“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things, and good things never die” – Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption
Driving downhill on a long, twisty, one-lane road through the woods is usually a sure sign that you’re in a horror movie. Or a Grimm’s fairy tale. I was making my way to a castle, so I kept my eyes open for people in cloaks and menacing wolves. Or perhaps, a life-sized frog…
Here’s a recap in case you missed Part 1 of my Summer 2020 Vacation blog (and if you did, you could read that here). I started my day pretty nicely by visiting the gravesite of an old friend. Then I had a good lunch but an overall disappointing visit to The Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon, Ohio. I followed that up with an equally discouraging quest to find the fabled Frogman in Loveland, Ohio. Resignedly, not wanting the day to be a total bust, I decided to follow Google’s suggestion barrage and take a trip to the Loveland Castle.
I saw it even before the narrow, winding forest road dead-ended at the bank of the Little Miami River. It rose above me to the right – a real castle! I mean, yes, it was called Loveland Castle, so I’m not sure why its authentic English royalty look took me by surprise. But it did. I drove slowly toward the parking lot and was glad to see only a couple cars there. (What can I say? I don’t like being crowded when I’m trying to be fully enveloped in a new experience!) Then I got out of the car and perhaps found the reason why. The rain had stopped, but the outside temperature was probably close to 95 degrees. It was sweltering. Usually, this is my least favorite type of weather. Also, it was a Tuesday in the year 2020, and Covid protocols were in force. But, I was still almost four hours away from home, so I was determined to make the best of it.
It is only $5 to enter and tour Loveland Castle and the surrounding, positively breathtaking grounds. I was enamored by the gardens of native plants, flower beds spelling out KOGT (which I later found out stood for “Knights of the Golden Trail”), and stone serpent sculptures. After snapping dozens of pictures I only hoped would turn out because of the sun glare on my phone screen, I entered the door of the Castle.
The Loveland Castle, known initially as Chateau Laroche (“Rock Castle”), has a captivating history. Harry D. Andrews, who was a boy scout leader, teacher, and WWI veteran, among other things, began building the Castle in the 1920s. He modeled it after castles he’d seen in France during the War. Andrews constructed it by hand, dragging rocks from the Little Miami River and creating cement bricks out of old milk containers. He worked on it for over 50 years. When he passed in 1981, he willed Chateau Laroche to his boy scout troop – The Knights of the Golden Trail. They, and others that Harry knighted along the way, are in charge of the upgrades and upkeep to this day. I found out most of this information from my private tour guide for the day – Sir Dave.
When I was standing awe-struck upon my entrance to the Castle, I was approached by an older gentleman who asked me if I’d ever been there before. When I said no, he asked if I’d like him to take me around. And this is how, singlehandedly, the knight Sir Dave saved fair maiden me from an utterly lack-luster day trip. He knew every square inch of the Chateau Laroche. I learned everything from how Harry Andrews acquired the land to construct the Castle to why it had curved staircases. There are so many well-thought-out, minute details about different styles of castles that Andrews added to Chateau Laroche; it makes one’s head spin.
At the end of my tour, Sir Dave left me in the stables where a video (different from the one above) about Harry Andrews’ life and the building of Loveland Castle runs on a loop. It was only then I found out that the Castle is allegedly haunted! Of course! Apparently, a male spirit, who most think is Harry Andrews himself, roams the Castle. He’s been known to play tricks like moving objects the knights have left lying around. There’s also supposed to be a female spirit attached to the place. Harry was never married, and there’s only been one female knight that I could find in my research, so that seems like an odd claim. But that’s ghost hunting for ya.
I decided to get something from the little gift shop before I left. It makes me feel good to support the places I visit if I can. As I was picking out my t-shirt, I was rattling on to the salesperson about how I’d come to Loveland to find the Frogman, but finding the Castle was even better. What he told me next almost stunned me into silence. Purportedly, the Frogman had been seen by two college students near the river by the street sign signaling the dead-end I had encountered earlier on my drive. Putting one and one together, this information made sense. When I had dug into the Frogman lore, all sightings placed him by the Little Miami River. Likewise, the Loveland Castle is on the bank of the Little Miami River. However, none of my research had ever linked the two places. Interesting.
