Pennsylvania’s Majestic Fortresses: Exploring the Enchanting Realm of 9 Castles You Can Visit

Pennsylvania's Majestic Fortresses: Exploring the Enchanting Realm of 9 Castles You Can Visit

Photo courtesy of H. Daluisio for Visit Philadelphia

By Kalena Thomhave

August 21, 2023

The Keystone State has no shortage of grand, stone structures you can visit to learn about history, admire the architecture, or just pretend you’re royalty for the day.

Though the U.S. has never had a monarchy, some medieval-style castles made their way over to this country, and several of these elaborate structures can be found in Pennsylvania.

Why castles? Some of the original castle owners were interested in medieval history. Others were simple wealthy individuals who had enough money to build themselves a castle. Must be nice.

Whatever the story behind these grand, stone structures, you can visit these castles to learn about history, admire the architecture, or just pretend you’re royalty for the day.

Fonthill Castle and Mercer Museum – Doylestown

Henry Chapman Mercer was an eccentric fellow. An archaeologist, anthropologist, and collector of interesting things, Mercer built his own castle between 1908 and 1912 to use as his home and a future museum. Fonthill Castle indeed became a museum to show Mercer’s collections of tiles and prints. You can take a one-hour tour of the castle when visiting the museum complex. You can also walk the elaborate grounds yourself.

Mercer actually built two castles. The other is Mercer Museum, a concrete castle constructed in 1916. This castle is located just one mile from Fonthill Castle and is also a prominent museum. The galleries in Mercer Museum, which display thousands of pre-Industrial tools as well as traveling exhibits, can be enjoyed via self-guided tours.

Tickets are purchased separately for each museum.

Nemacolin Castle – Brownsville

Pennsylvania's Majestic Fortresses: Exploring the Enchanting Realm of 9 Castles You Can Visit

Nemacolin Castle, built in 1789, is the third-oldest castle in the country. It’s also sometimes called Bowman’s Castle, because only one family has ever lived there—the Bowmans. The last Bowman gifted the castle to Fayette County so that the house could become a museum. Indeed, you can visit and tour Nemacolin Castle, now operated by the Brownsville Historical Society. Brownsville is located just about an hour south of Pittsburgh.

General tours are available each weekend, but you can also take ghost tours (some say the castle is haunted) in the fall and Christmas tours during the holiday season.

Grey Towers Castle – Glenside

Pennsylvania's Majestic Fortresses: Exploring the Enchanting Realm of 9 Castles You Can Visit

Photo courtesy of AI R

This castle is on the campus of Arcadia University in Glenside, but when Grey Towers Castle was first built, it was the home of William Welsh Harrison, the wealthy owner of a sugar refinery.

The castle design was inspired by England’s Alnwick Castle (which served as Hogwarts for the first two Harry Potter films). The home’s interior, however, was designed to be much less castle-like—it was inspired by various French design styles popular between the 1500s and the early 1700s. Many of these details are still intact and visible, as the castle has been in the possession of the university (formerly Beaver College) since 1929, two years after Harrison died.

Today, the castle houses some dorm rooms, lecture rooms, conference rooms, as well as administrative offices. Because the castle is part of a college campus, you won’t find a tour guide, but you can still walk around the castle and its grounds on your own.

44th New York Infantry Regiment Monument at Little Round Top – Gettysburg

Nicknamed “the castle,” this structure isn’t really a castle—it’s a monument to the 44th New York Infantry Regiment that fought in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. The 44-foot-tall monument does look just like a castle, towering over Devil’s Den from atop Little Round Top on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

The area around Little Round Top—including the castle—is closed for restoration work as of mid-2023, because the hill under the 100-year-old castle is eroding and endangering the monument. Check the Gettysburg National Military Park website for updates, but if all goes according to plan the area should open in 2024.

Stokesay Castle – Reading

Pennsylvania's Majestic Fortresses: Exploring the Enchanting Realm of 9 Castles You Can Visit

Photo courtesy of Todd Van Hoosear

This castle in Reading is available to rent as a wedding or special event venue, but it was originally a vacation home for a wealthy family. Built in 1931, Stokesay Castle was modeled after a 13th century castle of the same name in England.

If you don’t have a special event to plan but you still want to visit the castle, it’s also home to a restaurant. The Knight’s Pub is an American restaurant with live entertainment every Friday and Saturday.

Shakespeare’s Restaurant and Pub – Ellwood City

This castle isn’t necessarily historic, as it was built in 1999, but it’s still a cool place to visit. The castle was modeled off castles of the 1500s and built to house a restaurant as well as the clubhouse for Olde Stonewall Golf Club. Unsurprisingly, Shakespeare’s Restaurant and Pub has a medieval theme that includes replicas of medieval suits of armor made in Spain. The menu, however, is fully American.

Glencairn Museum – Bryn Athyn

Built in 1939 in a medieval Romanesque style, mimicking a castle, Glencairn was originally the home of the wealthy Pitcairn family and their collection of medieval objects. Today, Glencairn is a museum of history and religious art. While there are exhibits of medieval art at the museum, there are also art collections from around the world.

The museum is currently closed for renovations and expected to open around Christmas 2023, but you can still participate in Glencairn activities and admire the outside of the castle. For example, you can attend the “Myth and Magic” Halloween event on Oct. 29 on the grounds of Glencairn.

Pocono Castle – East Stroudsburg

If you’ve had your fill of visiting other people’s castles and are ready to live like royalty, this is the castle for you. Pocono Castle is not a traditional castle but is instead a NEPA home designed like a castle that you can book for overnight stays.

Like any castle, it’s pretty extravagant. The property has a private pond, a sauna, a hot tub, mini golf course, and a giant outdoor chess game. Plus, the castle is near Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, meaning you can take a day trip to hike or swim in the recreation area before coming back to your lodging and dressing up as a king or queen (the property provides these costumes). The castle sleeps eight.

 

READ MORE: 8 Cool Vacation Rentals in Pennsylvania

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