Fox River Grove, IL
One of the most unique structures in McHenry County is Castle Vianden, located in Fox River Grove. There was a time when this beautiful home was a showplace and honeymoon retreat, easily visible from Route 14. Today it is a private home almost totally obscured by trees.
Theodore Bettendorff was born in 1899 in the village of Vianden, Luxembourg. On the hill overlooking the village was a castle, unoccupied for centuries and in ruins. As children, Bettendorff and his friends roamed the ruins of Vianden Castle.
Bettendorff came to America in 1920 and settled in Fox River Grove. He purchased a lot in 1926 and built a small three-room frame house on a hill overlooking the town. In 1931, at the height of the Depression, he was unable to find work. He decided to keep busy by working on his house.
The first step was to dig a foundation. At this point, he discovered the rich stone bed on which his house was built. He dug up the stones and began to construct a stone facing for the outside walls of his house. The finished exterior resembled a castle, which led him to start building a small replica of the castle he remembered from his childhood. His home became known as Castle Vianden.
Bettendorff obtained some old postcards to guide him. Day by day, stone by stone, the castle grew. First came turrets at each corner. One contained a shower, one a restroom, one a clothes closet, and one a circular staircase leading down to the basement and up to the attic.
After the turrets were completed, Bettendorff constructed a large granite fireplace in the living room, using stones he found in the country and hauled back in his car. This was followed by heavy walls, a moat and a drawbridge.
Before too long, Bettendorff's castle began to attract attention. In the 1940s, postcards were published and reporters wrote about the castle in their newspapers. Curious travelers who saw the castle from the highway stopped by for a closer look.|
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Bettendorff carried on....a guard room, bugle tower, castle yard, enclosed sun porch, modern kitchen, garage, dungeon, wishing well and additional turrets were all added, one by one.
By 1960, the castle had eight towers. The largest tower had a ladder leading to the top for a stunning view of the surrounding countryside. The residential area measured 16' x 24' and featured a modern kitchen and walls of knotty pine. The enclosed sun porch measured 24' x 12' and was the castle's most recent addition. During the summer, the exterior was illuminated with colored lights at night.
Bettendorff continued to add to his castle until his death. He was proud of his achievement, and he welcomed visitors and questions with amiable good humor. He passed away in 1967, and the property was purchased by new owners in 1968. During the 1970s, the castle was rented out as a honeymoon retreat. Today, it is a private home.|
The real Vianden Castle was transferred to State ownership in 1977 and has since been restored.
UPDATE: In February 2011, the owners of Castle Vianden asked the Fox River Grove Zoning Board to create an amendment to the village ordinance, allowing them to apply for a special use permit to conduct tours and host banquets in the castle. Neighboring homeowners protested this request, and the final vote was scheduled to take place on March 17, 2011. Just before the vote, the owners of the castle withdrew their request, citing the need to study the issue further. You can see some current photos at their new website: Bettendorf Castle.
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