SIDNEY — For more than a century, the citizens of Sidney have gazed up at the medieval appearance of the Bonnyconnellan Castle, nestled on the rising slope at 105 North Walnut Avenue. Firmly anchored to its spot with its two circular towers and battlements, it is tied together by an immense portico overlooked by a square tower. There are 40 steps up from the street to the front door and around its base, the stone structure extends back to two additional square corner towers. In the rear of the castle, a 30 by 50 foot carriage house makes up the rest of the estate.
Before its interior was stripped, the 5,118 square feet of space was decorated with hand carved walnut, mahogany, cherry, tiger oak and birds eye maple with inlaid leather. There were twenty-two rooms, four bathrooms, nine basement rooms, several long hallways and an impressive foyer, with its cherry decor, central staircase and large handcrafted banister, welcoming guests as they entered the front turret rooms with doors and windows matching their circular contours.
This structure is one of fifteen houses included in the Sidney Walnut Avenue area that was successfully nominated in April 1983 for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Known originally as ‘Starrett’s Addition,” (named because it was located just northwest of the original plat of Sidney on land donated by Charles Starrett), this area was a prime residential district at the turn of the century, with bankers, businessmen and manufacturers locating on the hill, primarily between 1880 and 1910. The nomination describes the castle as, “the most outstanding house in the district.”
According to urban historian Kenneth Jackson, wealthier citizens had decided that “the good life could best be found on the edges, rather than the centers, of cities.” Memoirs of the Miami Valley noted, “the most pretentious and costly of Sidney’s homes have been built north of the public square and on the heights of Ohio and Walnut Avenues…” An 1892 Sidney Journal article stated, “although the building lots offered a magnificent vista, their selling price quite often fell below market value due to the considerable cost involved with readying the property for construction which generally included grading and constructing stone retaining walls. The expense involved in building one’s home on such a lot, then was limited to the wealthy.”
John Loughlin, founder of the Sidney School Furniture Company and Sidney’s Mary L. Poultry Company, was born in 1852 and arrived in Sidney in 1878. With dreams of erecting an Irish-styled castle, he began construction of a building that historians believe was designed to be a replica of an existing structure in Cork, Ireland that was near the home of a friend. Historian Hitchcock also reported in 1913 that this friend suggested the name for the castle to Loughlin; Bonnyconnellan is loosely translated to “good girl.” In 1886, his family moved in and the county government advised him that his new castle had been appraised for tax purposes at $10,630. After selling his school desk factory to J.B. Tucker in 1901, and suffering huge losses from his investments in the poultry business, caused by the failure of the German-American bank in 1905, Bonnyconnellan was consigned to the auction block of a public sale.
Without buyers, the probate court approved a private sale where J.B. Tucker bought the castle for a small sum in 1907. With his assets almost depleted, no longer the master of the castle on the hill, and in ill-health, he moved to Philadelphia where in 1909, John Loughlin, the man who brought a piece of Ireland to Sidney, died penniless. The collapse of the German-American Bank was a huge scandal in its day and caused the demise of several companies including the Sidney Carriage Body Company, the Bimel Buggy Company and the Sebestian-May plant. In an ironic twist, the court-appointed receiver for the bank case was W.H.C. Goode, the owner of the ‘other castle’ in Sidney, known as Whitby Place (GreatStone Castle).
A native of Kentucky, Colonel James B. Tucker owned the Tucker Woodwork Company which initially made wooden bicycle rims, then later wooden steering wheels and frames for automobiles. In 1915, the company made more than 75,000 steering wheels! Over the years, Loughlin’s beloved castle has been reclaimed more than once by financial institutions and has remained empty for long periods of time. It has had more than 30 owners including Olympia candy makers Vida and Stanley Bryan, physician Austin Edwards, Army Captain Charles Price, the Frumps and local business owners Tom and Vivian Jutte.
For a historical home of this size and unique appearance, it is extraordinary to note that for a 1966 Sidney Daily News article, the reporter had trouble finding someone that could actually remember the name of the structure, ”…W.K. Sterline, an elderly Sidney resident…was the only person out of several knowledgeable local history buffs to recall the castle’s name.”
