In the rolling hills outside or Orion, Illinois, you seem to move from modern day rural America to medieval England with the turning of the road. As you wind your way through the countryside, you come upon a castle fortress set on a hill, ruling the region. You almost expect to see knights in shining armor riding out on their chargers to Joist with the enemy.

To most, itís simply referred to as Warner Castle, a large edifice that for decades has been known as the haunted house to scores of little children on Halloween night.

No one knows for sure why, but some say that during the 1950ís, the house sat empty. It became a target for young rock-throwing adolescents. A large bust was stolen, further prompting people to say the place was haunted.

The castle celebrated its 100th anniversary at Christmas 1995. It was built by a wealthy farmer, politician and businessman named Wilder W. Warner. In 1851, Warner purchased his first parcel of land, part of which later became known as the town of Warner.

The town bearing his name sprang forth in the early 1870s with the routing of the Rockford, Rock Island and St. Louis railroads through this and the establishment of a depot called Western Station. Warner built a freight house for his shipments of grain and livestock from his nearby farms.

He engaged in other business ventures in Warner. He built a cheese factory and a manufacturing plant that produced corn elevators and corn hangers.

When the post office was established in 1884, the town officially was named Warner and he was commissioned as the postmaster. He built a school where the 18 children of the town attended classes from first to eighth grade.

A church was established in the town by the Orion Baptist Church in 1892. Warner donated the building at a cost of $2,019. He built a general store that also served as a residence. During the construction of the castle, the Warner family lived in the store.

During the 1920ís the down began to die. The post office was the first to go, discontinued in 1928. The railroad depot was taken out at the same time. Manufacturing fell victim to the Depression and the growth of northern manufacturing. The church was razed in the 1960s and the land was subdivided into two housing lots. The general store burned to the ground in 1976, and a house was built on its foundation.

Warner was fascinated by castles and dreamed of owning one. He traveled the world several times, always collecting ideas for his dream. Finally, in England, he found the castle he was looking for and had smaller-scale plans drawn to suit his needs.

He began construction in 1890. The building is constructed from sandstone from the nearby Cleveland quarry. Both the old Looney home in Rock Island and the Rock Island courthouse are made of the same stone.

The stones were hauled by horse and wagon to the site where a stone cutter shaped the large pieces. The stones were then hauled into place by a block and tackle arrangement drawn by horses. Chain marks are still visible on the exposed stones in the basement.

Warner brought some of his home furnishings from abroad, including several Italian marble fireplaces. There are those who believed that Warner brought the castle piece by piece from Europe. A construction method that was more European than American gave rise to some of the stories.

The castle has 17 rooms, including seven bedrooms, two living rooms, a library, dining room and kitchen. One addition included six carved busts that lined the hand-carved hall. The busts depicted men admired by Warner; men like Lincoln, Garfield and Webster. During a time when the castle stood empty, two of the busts disappeared. Later, one was found broken in the woods, but the other never has been located.

Another interesting feature is the standpipe that runs up the center of the building. In case of fire, hoses could be attached and water drawn from a water tower and holding tank in the attic. The tower holds a commanding view of the region. It is said that on a clear day you can see Orion, five miles in the distance. The total cost of building the castle is said to have been $80,000 in 1895.

The castle was completed in November of 1895 and the family moved in on December 25, 1895. Warner died 4 years later on December 31, 1899, leaving the castle and the running of his business to his son, Lawrence.

When Lawrence died in 1947, the castle fell on hard times. It changed hands many times in the ensuing years, but it has never lost its ability to charm the viewer and bring legends of the past to life.

By KayDee Ward
© Copyright 1995
All Rights Reserved

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