Castle in the Clouds
August 31, 2011
Text by Paula M. Bodah Photography by Nathan Eikelberg
Thomas Plant’s mansion stands out, and not just because it sits high in the Ossipee Mountains, with views across to neighboring peaks and down to Lake Winnipesaukee. “Lucknow,” as Plant called the house he built in 1914, was an original from the moment its owner conceived of it.
Born in 1859 into modest circumstances, Plant was smart, inventive and ambitious. As a young man he apprenticed in a shoe factory. By the end of the 1800s, he owned what might well have been the largest shoe manufacturer in the world—the Thomas G. Plant Company in Boston—and ranked among the nation’s wealthiest men.
Despite his success, Plant never forgot his roots. While other men of his generation and means built Italianate villas and marble dwellings modeled after French palaces, he and his wife, Olive, chose the Arts and Crafts style for their sixteen-room home. Michael Desplaines, executive director of the Castle Preservation Society, notes the irony of the couple’s aesthetic choice. “Arts and Crafts style celebrated the worker and nature,” he says. “It’s odd, but fitting, that someone who made his money through mass industrialization would choose a style that’s the absolute opposite: not about machines making things but about man making things in harmony with nature.”
Lucknow was, indeed, built in harmony with nature. The stone that faces the home was taken from the surrounding area and shaped by local masons. Much of the lumber used inside and out was cut from the property and hand-hewn by shipyard workers in Plant’s hometown of Bath, Maine. Plant went one better than nature, though, installing the latest in state-of-the-art technology, including a central vacuum system, an interior fire hose and even an intercom.
Ultimately, says Desplaines, Plant’s life was a “rags to riches to rags story.” At his death, in 1941, bad investments had left him all but broke. Remarkably, his house, now called Castle in the Clouds, survives almost entirely in its original state, a rare and wonderful example of the Arts and Crafts style at its biggest and perhaps best.
Editor’s Note: Castle in the Clouds is open daily through Oct. 22, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. 455 Old Mountain Rd., Moltonborough, N.H., (603) 476-5900, www.castleintheclouds.org.