Selectmen urged to let Kimball Castle fall of its own accord

GILFORD – While nobody who spoke at the Kimball Castle public hearing last night had the same solutions, the majority of those who spoke at last night's public hearing supported putting a fence around the buildings and letting nature take its course.

About 50 people were at the Gilford Town Hall meeting room last night to hear more about a proposal suggested to the town by Kimball Castle LLC, represented last night by Dave Jodoin, to tear down the castle, change some of the land restrictions, and sell the property as a single-family lot.

The selectmen which, as trustees, must submit any recommendation for change to the Belknap County Superior Court, held a hearing last night to give the public a chance to speak about the proposal at hand. They have not decided whether to support it as written.

"Put up a fence and let it go to ruins," said Victor Nichol, a relative newcomer to Gilford. "Honor the heritage of the castle."

Nichol's views were mirrored around the room. While a few wanted to try and keep the now condemned landmark and restore it, most agreed the castle itself was no longer salvageable, but didn't want to see it razed. Many supported the town's repurchase of the land at the same price for which it sold in 1999.

Others, including Atty. Steve Nix, pointed out that the current owners bought the castle and 24-acre parcel with the stipulation that it be restored to some use. Many characterized Jodoin's ultimate ownership of the castle as a bad investment and had little to no sympathy for his financial well-being.

Nix told selectmen that the only value to the town lies in its easements and urged the town not to cede public access through the carriage road or east portion of the property. The proposal as written gives access though the parcel only for emergencies and maintenance.

"As trustees," he said to selectmen, "you are in an excellent position to negotiate."

Retired Belknap County Forester Sumner Dole made a similar argument.

"To remove the right of way access to the public is absurd," he said.

Resident Steve Davis suggested they dismember the castle and rebuild it on the Witches — a notorious unnavigable area in the middle of Lake Winnipesaukee that has been the demise of many boats and boaters over the years.

"It will be a pile of stones on a pile of stones," Davis said, adding that if they didn't put a roof in it, the Department of Environmental Services couldn't complain about impervious surfaces and runoff.

He said it would be beyond vandalism, it would still be Gilford's castle, and people would come to the area just to see it.

Sandra McGonagle, who has been involved with the castle and its surrounding lands since 1978 said the Kimball Wildlife Forest also opposes the giving up public access. She said their goal is to build a second access with parking on the east side of the property and if the draft proposal goes through as written, that possibility will be eliminated.

Kimball Castle was built around the turn of the last century by railroad magnet Benjamin Kimball. It overlooks "the Broads" — or the widest part of Lake Winnipesaukee — and has a panoramic view of the lake.

When Kimball's granddaughter died she left the property to the town for a wildlife sanctuary as well as a $400,000 trust to maintain the property. According to McGonagle, the trust money disappeared in the late 1970s, and in 1999, the town, then the owner of the property, decided to sell a 24-acre parcel on which the buildings were located to a now-defunct hotel company and use the money to maintain the rest of the property for wildlife and for recreation trails — as Charlotte Kimball wanted.

The original buyers, Historic Inns of New England, was never able to raise the capital to develop the property and Jodoin and his wife became the sole owners because they were the last investors standing when Historic Inns crumbled.

Now living in Boston, the Jodoins want to sell the property and are asking $799,000. To make it more marketable they have recommended the town eliminate the public access, except for emergencies, through that portion of the property.

The town's building inspector ordered the castle itself to be razed in early spring after determining it was a safety hazard.