GILFORD – Development plans for the ruins of Kimball Castle and the 20 acres it sits on will be presented to the local land use board next month.
According to documents submitted to the Gilford Planning Department, the new owners are proposing to use the property, which features a jaw-dropping view of Lake Winnipesaukee – as a wedding venue for up to 200 people, 180 guests and 20 employees.
Town Planner John Ayer said after talking with the new owners Patrick and Melissa Starkey of Loudon, he believes they are considering a phased development of the property that will rely on wedding rental revenue to fund additional improvements.
“I think they’re banking on the name and the view. The view is great and the castle is pretty neat,” Ayer said.
Built at the behest of railroad magnate Benjamin Ames Kimball, the original architectural details of the castle purportedly are patterned after one Kimball spotted while cruising the Rhine, included four gargoyles to direct water flow from the roof, an octagonal skylight with amber glass, and a fireplace in each of the five bedrooms.
Construction began in 1897 and was completed two years later at a cost of $50,000, about $1,500,000 adjusted for inflation. But time, thieves and vandals have eroded much of the original grandeur of the cut-stone edifice.
Ayers said the new owners had initially considered tearing down the bulk of the castle, but leaving about six feet of the stone walls standing and creating a garden in its center.
Laconia engineer Thomas Selling has drafted plans that site a 40-by-100 ft. framed tent next to an existing two-bedroom cottage on the property. A parking area with a water-permeable surface and space for up to 70 vehicles will also be developed and require a short walk to the tent site along a footpath illuminated by motion sensitive bollard lights. The approximately 1,000-foot-long driveway at 59 Lockes Hill Road, off Route 11, will continue to provide access to the property.
Plans submitted to the town this week also call for 14 lodging units by adding a third-bedroom to the existing cottage and converting a garage and a storage shed into one-bedroom guest houses. The plans also depict nine guest units and a kitchen to be developed in the castle that is about 50-by-70 feet in size.
According to a summary included in a traffic impact assessment completed by Stephen G. Pernaw Company Inc., between May and Oct. the property would host a maximum of four events per week and only one event per month from Nov. to April. He estimates that an event would result in 68-vehicle trips during the arrival peak hour and 27 vehicle-trips during the departure peak hour.
Getting site plan approval may be the easiest part of the process. Deed restrictions currently limit development of the castle property to a full-service restaurant and lounge not to exceed 175 seats, and/or a country inn, with no more than 40 rooms – conditions that were attached as part of another prospective development plan from 1996. That plan failed to attract enough financial backing to advance.
“No other use of the land or future subdivision thereof shall be permitted without the written permission of the Treasurer of the Kimball Castle Trust, the Director of Charitable Trusts of the State of New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the Belknap County Superior Court,” the deed reads.
No Kimball has lived in the medieval-style castle since Benjamin Kimball’s daughter-in-law died in 1960. She left the estate and about $400,000 to a charitable foundation with the stipulation it create a nature preserve on the site and that the property not be used for commercial development.
The preserve was never created, the money vanished and in 1981 the Attorney General took control of the land and offered it to the town of Gilford to create the preserve and save the castle that was already badly deteriorated. Town officials successfully convinced the Attorney General’s office the only way to save the castle was to permit commercial development.
Ayers agreed that some intensive legal entanglements remain and that both the attorney general’s office and selectmen will need to sign off before any development plan can advance. The property sold for $562,533 on Sept. 11, according to records at Belknap County Registry of Deeds.
Gilford Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the project March 18 at 7 p.m.