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An inside look at the Castle Inn Riverside, up for auction Tuesday

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, at 9:54 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, at 7 a.m.

Terms of sale

The Castle Inn Riverside is to be sold in auction at 11 a.m. Tuesday by J.P. King. For details, call 800-558-5464 or go to www.jpking.com.

The Wichita castle is zoned R-2 which allows residential and some commercial use.

The countdown has begun until the Castle Inn Riverside is sold.

The auction will start at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the castle’s parlor.

Current owners, Paula and Terry Lowry were busy this week packing, painting and finishing last-minute details to ready the 124-year-old castle for the sale on Tuesday.

Painter’s plastic tarps were spread across old and exquisite wood floors. A ladder stretched from the bottom of the main staircase to the tip of an arched ceiling as a painter carefully touched up the ceiling.

Over this weekend, the Lowrys expect to conduct six showings – some of those for local individuals interested in buying the historic 28-room castle that fronts the Little Arkansas River.

Their hope for the new owners is that they will be happy and keep one of Wichita’s most beloved landmarks accessible to the public. It is the only castle-style home remaining from Wichita’s building boom of the 1880s.

But mostly they are ready to have the freedom to do something else.

“We are hoping that this is the ending of this and the beginning of the rest of our lives,” Paula Lowry said Wednesday. “We want to have more time for visiting our relative and friends. We want to be freer than we have for the last 17 years.”

Both are 65 years old.

Highlights and history

The story of the Castle Inn Riverside began in 1886 when cattle baron Col. Burton Harvey Campbell began the construction of a then outrageously expensive $90,000 castle.

But his was not the only castle in Riverside.

In 1887, James Oakley Davidson built a mansion for his bride.

His pink sandstone structure at Riverside and Buffum, near the Arkansas River, was an eye popper, featuring 13-inch-thick walls, arches of massive stone, a copper canopy, gables and polished granite columns. Inside, huge oak stairs led to rooms finished in oak and featuring fireplaces and painted glass. The Davidsons sold their house in 1908. One of the later owners was G.W. Kirby, and the house became known as the Kirby Castle. It was razed in the 1960s and replaced by apartments.

The Castle Inn Riverside is the lone surviving castle.

Through the years, it has been nicknamed the “Jewel on the River.”

Campbell designed his castle in the classic feudal style from Scotland. It boasts architectural details salvaged from around the world. The foyer contains a 650-year-old Grecian fireplace, Spanish chevalier lamps on the staircase and newel posts and pieces of fretwork that were carved by a prisoner in an Irish debtor’s prison.

Above the east entrance to the castle, carved in stone is the word “Salve” – Latin for “Welcome.”

In the foyer, the main staircase was imported from London and is reported to be 250 years old.

One unique feature of the castle is the three-story stone tower with carved gargoyles.

The castle includes nine original fireplaces. The woodwork on the floors, baseboards, library cabinets, paneling and crown molding is of walnut, mahogany, cherry and white oak. The original hardware was purchased from a New York factory. Lamps and light fixtures were imported from Europe.

The second floor has a large Victorian bathroom with a tile floor, marble tub and brass fixtures.

When the Lowrys renovated the castle in 1994, they turned the second and third floors into an 11- room bed-and-breakfast inn with a fireplace and a bathroom in almost every room. The castle’s carriage house has three more guest rooms and an exercise area. Guest rooms have names such as “Queen Anne’s Lace,” “Mary, Queen of Scots,” and “Royal Court.” Others rooms include a Native American room where the roof peaks inspire a tepee-like feel and “Chamomile,” a room with a New England decor.

The castle and its carriage house have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.

Hopes and dreams

In 1910, Realtor Walter Morris bought the castle for $25,000 and the Morris family owned it until 1960. That’s when Maye Crumm became the owner for $45,000. The Lowrys bought the castle in 1994 from Crumm for $300,000 and spent more than $3 million in renovations.

By the time the couple bought the castle, it had fallen into disrepair. Crumm had threatened to sell piece by piece some of the castle’s finest architectural details.

The sale was controversial. A group, called Friends of Campbell Castle was formed to try and raise money to turn the crumbling castle into a cattle baron museum. Their efforts failed.

Instead, city leaders led by then-City Council member Joan Cole championed the Lowrys buying the property and turning it into a bed and breakfast.

The couple received $1.4 million in industrial revenue bonds from the Wichita City Council and a $190,000 low-interest state loan from the Historic Trust Revolving Loan fund.

They had to repair chipping and falling pieces of plaster, chipping paint, heaving floors and loose stones. The roof over the castle’s carport had deteriorated badly. Much of the castle’s slate roof had to be repaired or replaced.

In the carriage house, the turret tower had to be straightened. Cracks were sealed and mortar replaced. The roof sagged.

From the start of the castle’s massive renovation in 1994 and 1995, it was often hard for the Lowrys to catch a break, they said Wednesday. State preservationists initially contested some of the plans for the castle, causing nearly a year’s delay in the renovation. Then, the Hyatt Hotel opened about the same time as the Castle Inn Riverside.

“That was one of our disappointments,” Paula Lowry said. “Soon after we opened, the Hyatt opened, which the city owned. We never got any guests referred from the City. Not one guest.”

But, the economy also played against the bed and breakfast, Terry Lowry said, especially after Sept. 11, 2001, and the recession in 2008.

Since news broke that the Lowrys were closing the inn, people have been calling.

“We’ve gotten hundreds of calls from people saying, ‘You can’t close,’” Terry Lowry said. “We want them to know, this has been a pleasure for us; thanks to all the people who have supported and loved the castle.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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