of Coronado Heights
Doug Stremel
Kansas Tourism
Coronado Heights sits on a hilltop outside Lindsborg, Kansas looking out over the Smoky Hill river valley.

This bizarre structure kind of looks like a chunky, medieval-style cottage. It is located in Coronado Heights Park — a scenic, isolated hill that overlooks the Smoky Hill river valley a few miles northwest of Lindsborg, Kansas.

The park is about a three-hour drive from Kansas City, but other than the beautiful views and castle, there is not much to it. If you’re road tripping on I-70 headed west, Coronado Heights would be a great place to stop for a picnic lunch to enjoy the park’s stone picnic tables, fireplaces and walking and biking trails.

The actual “castle” structure was built in 1930 by the Works Progress Administration. According to the Kansas Travel website, the building is made out of Dakota limestone and the view is “reminiscent of the view from Sterling Castle in Scotland.”

Wichita-Sedgewick County Historical Museum

 Pen and ink drawing of the castle-like Wichita City Hall.
Wichita-Sedgewick County Historical Museum
The Wichita-Sedgewick County Historical Museum used to the home for Wichita's City Hall, known as the "Palace of the Plains."

This castle-like building used to be Wichita’s City Hall. Now, it is the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, home to more than 80,000 artifacts relating to Wichita and Sedgwick County.

Once known as the “Palace of the Plains,” the building was completed in 1892. The building is striking, with several turrets and a tall, whimsical-looking clock tower.

Some of the museum’s exhibits date back as far as 1865. A particularly memorable one is the “Wichita Cottage,” an area staged to look like an elaborate, victorian-style home of the 19th century.

To plan your visit, follow this link to the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum's website.

Nichols Hall

 Exterior view of Nichols Hall
Kansas State University
Nichols Hall, on the campus of Kansas State University, was built in 1911, destroyed by fire in 1968, and rebuilt in 1980.

If you’re a current or former KSU student, I’m sure you know this one! Nichols Hall is a large, impressive building on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Nichols Hall was built in 1911 as a gymnasium, complete with swimming pools, a basketball court and office space for the military science and physical education departments.

According to KSU’s website, the building was designed to be castle-esque, as was the tradition at the time for buildings used by the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. In 1968, the building was allegedly set on fire by a person protesting the Vietnam War. Only its shell remained. In 1980, building off of and around the remains, the hall was reconstructed.

The hall is now home to several arts and sciences departments, a theater, and more. If you’d like to take a look around, consider attending a student performance at the Mark A. Chapman Theatre, housed inside of Nichols.

Chateau Charmant

 Exterior view Chateau Charmant
Bonnie Palmer
Chateau Charmant
Chateau Charmant, inspired by 13th century France, was built in Fordland, Missouri, in the 2000s.

Have you ever dreamed of a fairytale wedding? Well, this charming castle is probably the wedding venue of your dreams. Located in the southern Missouri town of Fordland, about three hours from Kansas City, theChateau Charmantlooks like something straight out of your fantasy.

The 10,000 sq. foot castle was constructed in the early 2000s by owners Bonnie and Robert Palmer, who moved from southern California to the town of fewer than 1,000 people. The couple still lives in a small apartment in the castle, which was inspired by 13th century France.

If you’d like to visit but don’t have wedding bells in your future, that’s OK. The Palmers offer tours by appointment only on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Although it’s located in a pretty rural area, the Palmers have a great list of where to visit when you’re in town.

In addition to weddings and tours, there are all kinds of fun events at Chateau Charmant. For example, in September, there is a live-action performance of Rapunzel, complete with a vendor’s fair and wood carving competition.

Ha Ha Tonka ruins

 Exterior view of the Ha Ha Tonka ruins
Missouri State Parks
Ruins of an old mansion in Ha Ha Tonka State Park give off castle vibes, high atop the bluffs at the Lake of the Ozarks.

So this one is not necessarily a castle. It’s the ruins of a stone mansion that gives castle vibes — but it is definitely worth the three-hour drive. Nestled near a branch of the Lake of the Ozarks, Ha Ha Tonka State Park offers lots of breathtaking views and hikes.

The ruins sit high up on a rocky bluff that overlooks what is now a portion of the Lake of the Ozarks. The home, a massive European-style mansion, was the vision of Kansas City businessman Robert McClure Snyder.

According to Missouri State Parks, Snyder began construction on the home in 1905. But the project was halted a year later though, when Synder tragically died in one of Missouri’s first automobile accidents. His sons completed building the estate in 1922, but it was not as elaborate as their father had originally planned.

After some time, the mansion was leased as a hotel. In 1942, it caught on fire, stripping the castle of its former glory. Most of the walls still stand though, and against the lush forest and rocky slopes, it’s a stunning sight.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park has lots of other wonders, too, like a natural bridge, sinkholes, caves, and a turquoise spring.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga reports on health disparities in access and health outcomes in both rural and urban areas.
Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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