In Lost Twin Cities, Larry Millett brought to life the vanished architecture of downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Now, in Once There Were Castles, he offers a richly illustrated look at another world of ghosts in our midst: the lost mansions and estates of the Twin Cities.
Nobody can say for sure how many lost mansions haunt the Twin Cities, but at least five hundred can be accounted for in public records and archives. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, entire neighborhoods of luxurious homes have disappeared, virtually without a trace. Many grand estates that once spread out over hundreds of acres along the shores of Lake Minnetonka are also gone. The greatest of these lost houses often had astonishingly short lives: the lavish Charles Gates mansion in Minneapolis survived only nineteen years, and Norman Kittson's sprawling castle on the site of the St. Paul Cathedral stood for barely more than two decades. Railroad and freeway building, commercial and institutional expansion, fires, and financial disasters all claimed their share of mansions; others succumbed to their own extravagance, becoming too costly to maintain once their original owners died.
The stories of these grand houses are, above all else, the stories of those who built and lived in them—from the fantastic saga of Marion Savage to the continent-spanning conquests of James J. Hill, to the all-but-forgotten tragedy of Olaf Searle, a poor immigrant turned millionaire who found and lost a dream in the middle of Lake Minnetonka. These and many other mansion builders poured all their dreams, desires, and obsessions into extravagant homes designed to display wealth and solidify social status in a culture of ever-fluctuating class distinctions.
The first book to take an in-depth look at the history of the Twin Cities' mansions, Once There Were Castles presents ninety lost mansions and estates, organized by neighborhood and illustrated with photographs and drawings. An absorbing read for Twin Cities residents and a crucial addition to the body of work on the region's history, Once There Were Castles brings these “ghost mansions” back to life.