I exited the Castle, got in my car, drove to the sign, got out, snapped some pictures, all the while feeling filled with my paranormal mojo. It was back, baby. I had found a haunted castle AND the Frogman! After feeling I had enough pics to document my visit, I hopped in the car, jammed the A/C to full blast, typed the address for Utopia, and…wait…what? Google Maps already had the address for Utopia? I flashed back to the frustration I had felt back in Loveland proper, and it slowly dawned on me. The reason Maps kept turning me around back then was because I had put in the address for Utopia instead of the address of the Frogman sighting! Oh, Universe, you crack me up! I would never have gone to The Loveland Castle and had such an unexpectedly incredible experience if I’d have typed in the correct address to begin with. Shaking my head at myself, I headed back up the twisty road entrance/exit to Chateau Laroche. I started the one-hour journey to the last leg of this day’s adventure-the ghost town known as Utopia.
Driving down Rt. 52 in Clermont County, I saw lots of signs for possible side stops. US Grant’s Birthplace and Museum. Misfitland Monkey Rescue?! But I had stayed longer than I had intended at The Loveland Castle, and I was on a mission to find Utopia. From my research, I learned that Utopia wasn’t technically a ghost town – it has about 150 residents. But without the signs announcing its location, one could drive right through and never know it was there. Those research articles were not wrong. I went right by the historical marker and turned around in the parking lot of a small convenience store on the other side of the street so I could head back and snap a picture. This was when I got an uneasy “Hills Have Eyes” vibe. Some people had been hanging outside of the convenience store when I turned around, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were watching me. Part of me reasoned that seeing people take pictures of their road signs couldn’t be an unusual event for the locals. There are dozens of articles written about Utopia. I pretended to be casual and nonchalant as I got back in my car, even though the pit of my stomach screamed, “interloper!” Looking back, it seems unjustified. For whatever reason, though, I decided it made sense to make a right-hand turn onto a back road as I drove away. Maybe that would make me look like I’d been there a million times before. Just one of the locals, yeah, that’s me.
My paranormal mojo must have been still intact because when I turned down the back road, I found a few more road signs about Utopia. I didn’t feel as weird this time when I got out to take pictures, either. It was getting to be about 5pm, and I knew I should be heading home, but I had heard about an underground church in Utopia. If I was already this far from home, I might as well try to find it, right? So I made up my mind that I’d just mosey down this road, take a leisurely lookie-loo, and most certainly an underground church would make itself visible. Unfortunately, this was another backwoods, twisty, practically one-lane road, which I’m beginning to realize should be expected in my line of travel. I learned to drive on roads like these, so no big deal there. However, I am also well aware of how locals like to fly over them to avoid the traffic on the main drags. And I quickly learned that there would be no lazy, lackadaisical jaunt for me on this evening. Every time I got all Sunday-driver-esque, an impatient car was on my ass. And I understood. I had been that easily-irritated arsehole driver many, many times. I decided to give up the ghost and head home with a plaintive wish that I had taken better notes about the church’s location. Of course, I ended up in some corn country with no internet before setting my GPS. I annoyed plenty of those speed-demon locals before finding a place I could pull over and tell Maps to take me back to good ol’ Milan, Ohio.
About half an hour into my trek home, I stopped at a restaurant called Butterbees in Mt. Orab. It was a typical American/Sports Bar-type place, but I could sit peacefully and jot down some of my thoughts about the day’s events. By the way, I’m threatening right now that I just might create a blog about fish and chips. That is my go-to dinner at any restaurant that offers it, which Butterbees did. I’m may or may not be developing a ranking system as I type. The rest of the journey was straightforward and uneventful, and I arrived back at my homestead around 10:30 pm. My wanderlust was satiated, for the time being, anyway. The time would come soon to plan the next adventure!
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