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Hartford Castle in Hartford, Illinois

Read about this location and more in Legends and Lore of Illinois: The Definitive Collection

Read about this location and more in Legends and Lore of Illinois: The Definitive Collection

Legends & Lore of Illinois CD-ROM“Hartford Castle” is the colloquial name for a mansion that formerly stood on a tract of land just outside of Hartford, Illinois, across the river from St. Louis. The mansion’s actual name was Lakeview, but few besides the original owner referred to it as such. The original owner was a French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant, who built the imposing home for his bride, an Englishwoman whose name has apparently been lost to history.

Sparing no expense (which was certainly an impressive dollar amount in 1897), Biszant surrounded Lakeview with sprawling gardens, statuary, romantic gazebos, and, finally, a moat to keep out trespassers. According to Louie Haines, a neighbor who recalled helping to dig the moat with his father, the Frenchman stocked it with goldfish that interbred with local crappie, producing what he described as “unusual looking fish.”

Eventually, Biszant’s wife died and, perhaps, the pain was too much for him to remain at Lakeview. He sold the mansion and moved west. A number of owners and tenants occupied the mansion until 1923 when a husband and wife from nearby Wood River purchased the property. They lived there until 1964, when the wife became a widow and decided to move to less lonely surroundings.

During that time, according to Bill Matheus of the Lewis & Clark Journal, local residents treated the property as if it were their own. Visitors frequently roamed the grounds and even invited themselves inside the mansion for tours! The mansion deteriorated during the late 1960s, and in 1971 and 1972 vandals ran wild.

“Unknown persons… ripped mantels from the walls, crushed chandeliers, pulled supports from staircases, and took small sized telephone poles and used them to ram holes in the many rooms of the once beautiful ‘castle,’” Matheus wrote. The building was officially condemned, and a few months later, in 1973, it burnt to the ground.

At least one ghost story came out of Lakeview during the time of its original ownership.

According to the Lewis & Clark Journal, the story started when a burglar entered the mansion and was scared away by the clinking of bamboo window curtains.

Benjamin Biszant himself claimed that was how the rumors of a ghost began. Troy Taylor, in what seems to be his only original contribution to the legend, asserted that the ghost of the Frenchman’s wife has been seen on the property.

Today, the Hartford Castle is nothing more than a hole in the ground, surrounded by concrete debris and a shallow moat. All of the gilded ornaments are long gone, and the beautiful gardens are no more. Soon, all that will remain are the memories of this once legendary spot.

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Legends and Lore of Illinois Vol. 2 Digital Edition

Order all 12 issues of the Legends and Lore of Illinois from 2008 in a special digital edition for your favorite e-readers. Places covered in Vol. 2: Archer Cemetery, Sunset Haven, Peoria State Hospital (Bartonville Asylum), Airtight Bridge, University of Illinois, Calvary Cemetery and ‘Seaweed Charlie,’ Lakey’s Creek, Peck Cemetery, Blood’s Point Road, Old Union Cemetery, Hartford Castle, and more! Plus, read letters from our readers, book reviews, ghostly games, and put your knowledge of these locations to the test with challenging trivia questions. Don’t miss these classic issues from the archives of the Legends and Lore of Illinois.

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Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Dr. Jekyll & Ms. Hyde…..

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  2. Marc Metz says:

    ingrew up in south Roxana. We use to rabbit and quail hunt around this property on the 80’s. I heard stories about what was there but never the actual story.

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  3. Rebecca says:

    In 1970, this mansion was for rent. I went and looked at it. It was just amazing. I remember it had a ball room with double stairs descending into the center of the room. Only a small part of the house was inhabitable. The kitchen off the back of the house I think. The basement had 10 foot ceilings. I did not rent it, however some of my friends did and I was back there a few times after that.

    It was in disrepair, however not trashed at the time. The story I heard about the house was it was near a canal and train track and people would come over from St.Louis by rail and visit the house.

    I have tried to locate the house was, from memory, with no luck. I do remember a concrete pond in front of the house. It no longer held water, but it was there.

