Like most Michiganders, I grew up thinking castles only existed in faraway countries and fairy tales until I saw a photo in a magazine my grandmother was reading. I’ve been dreaming and pleading with my family for years to take me to “The Castle.”
Over the long holiday weekend, my persistence finally paid off as my family agreed to spend the afternoon at Castle Farms in Charlevoix under one condition: we attended the Royal Craft Show.
This was definitely not my idea of how to spend summer’s last hurrah, but I figured I could sneak away from the crafts for a quick tour of the grounds.
I was blown away upon entering the grounds at 5052 M-66 North, Charlevoix, MI. The pictures I’d seen of the buildings and grounds did not begin to do the scene justice.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 8th, 2013. It has been edited and updated for accuracy.
Exploring the History of Castle Farms
While frequently visited yet today, this historic venue has a rich history in Northern Michigan. From a working dairy farm to a unique venue for weddings, meetings, and special events, this Michigan castle has served many different purposes over the past 100+ years.
Originally built in 1918 by Albert Loeb, the acting president of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, it’s difficult to imagine the castle was a functioning model dairy farm for 9 years. Loeb built the farm to showcase the newest innovations in farming equipment available through the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
Loeb commissioned European craftsmen and local men to fashion this Northern Michigan castle with local field stone to resemble the majestic stone towers that were common on barns and castles in Normandy France. Its gardens were also intended to reflect the extensive gardens of European castles.
The farm was also open to the public one day a week where they could purchase the farms cheese and ice cream. If visitors were lucky, they’d have a chance to root for The Sodbusters, Loeb Farm’s baseball team.
The farm was closed in 1927 due agricultural recession and the beginning of the Great Depression. For the following 30 years, space on the farm was rented out to provide local Michiganders with extra storage.
The beautiful stone walls drew the eye of a man from Muskegon, Michigan, in the 1960s. John VanHaver was a gifted sculptor and artist with training in metal casting and metallurgy.
VanHaver hoped to save the property by turning it into a Renaissance-themed haven for artists. He renamed the property Castle VanHaver and began renovations. Castle VanHaver’s renovations required more than three years of labor of love.
The huge Romanesque arch and portcullis at the King’s Courtyard Gallery Doorway are examples of VanHaver’s own Renaissance flourishes that he added along the way. A portion of the old horse barn was transformed into a foundry for creating unique cast aluminum artwork.
On July 2, 1966, John VanHaver reopened the farm to the public as an art gallery as well as working artist studios. The grounds also housed a gift shop and a coffee shop open to visitors.
Castle Farms Summer Music Theater
The farm was sold again in 1969 and renamed Castle Farms under the ownership of Arthur and Erdwina Reibel. The couple had a variety of ideas for the space such as an arts center and a tavern but eventually settled on a music theater for summer concerts.
While wandering the hallways from one area of the craft show to the next, my grandfather pointed out some of the old concert posters hanging on the wall.
Some of the greatest musicians of the time showed at Castle Farms from 1976 to 1993 including Metallica, The Beach Boys, Bon Jovi. Ozzy Osbourne, and Aerosmith. This time period was known as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Central” for Castle Farms.
After perusing the posters, my grandfather recalled that my uncle used to travel from the Upper Peninsula with his friends to see shows at Castle Farms. This was a particularly touching moment for me as my uncle passed away when I was young. It was great to experience something that was important to him so many years ago!
The property went up for auction in 1999 when Mr. Reibel passed away.
Castle Farms: Wedding Destination, Event Venue, Historical Tours
Linda Mueller purchased the farm in 2001 with a vision to restore the castle to its Renaissance style and preserve the farm for many generations to come. The restoration process was quite intensive and took approximately four years to come to fruition.
The property is now open year-round for weddings, receptions, festivals, corporate events, and social events. It is also listed on the National and State historic registries and is open year-round for tours.
We learned quite a bit on our self-guided tour thanks to an information package we received when arriving as well my trusty friend Google.
Exploring the Grounds of Castle Farms
After our mini history lesson, we decided to venture outside for a look at the courtyards and try our hand at a game of giant chess. Bocce ball, lawn bowling, and croquet are also available for group tours. The property boasts 18 extensive gardens and four courtyards.
My favorite part of the property was the Garden Railroad which opened in 2008 and is one of the largest outdoor model railroad layouts in Michigan.
The lines feature over 55 trains that run along over 2,000 feet of track. The railroad lines run overhead along hedge lines as well as close to visitors’ feet and under the bushes.
The grade transports guests back to a time when industry heavily relied on railroads and steam cars. Castle guests are able to get a grand view of the layout and trains from grand observation tours.
Garden Railroad was filled with children squealing and running to follow trains. It was definitely the liveliest part of my afternoon. The garden is open from May through October weather permitting.
The Enchanted Forest was another favorite garden of mine. The forest includes a wandering path through a wooded area through a dragon’s lair and over the troll bridge.
The family-friendly path was complete with figures of forest inhabitants, such as rabbits, squirrels, and a moose, frolicking in the brush.
Queen’s Tower Garden
We ended our afternoon walk in the Queen’s Tower Garden where a wedding rehearsal was taking place. With the beautiful brick way, towering stone walls, and graceful arches it was easy to imagine an intimate, romantic garden ceremony.
We also stole a quick look indoors to see the wedding planners setting up the reception area in the King’s Great Hall.
Castle Gardens is one of the most unique wedding venues in Michigan and offers free year-round bridal tours as well as assistance in planning and perfecting any wedding imagined.
Planning to Visit Castle Farms Again
As the sun began to set over Charlevoix County, I found myself wishing for a reason to stay at Castle Gardens. I wanted to see the grounds all lit up at night and even considered crashing a wedding, but my grandparents weren’t too keen on the idea.
I guess I’ll just have to continue to look for another excuse to visit. It definitely exceeded all my expectations of Northern Michigan’s Fairy Tale Castle and I cannot wait until my next trip.
Do me a favor: do NOT take my account of my visit or the pictures as good enough. Please, please please visit Castle Farms for yourself to see where old-world charm meets modern-day elegance in our beautiful Mitten State.