Note: We’ve been collecting stories — curiosities really — about Kentucky. The things not found in history books or in visitors’ guides. The things that are rumored, whispered about and told as (sometimes) far-fetching tales by locals. Sometimes they’re totally true. Sometimes they have to be taken with a grain of salt … making them all the more fun.
Everything But the Moat
The rolling hills of bluegrass and picturesque Thoroughbred horse farms that line the road connecting Versailles and Lexington, Kentucky are the same beautiful and iconic images of central Kentucky that you’ll find on postcards at local gift stores. But it isn’t these charming views that cause traffic to noticeably slow down as you top the last hill before entering Fayette County, it is the stone turrets that come into view. If the Bluegrass region’s green hills didn’t already resemble the landscapes of western Europe and the United Kingdom, the stone walls, turrets, and drawbridge of The Kentucky Castle—known locally as simply “The Castle” or sometimes “Martin Castle,” for its previous owners—certainly give the feeling that you’ve traveled across the Atlantic, or even back in time.
As far as neighbors can determine, this castle is void of any knights in shining armor, and the clusters of people standing outside its gates are tourists taking pictures, not villagers arriving for market. And while this Versailles castles’s history isn’t as rich (literally or figuratively) as its counterpart in France, sordid rumors of its past are nearly as entertaining.
First and foremost, the castle began as a labor of love. Rex and Caroline Martin were taken with old European castles they saw while on vacation in 1968. When they returned home, they purchased the 53 acres off U.S. 60 in Woodford County, Kentucky, just outside of Lexington and broke ground on their dream home in 1969. The Martins’ finished estate was to have seven bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, four corner towers, a dozen turrets, 12-foot-high walls, a drawbridge, an Italian fountain in the courtyard, and tennis courts out back. But before the castle could be completed, the couple divorced, and Rex stopped building, leaving the 10,400-square-foot, two-story home unfinished and empty.
In 1988, Rex put his castle on the market with a For Sale sign posted on the gates that announced showings by appointment only. The castle was up for sale on and off for the better part of two decades, but as the story goes, countless real estate agents who showed interested in the property never received any response from Rex.
Rex died in 2003 without ever selling the castle.
Later that year, Thomas Post, a graduate of Lexington’s Lafayette High School and the University of Kentucky, bought the property for $1.8 million and announced plans to convert the castle into a bed and breakfast so that locals and tourists would finally have an opportunity to peek behind the walls they’d’ been speculating about for years. But in 2004, the house inside those gates caught fire, burning nearly the entire main building to the ground. Locals who caught wind of the fire (including these two roadtrippers who were in high school at the time) gathered along Versailles Road late into the night as the iconic structure went up in flames.
The new owner rebuilt, completing construction in 2008, and converting the property into a hotel. The Castle has since sold again and is known today at The Kentucky Castle, a luxurious hotel and event venue. Inside, a great hall with thirty-foot ceilings, solid stone walls, and elegant chandeliers welcome guests. The castle also includes a library, a large dining room, a gourmet kitchen, a sun-lit breakfast room, and twelve extravagant suites.
The Kentucky Castle is located at 230 Pisgah Pike in Versailles.
Want to learn more about Kentucky’s famous attractions? Pick up your copy of My Old Kentucky Road Trip: Historic Destinations and Natural Wonders at your local bookstore or order from Amazon. From the parkways to the back roads, these two Kentucky natives are exploring our Bluegrass State!