Mystery has always surrounded Seely’s Castle, also called Overlook Castle and Castle in the Sky. It has had to endure rumors of sheltering a pedophilia cult as well as being the center for Satanic rituals and human sacrifices in the mountains of North Carolina. Its mysteries are evidence that rumors will fill gaps left by secrecy and the unusual. And the existence of a mountaintop English fortress castle certainly meets the test of being unusual, unexpected, and generally unexplained.
The idea for the Castle probably emerged from an inventory problem. The owner had a lot of unused stone on his hands in 1914 when construction on the Castle began. That initial owner was Fred Loring Seely, the son-in-law of Edwin Wiley Grove. E.W. Grove was a patent medicine tycoon credited with transforming Asheville into the most popular resort city in the Southeast in the early 20th century. He gifted ten acres on the top of Sunset Mountain, called Overlook Park, to Seely to build a new home for Seely and Grove’s daughter. Seely had overseen construction of the Grove Park Inn for his father-in-law. The upscale hotel was built using native granite rock from the surrounding mountains. Seely had insisted that only larger stones be used to minimize mortar joints. With construction complete, Seely was left with massive quantities of unused smaller stones. That probably was the beginning of the idea for the 20,000 square foot Castle which Seely designed himself.
It is described in its 1980 nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, as a reproduction of Forde Abbey, Dorset, near London, a mid-twelfth century monastery. Some of its interesting features include the following:
- A Tudor mantel in the library which came from an English manor once owned by Queen Victoria.
- In the Great Room, with 32-foot-high ceilings and massive beams made from whole trees, a stone from the Tower of London and a piece of the Blarney stone were set into the fireplace.
- In the bedrooms, the closet doors were wired by Thomas Edison with switches that automatically turned the lights on when the doors were opened.
- The lions on each side of the tunnel entrance are said to have been from the courthouse in Atlanta that Sherman’s army burned down during the Civil War.
Overlook Castle served as a summer home for the Seelys, who spent much of their time in the Far East purchasing ingredients for Grove’s patent medicine business. When they were staying at the castle, the Seelys were said to have some impressive guests, including Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison. “Seely attended Princeton as an adult becoming friends with Woodrow Wilson, who was then the president of the University. Asheville native and one time owner of the Castle, Jerry Sternberg, (quoted above) wrote: “Seely later became a significant fundraiser for Wilson’s presidential campaigns. During his second term in office, Wilson suffered a stroke, and legend has it that the government was secretly being run by his wife. Every day, to fool the public, they would pretend to wheel Wilson out onto a porch at the White House to enjoy the afternoon sun, but this was just a stand-in. Supposedly, Wilson was actually being kept out of sight in the castle’s master bedroom.” Another persistent rumor according to Sternberg is that “papers related to the Teapot Dome scandal, having to do with oil leases during the Harding administration, were locked in the enormous safe in the counting house in the castle’s west wing.”
The last known owner of the Castle is the Wells family. The head of the family, Loren W. Wells, made his fortune as the founder of the Bon Worth Company that manufactured stretch polyester pants. He indicated that it was far too expensive to live in the Castle and that they kept it only for Christmas parties. Loren died in 2018. The rumor is that Omni Hotels & Resorts, the current owners of the Grove Park Inn, had planned to purchase the Seely Castle. However, there is no evidence to date that the property has changed hands.
At one point in the Castle’s life, when it was poorly maintained, Jerry Sternberg purchased the property for $40,000 and made it his home for several years. He writes of the adventurous time when he got to play “King of the Castle”, in the Mountain Xpress of Asheville. To share that adventure, go to http://gospeljerry.com/intro.php. Prior to Sternberg’s purchase, the property was used as the campus of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Unable to find a buyer for the property, Sternberg donated the property to a religious organization, and it was operated as a mission until eventually purchased by the Wells family. All told, there have been five owners of the property since completion of the structure and grounds in 1924. And despite the mysteries surrounding it, none were Satanic worshipers!