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  4. Clara Lasater says:

    I grew up in Hartford myself and remember this Castle also. Many times I and friends would ride our bikes down there just to look but you couldn’t get pass the caretakers little house at the chained gate. If you took the old street-car or trolly to St.Louis you would go right pass the side yard or house and yes it did have a little station or place for the street-car to stop there, By the way this picture is a photo of the old well the was out in the yard about 100 ft. from the house towards the tracks, it too has a mystery about it. It is said to have a tunnel from the house that came up into the well, the yard had many statues of dogs, lions etc, in it, very park like and well kept. In late 1969 after a divorce I and my two children moved back to this area and I went to work at Owens Illinois glass factory. I answered an ad in the Telegraph for someone to live in a house and be caretaker in place of rent which sounded great to me so I called. I picked up this little old lady in Wood River on Lorena and we went to see the house, Unfortunately I don’t remember her name except I think it started with a Y, it was a long name. She also had a very strong accent and spoke of a grandson and a daughter that was a doctor that lived in St. Louis. She was looking for someone to live in the Castle and keep the vandals or sight-seers away. She took me though the whole house from top to bottom and you wouldn’t believe how this place was built, it was something I had never seen before or would never see again. The foundation was round made with bricks, it had four huge round columns of wood in the middle supporting this whole house,They looked like big trees with the bark taken off but polished, they were awesome, two adults couldn’t get their arms around one of them. It had boiler heat but that was broken and didn’t work. Over the years the occupants would just empty the ash on the dirt floor at least Mrs Y. told me it was dirt, you couldn’t see it because the ash was at least three foot deep covering the entire foundation area from wall to wall. On the main floor at the entrance of the house there was a large foyer with floor to ceiling mirrors, The ceiling was what looked like large tin squares with a design in them. The stairway that was four or five foot wide had curved banisters, you know the kind that makes kids want to slide all the way down them. On one side of this was what looked to be a parlor and the other maybe a formal dinning room then on into a large family type room that had a bathroom and small kitchen to the left of it and on the right of it was the only downstairs bedroom. All the flooring was hardwoods, the real stuff and it looked brand new. Fireplaces in most of the rooms especially the bedrooms. Outside this main level had a wrap-around porch. Upstairs was at least three bedrooms maybe four, a bath, a large middle room that looked like a play room or parlor, can’t remember for sure. This room had lots of antiques in it some to die for like carved breakaway wardrobes. From here you go up to the third floor that was a round room that you could look out over the entire property. I think you called it a tourit or something like that and it to was large size. So fascinating was this whole tour that I hated it when it ended. It was a dream come true for me to be able to go though it like this with the owner. And the stories Mrs Y. told me no one would believe. It has a history of gangsters from Chicago and area, even a shooting at a gas station down in Michal, Ill.
    I didn’t get to live there but I told a friend about it and she and her husband did, they moved into it on Halloween and we had a party that night, I got to visit a couple of time after that which I always enjoyed. Unfortunately my friend didn’t stay there for very long either because the old potbelly stove their installed didn’t heat the three rooms that they lived in good enough. Plus there was to many people always coming to look. It was a very, very sad day when I heard that this beautiful old house had burnt down. Gone but not forgotten. Teresa that friend was your ex husband’s brother and his wife Sharon.

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    • to this person..do you by chance have any photos of this place? we are doing research for a documentary and need anything we can get on this place.. whatever you have would be helpful.. thanks..

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      • Clara Lasater says:

        Sorry I have no pictures of it but wish I did just for the history side of it. I do however remember most of the floor plan.

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  5. Does anyone know anything about the original owner ‘Benjamin Biszant’ is there any record of his personal history and that of the woman he married? This would be a great short story or novel if someone knew this history and background of their time living in this region.

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  6. Kitty Carlyle says:

    If you live in the area, you should be able to go over to the Edwardsville courthouse and do some searches in their maps and plats areas and also abstracts for property sales and other things of that nature. Also look for newspaper articles about Benjamin Biszant, probate for his wife’s estate, both in the courthouse and also newspaper. Good luck!

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  7. if you have any photos of this place..foward them to my email..we are about to send a video crew to do a documentary on the location.. if you want to be on the crew..email myself or Jason jamerson as we are getting our research done now.. will be needing help on the site..and be prepared for walking in the marshes there and have lots of bugspray.. our tentative date will be announced later..

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  8. as I understand it..after much research and emailing on here.. I have found some information that sadly does not do anyone much good.. the family who still own this property does not allow visiting the site at any degree.. which is maybe a good thing because of how decayed it has become.. over run with vegetation pools full of swamp water riddled with snakes.. its no longer deemed safe for anyone to go there.. not for any reason.. now there is a clause in the will that supposedly states that the property is to remain as it is until the last family member has deceased..no one is allowed there for any reason..none..if you are caught there you will be prosecuted for criminal trespassing ..its best to just stay away..thankfully we have google earth..but you wont see much other than lots of overgrowth..the years have caused a great loss of this once magnificent place..thankfully those of us who have researched and found items of interest on line have our own archives which can be viewed upon request and a personal visit to the Hartford library where the backup files are located.. I have my own archives here.. so if any interested parties want to meet with me and look at what I have I am always willing to share all you have to go is get with me on facebook and let me know..

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