“Hartford Castle” is the colloquial name for a mansion that formerly stood on a tract of land just outside Hartford, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Its original owner, a French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant, called it Lakeview. He built the imposing home for his bride, an Englishwoman whose name has apparently been lost to history.
Sparing no expense (which was certainly an impressive dollar amount in 1897), Biszant surrounded Lakeview with sprawling gardens, statuary, romantic gazebos, and, finally, a moat to keep out trespassers. According to Louie Haines, a neighbor who recalled helping to dig the moat with his father, the Frenchman stocked it with goldfish that interbred with local crappie, producing what he described as “unusual looking fish.”
Eventually, Biszant’s wife died and, perhaps, the pain was too much for him to remain at Lakeview. He sold the mansion and moved west. Several owners and tenants occupied the mansion until 1923 when a husband and wife from nearby Wood River purchased the property. They lived there until 1964, when the wife became a widow and decided to move to less lonely surroundings.
During that time, according to Bill Matheus of the Lewis & Clark Journal, local residents treated the property as if it were their own. Visitors frequently roamed the grounds and even invited themselves inside the mansion for tours! The mansion deteriorated during the late 1960s, and in 1971 and 1972 vandals ran wild.
“Unknown persons… ripped mantels from the walls, crushed chandeliers, pulled supports from staircases, and took small sized telephone poles and used them to ram holes in the many rooms of the once beautiful ‘castle,’” Matheus wrote in an article from March 25, 1973. The building was officially condemned, and a few months later, in 1973, it burnt to the ground.
At least one ghost story came out of Lakeview during the time of its original ownership. According to the Lewis & Clark Journal, the story started when a burglar entered the mansion and was scared away by the clinking of bamboo window curtains.
Benjamin Biszant himself claimed that was how rumors of a ghost began. Local author Troy Taylor, in what seems to be his only original contribution to the legend, asserted that the ghost of the Frenchman’s wife has been seen on the property.
Today, the Hartford Castle is nothing more than a hole in the ground, surrounded by concrete debris and a shallow moat. All of the gilded ornaments are long gone, and the beautiful gardens are no more. Soon, all that will remain are the memories of this once legendary spot.