When Charles and Arlene Price purchased the castle for $12,000 in 1947, the home was in need of a good cleaning and several repairs. Previously owned by Dr. Edwards, it had sat empty for a few years. Sidney resident Cheryl Iiams (former Executive Director of the Senior Center of Shelby County) had fond memories of what had once been her childhood home. She remembered the side door located by the first floor stairway which was used as an entrance by the doctor’s patients and the unusual groove marks on the wooden steps of the staircase. Cheryl reports that it was rumored that a pony had traveled up the staircase, leaving horse hoof marks on the dark wood!
The Price family had their work cut out for them, removing countless bird’s nests from the chimneys, cleaning out the fireplaces, installing a new furnace and a new roof. Cheryl said that her parents, “froze their way through their first few years in the castle.” She recalls their early childhood days and her parents tackling the home renovation work, “one room at a time.” In the early years, carriages were still stored in the carriage house and it looked as it might have when it was first constructed. Cheryl recounted the day they had two Santa Clauses visit them at the same time…however, one showed up at the front door with a martini in his hand. The Price family’s years in the home were relatively short lived as they were required to relocate with their father who was a captain in the military and ultimately served in the Korean War.
After the Price family moved to Louisiana, her grandparents converted the castle into a nursing home. When the Prices divorced, the facility was then sold to Rose Loewer, who bought the castle in 1958 as an investment. During this period, rooms were partioned to accommodate various tenants.
When Victorian Frump married his wife, he said to her, “Some day, I’ll buy you a castle.” She never forgot his marital promise and in February, 1967, they bought the Bonnyconnellan Castle after reading “Castle for Sale” in the Dayton Daily News. A former drag strip racer and airplane pilot, Victor took to the air in his plane to check out the property from the skies prior to purchasing it. Although they bought it, after being used several years as a rental, the castle was once again in great disrepair.
According to Mrs. Frump, it took her a month just to clean the kitchen and in the early years bats would fly around the castle towers and dart down the stairway to hide on the dark woodwork. As a matter of fact, a rabid bat bit Mrs. Frump’s sister during a visit, requiring her sister to take 15 rabies shots. In a 1968 newspaper interview, the Frumps reported that they estimated it would take, “ten years to restore the building back to its original state.” When the Frumps decided to move, Tom and Vivian Jutte took up where they left off, spending countless hours on loving restoration work after purchasing the building from them in December, 1979. With the Jutte’s antique collection filling its rooms, Loughlin’s Bonnyconnellan once again came to life.
After 16 years of ownership, the Juttes sold their beloved home to Dean and Kim Shepherd in 1996. The Shepherds purchased the castle and began renovations to convert the structure to a bed and breakfast facility. They had big dreams, were a featured stop on a historical tour in 1997, and even opened a gift shop in the carriage house which also featured a cable car. However, by 1999, the fate of Bonnyconnellan eerily paralleled its 1905 demise, when the Shepherd’s financial difficulties caused a foreclosure that resulted, once again, in a public sale that attracted no buyers. During the fall of 1999, as reported in the Sidney Daily News, a law suit filed by The Ohio Bank sought damages and alleged that the Shepherds, with the assistance of another, had removed “valuable woodwork, mantles, molding and staircases.”
Tragically, while the second floor’s less valuable woodwork is basically intact, most of the first floor woodwork had been removed (doors, fireplace mantles, window and door casings, built-in bookcase, and trim), which includes even the wooden ceiling beams in the dining room, as well as the staircase in its entirety. All of the chandeliers had also been taken, with the exception of one that must have been difficult to remove. The beautiful historic interior of the castle was no more. Loughlin’s Irish castle has sat more or less empty for some time, its windows boarded, its future uncertain, awaiting purchase by another inspired dreamer. The newest owners, Heather Drysdale and John Moffitt purchased the castle at the end of 2021 and will be relocating to Sidney from the state of Washington to begin restoration once again. Their plan is to maintain as many historical elements as possible while also creating a functional home for themselves. This is a community that cares about its history and extends its best wishes to this couple as they take on a very big job, indeed.