Chateau Laroche, Loveland Castle
"Chateau Laroche was built as an expression and reminder of the simple strength and rugged grandeur of the mighty men who lived when Knighthood was in flower. It was their knightly zeal for honor, valor and manly purity that lifted mankind out of the moral midnight of the dark ages, and started it towards a gray dawn of human hope." - from the foreword, "Chateau Laroche" booklet
The history of Chateau Laroche has gotten hazy, given that its builder, Harry Andrews, has been dead for decades. Three facts, however, seem pretty clear: Harry built an imposing European-style castle by himself, Harry had a low opinion of the modern world, and Harry really enjoyed the company of young men.
Harry was, by several accounts, a genius -- according to Harry Andrews and His Castle: A Rhetorical Study by Thomas A. Michel, Andrews was "said to have spoken seven different languages and to have had an IQ of 189."
Harry objected to modern warfare -- killing at a distance. He preferred sword-to-sword medieval combat. He served as a medic in World War I, contracted spinal meningitis, and was declared dead. By the time that he was declared undead -- six months later -- his fiance had married another man. Harry seems not to have minded; he stayed in Europe, visiting castles. He steered clear of women, period.
Harry eventually returned to Ohio, worked for a local newspaper, and taught a Sunday school class of boys. He bought a plot of land along the Little Miami River, northeast of Cincinnati, so that his young friends could camp, fish, boat, swim, and "have little parties." He called his group the Knights of the Golden Trail and vowed to build them a castle. That was in 1929. Harry was still building it when those boys were grandfathers, 52 years later.
It was just a hobby at first; an hour or so a week when Harry wasn't busy doing something else (such as supervising WPA construction projects in the 1930s). In 1954 he left the Sunday school and in 1955 he retired from the newspaper -- at age 65 -- to begin castle-building in earnest. The "experts" told Harry that he couldn't do it, but he did it anyway.
He was firmly in the grip of dementia concretia and lived at the site, and eventually in the castle, for the rest of his life.
Harry was inexhaustible. He built a road to the Loveland Castle, flattened all the land around it so that he could plant a garden and an orchard, laid out a drainage system, built a wall along the road, dug a moat and a dungeon -- a dungeon so secure that the state civilian defense director called it safest bomb shelter in the entire state of Ohio.
Harry tallied all of his accomplishments for posterity: 2,600 sacks of cement, 32,000 quart milk cartons for concrete bricks, 54,000 five-gallon buckets of dirt, 56,000 pail-fulls of stone. Visitor totals: 50,531 in 1980, over a million in 25 years. The visitor list, still posted on the castle's kitchen wall, was neatly typed by Harry until he died, but has been handwritten ever since (the Knights have apparently been too busy to hone their office skills).
Much of the castle, especially the dungeon, has the musty, wet concrete smell of your grandfather's garage or basement. The front door is made of three layers of wood studded with 2,530 nails, "in order to prevent anyone from chopping through with an ax."
Displays include a suit of armor, a small piece of the Berlin Wall, and a copy of the Andrews family coat-of-arms "granted by King Henry VIII in 1534." A videotape of Harry's TV interviews, including his appearance on Real People with Sarah Purcell, runs continually on a TV on the second floor. The castle toilet is made of concrete bricks.
Its only nod to the ladies is a small room in the tallest tower; Harry writes in the guidebook that, "In old castles such a room was used to imprison women." Pictures of the Knights, hairy high school kids from the 1970s, hang on a wall.
What about those Knights, the young men for whom Harry built the castle and to whom it was willed when he died? "Nothing that God ever made on the earth is more awe inspiring and heart warming than the sight of a noble youth just budding into manhood," Harry wrote. "Any man of high ideals who wishes to help save civilization is invited to become a member of the Knights of the Golden Trail."
Harry ascribed the "manly purity" of knights, in part, for ending the Dark Ages, and noted that "present human decadence proves a need for similar action." "Courageous men of might," he insisted, "saved (and will save again) mankind from total degradation and degeneration."
One would think that such "mighty men" would at least have hauled some of Harry's buckets over the years, but by Harry's own account he did over 99 percent of the work, and he worked into his 90s.
"If he was here," said the Knight behind the front desk, "he'd get that roof finished. He'd fix that hill." The Knights of today, while nowhere near as driven to build, still aspire to be as steadfast and pure as Harry, who wanted his boys to follow the Ten Commandments (tablets inscribed on a 2nd-story room's wall), avoid smoking, drinking, and premarital sex. When he caught "young punks" smoking dope in the dungeon or fornicating in the upper turrets, he would order them to leave the castle.
Harry's last years in his stone fortress were not all pleasant. He was besieged by unnamed tormenters who stole his jams and preserves, his radio, his clock. Donations were regularly pilfered from his donation box until he nailed it shut -- then someone stole the whole box. "Prowlers at night are likely to be greeted with a load of buckshot," Harry wrote, but at age 90 he was beaten with his own gun. The Knights, oddly, are nowhere in this narrative.
In early April, 1981, at age 91, Harry was either cooking or burning garbage on the roof of his castle. He had a pistol stuck in his back pocket -- he was a frightened man. The wind shifted, his polyester pants caught fire, and Harry was so preoccupied with getting the gun out of his pants that the fire burned up his legs. He died 16 days later of gangrene.
The ownership of the castle immediately passed to the Knights, who live there to this day, host events, and maintain it as a tourist attraction. It was an ignoble end, one that might have been avoided. Harry received a lot of press over the years. One story mentioned that he was single. As a result he received, by his own accounting, more than fifty proposals of marriage from "widows and old maids who wanted to live in the castle." He turned all of them down.