Eric Standridge is a freelance writer with an interest in history. His main focus is writing about Oklahoma.
Yes, There Are Castles in Oklahoma
When most people think of Oklahoma, they think of cowboys and Indians, or of oil and large cornfields. But castles in Oklahoma? It's hard to even put those two words together—Oklahoma Castle. It just sounds wrong. But yes, there are indeed castles in Oklahoma.
If you're disappointed that this article fails to mention the Castle of Muskogee, you must humbly forgive the author. This article outlines the castles that were built not for commercial gain, but instead, it focuses on those true castles that were inspired by those found in Europe.
In this article, I have listed three of the major castles in Oklahoma: The Collings Castle at Turner Falls, Castle Falls in Oklahoma City, and Wentz Castle in Ponca City.
Collings Castle at Turner Falls in Davis
Deep in the Arbuckle Mountains and surrounded by cascading waterfalls and crystal clear springs, Collings Castle is the closest thing to a true medieval castle in Oklahoma.
The Collings Castle was built by the former Dean of Education at the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Ellsworth Collings.
Collings lived what must have been the early 20th century educator's version of the American Dream. Rising from humble beginnings in Missouri, he soon became one of the most important men in education.
Born in McDonald County, Missouri, on October 23, 1887, Collings earned both his Bachelor's of Science degree in Education and his Associate of Science in Educational Psychology degrees from the University of Missouri. He began his teaching career in a one-room school during 1908-1909. From his humble beginnings in Missouri, he proceeded in 1919 to the pinnacle of the education profession in the United States, the Teachers College.
On June 17, 1922, Collings made a career decision that would influence the remainder of his life. He began a 36-year career in higher education at the University of Oklahoma. During that time, he wrote at least six books and was published a great many times with articles on education. He gained national and international recognition virtually overnight with his 1923 publication of "An Experiment With A Project Curriculum." In 1926, the Board of Regents appointed him to the position of Dean of the School of Education. He held that post until his resignation in October of 1945. Collings retired from the University of Oklahoma at the conclusion of the spring 1958 semester. He resided on his ranch near Davis in southern Oklahoma until his death on June 18th, 1970.
The castle was never a permanent home of the Collings, but on special occasions, friends were entertained at the Castle. Beyond that, very little is known about Collings Castle. Dr. Ellsworth Collings left behind very little as to his reasons for building it, so one can only speculate as to his motivations behind its construction.
Collings Castle is located within the Park of Turner Falls, where two small creeks form from natural springs to merge into a small river. Near the castle, this small river plunges 77 feet off a cliff to form a wide, clear basin of water.
The castle complex is actually formed from two castles; a great castle and a much smaller one off to the side. Above the great castle is a path that leads to the top of the hill to what must have been a small stable area, presumably leading towards Ellsworth's ranch and permanent home. The great castle is three stories tall, and nearly recreates the realistic feel of Europe's ancient medieval castles. The second castle is only one story tall, but while it isn't as commanding, it is still an important part of the complex.
Combined, these castles were planned for defense, as were many of the castles in Europe. Narrow hallways and openings were a way to keep medieval attackers from successfully conquering a castle, and many of these features are evident in the Collings Castle. The only rooms that were truly spacious were the three large living areas and the bedrooms.
As with traditional castles, there are stairs and doors that lead to every rooftop. The towers are very narrow, as they would have been in ancient times. On one particular rooftop of the great castle, there is a small room that apparently served as the outhouse bath.
In addition to the smaller side castle, there is another addition to the great castle. Most medieval castles had an outdoor chapel, and the Collings Castle is no exception. The chapel sits to the left and slightly behind the main building.
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The Collings Castle is available to tour, but it's all self-paced with little to no information about the castle.
Castle Falls in Oklahoma City
World War One had a profound effect on Bill Blecha. While soldiering in Europe, he became fascinated with Normandy's historic castles. Upon his return to Oklahoma City, his native town, he vowed that one day he would build his own castle.
After the war, he became a manager at Manhattan Construction Company. One of his main duties there included demolition and disposal of old buildings. Blecha would save usable materials from these demolition sites. This would prove pivotal later on in the construction of Castle Falls.
More than two decades passed before Blecha would have his chance to build his dream castle. While looking through an architectural catalog, he came across a European castle similar to one he saw while in Normandy. In 1945, Bill Blecha and his wife began construction on the Blecha Kastle with the salvaged parts he had saved while working for the Manhattan Construction Company.
Castle Falls took five years to complete. The castle is three levels tall, framed by 24" thick walls. It took 55 truckloads of concrete and tons of hard work and determination to complete the castle. The Blecha's lived in the castle for more than 40 years until their deaths in 1980. Bill Blecha was 96 years old when he passed away.
The castle stands today as a testimony to what hard work and determination can do. Bill Blecha had a dream, and through perseverance and a little forethought, made his dream come true.
This castle was formerly known as Blecha Kastle and Keller in Kastle.
Wentz Castle in Ponca City
On top of a steep hill overlooking Lake Ponca in Ponca City, Oklahoma, sits a "true" castle. In fact, the castle is only a small part of a very elaborate camp of stone structures and other buildings that all bear a stone castle design.
All of this was contrived by a wealthy bachelor from Pittsburgh, PA.
While growing up in Pennsylvania, Lew Wentz worked hard to become successful. Too poor to go to college, Wentz worked as a high school coach while campaigning for the GOP. One day, while he was going door to door promoting the Republican party, Wentz met John McCaskey. This chance encounter would change the course of his life.
McCaskey gave Wentz an opportunity that he couldn't refuse. In 1911, Lew Wentz moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma, and joined E. W. Marland's oil venture on the 101 Ranch. At this time, Wentz moved into Ponca's Arcade Hotel and lived there for the rest of his life.
By 1927, oil had made Lew Wentz a millionaire; he was considered "the world's richest bachelor." From an early age, Wentz dedicated his life to helping others. It was this personal ambition for serving others that lead him to build the Wentz Camp and the Wentz Castle.
Wentz began working on the castle estate in 1925 by donating the site to Ponca City. At first, campers used an old farmhouse as a mess hall, but the farmhouse was eventually torn down and construction on the estate started in 1928. Wentz first built a custom water tower topped by an observation deck. The water tower held 30,000 gallons of water and was used as a general supply for the camp.
After the construction of the water tower was completed, Wentz then installed a massive swimming pool, followed by the walls, towers, gateways, cabins, guard houses, pavilions, and terraces. Everything built at this site was built using locally quarried sandstone.
Beyond these three, there is a fourth, The Captains Castle in Cameron, that is not listed in this article but can be found here.
If you have information about other castles in Oklahoma, please feel free to add them in the comments section at the bottom.
© 2010 Eric Standridge