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A Tale Of Two Castles

I love moats.  I always have. I never made sand castles at the beach.  Just moats.  If I saw a kid dripping sand over a turret-y structure I'd say - hey that thing needs a moat, am I right?  Like a used moat salesman, I'd drop to my knees and start moating away. When I visited Lance Keene last year at the castle he's been building for almost a decade on a cliff in Thornton, moats were on my mind.

Sean:  Will there be a moat?

Lance:  You know what, people always ask that? Is there gonna be a moat? Do you think I can put a moat here?  I'm on a cliff.  I'm on the side of a cliff.

Sean: And dungeon?

Oh I love dungeons too. The old wisecracking skinny guy in the caveman t-shirt with his stick arms in the shackles?


"Dungeon would be nice. But we'd have to blast (laughs)."

So no moat.  No dungeon.  No castle even. Not yet.  Though Lance has built a huge grand terrace, stone by stone, 116 long and 14 feet high, he's been prevented from bringing the building crews up because there's no road to the top of his mountain.

Road contractors told him that carving a driveway up the steep wild mountain would cost $100,000.  So Lance did what he always does.  He bought an excavator and just started...excavating.

"I really thought this road would be done in 3 months and it took me a year and a half."

Lance's love of castles began when he was in the army.  Stationed in Germany, he and his friends would tour castles on the weekends.  But as it turned out:

"One of my favorite castles in the world is here in New Hampshire. It's in Windham, New Hampshire. Searles Castle."

The yet to be built Keene Castle is modeled after Searles Castle, which took 10 years to build and was finished in 1915. And while Lance has visited Searles countless times -

Lance: I've never been inside.
Sean:  You sort of lurked?
Lance:  Yes, I want to respect their privacy and not just go walking around the grounds uninvited.  So I would just drive around and peak in through the gate.  That's the extent of what I've seen so far.  And take as many pictures as I can! (laughs)

Lance told me sadly that Searles wasn't really open to the public.  You could rent it out for weddings or private functions, but public tours just didn't happen. 

But then, Once Upon a Time a few weeks ago:

"There was one day, it was a Sunday afternoon. We just went out driving, and sometimes we'll just go driving in some random direction we found ourselves driving up towards Lincoln."

Lance and his family walked along the river, but soon found themselves getting cold. They decided to stop in at the Common Man for hot chocolate.

"Went up to pay and started a conversation with a man at the bar."

The man at the bar was David Kolifrath. 

David:  So he came up and being the gregarious people that we both are we talked to each other.
Lance: And he asked me where I was from and I said well I live down at Waterville Estates in Campton. But the house that we're in now is just temporary until we get our other house built.  We're building a real interesting project a medieval stone castle in Thornton.
David: So I said, what kind of castle are you building? And he said I'm kind of copying this place down in Windham, Searles Castle? (laughs)
Lance: And he kind of said off the cuff - yeah we have a castle too.  I didn't quite understand what he was saying.  And I'm showing him pictures of the castle project and I pull out this one picture of the 3d CAD drawing that I'd done and he said, That's an interesting design.
David: And my wife is sitting next to me and she says, That's our castle!

The King of Keene Castle had just met the King of Searles Castle.

The two gregarious Kings decided, as Kings do, to visit each other's castles.  So this past  Saturday morning, Lance and his family drove to Windham for a tour.

Kolifrath met us at the door with his gold-topped cane. 

Edward Searles, Kolifrath tells us, was primarily an interior decorator.  He grew up poor, and after marrying one of the wealthiest women in America, began building castles and structures whose interiors he could decorate.  He traveled around Europe with his wife collecting unusual pieces.  

"For example, these doors are actually from Windsor Castle. He found out that they were redoing the servant's entrance and these doors were going to be replaced by something more modern."

Standing before a granite fireplace that used to be in Napoleon's castle, Kolifrath begins to falter:

"If you could see, there's a backplate in here?...I used to have a f - what do you call it? A flashlight. I had trouble thinking of the word 'dog' the other day. I asked my wife, 'Did you let the furry thing with the legs?' But anyway..."

With a little pushing, he explains.

"I have to apologize. I got a little bit of Chemo brain. I've been through chemotherapy just recently. It's starting to affects my short term and long term memory. I have stage IV pancreatic cancer so I'm on my way out. They're trying to delay it..."

We travel through the castle.  The music room with its polished black piano, the various parlors and sitting rooms.  There's a Downton Abbey style call system.  Press a button in any of the rooms, and a little bell goes off in the servant's area.

When Kolifrath leaves us for a moment, Lance sits at the piano in the music room near Napoleon's fireplace.

Sean:  Are you a piano player?
Lance:  I used to be.  I haven't touched a piano in 6 or 7 years...

After the tour, the two men make plans to meet at Keene Castle and Kolifrath reveals that he's just bought a home in Waterville Estates, about a half mile from where Lance lives.  It's high up on the mountain and faces the valley. Photos are brought out of the new place, but Lance knows exactly where it is...

Lance: You can actually see my property from yours.
David:  Really?
Lance: So if you look right over here, there's a mountain over here.  We own the top of that.

So even, as he suspects, David's illness will likely prevent him from visiting Lance's castle in progress on the cliff, he will be able to watch the castle rise majestically in the air. Their kingdoms overlapping then, the end of one reign, the beginning of another.

Sean Hurley lives in Thornton with his wife Lois and his son Sam. An award-winning playwright and radio journalist, his fictional “Atoms, Motion & the Void” podcast has aired nationally on NPR and Sirius & XM Satellite radio. When he isn't writing stories or performing on stage, he likes to run in the White Mountains. He can be reached at

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