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Kimball Castle in Gilford would become a restaurant and event center under plans by its new owners. (Courtesy Photo/Bill Hemmel)

GILFORD — Patrick and Melissa Starkey have a vision for Kimball Castle that would bring it back from the brink of ruin.

The couple, under the business name Lockes Hill LLC, is seeking permission from the Gilford Planning Board to convert the granite-block castle with spectacular views of Lake Winnipesaukee into a restaurant and public assembly establishment. They also want to turn the wood-frame single-family innkeeper’s house on the property at 59 Lockes Hill Road into a motel/hotel.

Their application will go before the Planning Board on Monday, March 18.

The town’s Site Study Committee reviewed the plans on March 11 in preparation for next week’s meeting and, while the department heads had some questions, Patrick Starkey said he does not anticipate any regulatory problems.

That is not the case for the restoration itself. The castle has not been maintained for 58 years and has been subject to vandalism over the years — a problem that continues.

Starkey said there is an 8-foot fence around the castle –  clearly marked for no trespassing – but it remains an attractive site for people seeking to gain entry. He has found that the fence was cut and boards intended to keep the weather out of the castle have been kicked in.

“We’ve been trying to clean the castle, and see that certain things have been knocked down,” Starkey said. “Safety is our concern, and we want to prevent further damage.”

 

History

Railroad magnate Benjamin Ames Kimball had the castle built in 1894, at a cost of $50,000. The castle, which at one time sat on 300 acres, featured four gargoyles that channeled water from the roof, and had an octagonal skylight with amber glass.

After Kimball’s death in 1920, the property passed to his daughter, Charlotte Kimball, who died in 1960. In her will, she donated the land to the Mary Mitchell Humane Society with a $400,000 endowment to maintain it as a nature preserve. The money disappeared, the castle went into disrepair, and the New Hampshire Attorney General's office eventually took control of the land, offering it to the town of Gilford. The current 20-acre castle site was subdivided from the rest of the property, which remains as open land.

The Starkeys purchased the property from David Jodoin of New Bedford, Massachusetts, who had hoped to make something of the property but ultimately put it on the market. The Starkeys purchased it for $562,533 on Sept. 11, 2018.

Patrick Starkey said they plan to put in a commercial kitchen for events, eventually hoping to provide accommodations for eight in the castle. The innkeeper’s house will have three rooms for guests, with additional accommodations for one party in the barn and one in the cabin (shown as a shed on the plans by T.R. Selling Engineering of Laconia, the authorized agent for the project who also prepared impact studies on stormwater runoff and traffic.

 

Phased project

The application seeks to change the use of the 20.35-acre property from residential to resort/commercial.

Besides updates to the buildings, the owners would erect a wood-frame tent near the innkeeper’s house on a seasonal basis.

“It’ll be phased in over time, based on economic features,” Starkey said. “We first wanted to get approval for weddings and events to utilize the innkeeper’s house for bridal parties, and the 40-by-80 tent, with the castle as a backdrop.”

In addition to weddings, the Starkeys envision holding charitable events, including partnering with Patrick’s Pub for some events. Other possibilities are corporate retreats, birthdays and anniversaries.

They are hoping to begin offering limited events this summer.

Since purchasing the property last September, they have focused on renovating the innkeeper’s house, adding two-and-a-half baths and doing a full restoration of the building, with a mix of original features and modern updates. Starkey said they expect to be done with those renovations in April.

They also have focused on the restoration of a gazebo on the property. The beams were in bad shape, but Starkey said they found an original beam in the woods and the builders were able to use it as a template to rebuild it according to its original design.

Starkey said an interesting aspect of the gazebo is that its center beam lines up with the castle wall.

“It’s gotten interesting, the more we get involved with the things put in,” he said.

“Our goal is to be good stewards, and hope to make it a gem with community support and make it an iconic feature of the lake,” he said.

This story has been updated to correct information on the change of use.

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