Col. Donn Piatt served during the Civil War as Staff Officer to Gen. Schenck. His wife, Louise Kirby Piatt, had consumption, so while Donn was gone she stayed at her parents’ home in Cincinnati. In 1864, when Donn retired from his post he followed the doctor’s suggestion of moving Louise to the country for her health. They had fun making plans and designing the cottage where they were to live. Sadly, Louise passed away before it was completed so he closed up the cottage.
Donn was remarried two years later to Ella Kirby, Louise’s younger sister. They lived in Washington, DC where Donn worked at the Capital Newspaper. In 1879, before he retired he built the limestone portion onto the cottage for a retirement home. Louise’s front porch became Ella’s front hallway. The building materials were from their property with plenty of different kinds of wood and limestone from the quarry. The slate for the roof and the windows were ordered elsewhere. In 1881 they moved to Mac-O-Chee Castle. The name Mac-O-Chee is said to be an old Shawnee Indian word meaning, “the people.”
Donn’s home had beautiful stenciling and frescoes on the ceilings and walls painted by Oliver Frey of Mentone, France. Wood working was completed by George Hower and he left his “business card” in way of a plaque on the bottom stairway post.
Inside the castle
The first floor was for entertaining, which Donn and Ella did in style. There was a library for the men; parlor for the ladies, a breakfast room and large, airy dining room for meals. The house servants worked in the back part of the house where the kitchen, butler pantry and a room for them to work in was located. There was a bathroom with a tub in the back hallway beside the inside bathroom. Yes, they had an early system indoor plumbing. Off of the kitchen was the icehouse, cold pantry, laundry rooms and dog kennels. The room upstairs from this area of the house is where the carriage driver stayed when guests visited overnight.
The second floor consisted of family rooms, with the master bedroom, dressing room, bathroom and sitting room all connected. There was a bathroom for the guests to the right of the stairs leading to their bedchambers. At the top of the main staircase was a bedroom used by Donn’s cousin, Virginia Piatt who was a companion to Ella. In the East Tower room was the Catholic Chapel. A circuit riding Priest would come and provide services for them. The West Tower room could be used to read, write or draw as it was filled with light and offered beautiful view. In the side hallway was Donn’s Den where he would do work and write. At the end of this hallway were several steps down to three rooms that were the servants sleeping quarters. Back then, the servants never lived on the same level as those who owned the house.
On the third floor were two elegant guest bedrooms. Both had a sink and the bed was back in a cubby hole and during the day a curtain would be drawn covering the bed area and the room used as a sitting room. There were two tower rooms for the guests to use while they visited and they could see for quite a distance. Donn had a private study on the fourth floor West side tower room which was one room and very small. In the middle of the third floor wide hall was a small hallway that led to the guest’s maids sleeping quarters, so they would be close at hand when needed. Here too, were a couple of steps down with a room on either end and with trunk storage in between.
The farm was situated behind the house over the hill. It consisted of outbuildings and a barn or two. Donn raised animals as well as several kinds of crops. During their time at Mac-O-Chee Castle, when not entertaining, Donn continued to write and Ella, an artist, to draw and paint.
Donn died in November of 1891 from an illness. Folks came from miles around to pay their respects with the funeral procession running from Mac-O-Chee Castle to the Piatt Cemetery over a mile away. Ella continued to live in the castle for five more years but it was too big and lonely for just her so she had another house built overlooking the castle from the hill across the road.
Widow sells castle
Ella put the castle up for sale in September of 1896. Items from the house, livestock, farm machinery and several farm outbuildings were all sold. The first owner was Dr. Thurman who ran a health spa for the wealthy. He added on to the one room stone lodge at the end of the walk that Donn used for a writing retreat during warm weather and used that for his office, exam rooms and it was where he lived. His guests stayed in the castle and enjoyed relaxing in the country. After two or three years Dr. Thurman died and his son sold the property.
The next owner was Graham Denmead from Columbus, who purchased the property so his children could grow up in the country. He added the second floor over Thurman’s house and lived there. Later he rented the castle to the Blackwell family and they lived in the back of the house and farmed the property for Denmead. People driving past the house and would stop and ask to see the castle so Denmead opened it for tours with the Blackwell family showing people through the house.
Denmead sold the Castle and the property was purchased by two different people. The Smucker Sisters bought the house next to the castle and lived there for many years running a craft and art store from the barn. In 1945 the castle was purchased by Cameron Turner from Florida. Cameron was a wealthy lady who brought four tons of large, heavy Mediterranean style furniture to the castle. She had tours of the house to showcase her furniture. Occasionally she stayed at the castle and chose the bedroom at the top of the front stairs. Turner died in the mid 1950’s so once again the Castle was up for sale.
Thankfully, Mac-O-Chee Castle was bought back in the 1960’s by descendants of Donn’s brother Abram, Bill and Jim Piatt. They purchased furniture following the pictures that Ella took of the rooms; if not original it’s as close to time period as they could. They started offering tours at Mac-O-Chee and have been doing so ever since.
As with any 150+ year old building Mac-O-Chee Castle shows the wear of time, but is still worth visiting. Take a step back in time to a different era and catch a glimpse of how Donn and Ella spent their time in their grand old country home.
For information about visiting Mac-O-Chee Castle please visit www.piattcastles.com.
Tami Wenger is a regular contributor to this newspaper.