Montgomery's 'Castle' Born Out of a Young Man’s Dream
Franklin Stark opted to turn his two-story farmhouse on South Broadway into a castle.
If you’ve ever rounded the corner on Montgomery Road and spotted a big castle-like structure off to the right, you probably did a double take. Indeed it is a castle, complete with a turret, but without a moat filled with alligators.
The building that started life as a simple wooden farmhouse on top of the hill on South Broadway, slowly morphed into the imposing structure that you see today. What may look like an architectural puzzle was born of a young man’s dream. When Franklin Stark, a bachelor, was serving on an island in the Aleutians during World War II, he, like all soldiers, dreamed of home. If a man’s home is indeed his castle, perhaps that inspired his lifelong occupation.
As a single man, he had no one to scoff at his plans as he began to draw them on a packing crate. Big fanciful plans. He would turn his two-story farmhouse into a castle.
The house he dreamed about, while being transferred all over Japan and other parts of the world, started with one he purchased when he was 19 from the heirs of Henry F. Mordhorst. It was built in 1899 by Charles and Nettie Mall, and occupied a prime spot on high ground overlooking their vast property. Charles Mall was the uncle of the late Jake Mall, who brought us the Montgomery VFW.
After three years, Franklin Stark returned home to implement his grandiose plan. He ordered 50 tons of Bedford stone and 6,000 concrete blocks. He scaled his plans to a size that one man could hope to finish in his lifetime.Next came the scaffold. One by one, he carried each block up a ladder and carefully secured each one in place. It was painstaking work, and he dedicated himself to it.
He didn’t give a darn what future students of architecture might think of his work. He would create an original. His style was a reflection of what he had seen in other parts of the world that pleased him. It is a monument to the independence and diligence of one individual.
Franklin was a talented violinmaker, and in peacetime, a custom mill worker who made doors and window frames for churches and posh homes around the Chicago area. The grand buildings he worked on undoubtedly influenced the many different design elements he incorporated in his “Castle.” As he traveled throughout the world, the various buildings he visited were forming his ideas, as well.
In 1972, the staff of the Oswego Ledger interviewed him. They asked if he would finish the castle, and he replied, “If it sells for 50 cents after I’m dead and gone, I don’t care. I’ve had the chance to make it take shape and grow."
Franklin Stark died in 1982, leaving much of the work unfinished. No doubt he fulfilled his purpose and understood that what really mattered was the journey and not the destination.
Looking at the “Castle” from the front, you see five different roof levels. One especially unique feature is the turret with a circular staircase, reminiscent of the European medieval castles. The far left (east) portion of the house is a relic of the original farmhouse. It retains the original roofline, but is otherwise completely unrecognizable.
In the 1980s, the Metzger family bought the home and did extensive remodeling. They replaced or added plumbing, wiring, sewer lines, and heating. They salvaged a white marble fireplace that is used in one of the living rooms, and hardwood flooring from another old house. They left their own unique stamp on the house.
The dining room has three sets of French doors opening onto a patio. The long narrow room features a hardwood floor in a herringbone pattern, with an unusual border design. The shape of the border is echoed in the corners of the long dining room table. At the opposite end of the house there is a carport opening into the basement and a three-car garage. Downstairs a new greenhouse has been added adjoining the great room.
The present owners, Walter and Bonnie Sattler, were most gracious to give me a tour of the house. They are very modest about their considerable talents exhibited throughout, and quick to give credit to the Metzgers. One of the outstanding features of the house is the abundant natural light streaming through the large windows at the rear of the house. The rooms are furnished with luscious old paintings; plush furniture and bright patterned carpets arranged in inviting groupings that give a cozy, warm look to the large rooms.
Family heirlooms that are scattered throughout look as if they have found their rightful home after being gathered and cherished over the years. The day I visited there was a cozy fire burning in the marble fireplace and it was very tempting to sink into one of the plush sofas, to take in the marvelous view of the backyard, and watch for one of the many deer who live in the nearby woods to wander over. It is a peaceful house in perfect harmony with its surroundings.
Downstairs there is abundant light from a large window in the basement great room, as well as a large fireplace. This is the scene of the annual family Christmas party, and other large events.
Throughout the house comfort and beauty are the main theme. Bonnie said she was not at all excited about leaving her home in Downer’s Grove to move out to the country, but Walter bought the house anyway, with the promise that if she didn’t like it, they would rent it out and move back. Once she found how beautifully her furnishings and paintings fit into the house and put her talent to work on decorating, she grew to love it as well.
They are satisfied with the finishing work the Metzgers did on the place, and the structure remains the same. They added a new furnace and roof, and replaced the greenhouse. In the winter, the greenhouse contains many flowering plants that will go outside and decorate the patios. That is, until the deer family discovers and devours the blooms.