A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Beth Underwood: Like any good fairytale, the Kentucky Castle’s story is far from over

It’s not a horse farm or a basketball arena. Nor is it a bourbon distillery. Nevertheless, its one of Kentucky’s most memorable landmarks. For almost 50 years, The Kentucky Castle, located on the county line between Lexington and Versailles, has been turning heads and piquing the curiosity of all who pass by.

I was knee high to a grasshopper when construction began, but remember watching it come into being. One would’ve been hard pressed not to take notice of the structure. After all, a castle was the quintessential setting for daydreams of princes and princesses, knights in shining armor, and fairytale endings. Not to mention the fact that, tucked among horse farms and classic late 1960s/early ’70s southern architecture, it stuck out like a sore thumb.

As with most anomalies, rumors swirled and pressing questions lingered as we watched construction continue from a distance. Who was building the castle? Was there a moat around its perimeter? If there was a moat, was it filled with alligators from the Everglades? Was it true that this was the new summer home for the Queen of England? Would the castle ever be finished?

The short answer to the latter question was no. The structure remained unfinished for decades after the original owners divorced. Reportedly heartbroken, the husband held onto the property for years, finally listing it for sale in 1988. He died before the castle sold in 2003. The following year, shortly before the new owner completed major rebuilding, a massive fire burned most of the main structure to the ground. Officials ruled the cause of the blaze as probable arson.

At that time, more than 35 years had passed since construction began. The castle had come to represent the disappointment of unrealized dreams — of what could have been — in a very public way.

Even after opening for weddings and other private events 2008, the price tag for enjoying the property was out of reach for most of us peasants. It seemed the castle’s fate would’ve been better served in a storybook, where happy endings wait to be written.

Much like any good fairytale, though, the story isn’t over until it’s over.

In the last few years, the castle has undergone extensive work once again. In 2017, it sold to a group of investors — knights in shining armor, if you will — who were thinking what we’ve all been thinking for almost half a century: it was time to lower the drawbridge.

Now a hotel and restaurant, a venue for craft fairs, farmers’ markets, concerts, and other assorted soirées, the castle has a certain storybook glow about it.

Oh, sure, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed to discover there’s not a moat. But there was a lily pond, which means frogs can’t be far behind. And we all know what happens when we kiss our fair share of frogs. Suffice to say at long last, it looks as if the castle might live happily ever after, after all.

Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.

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