I received E-Mail that said:
This is an article from the post-dipatch newspaper:
UNFINISHED CASTLE STANDS AS MEMORIAL TO A MAN WHO HAD IT ALL-AND LOST IT George F.Wood-Smith,a Scottish immigrant made his fortune in the early 19OO's. High on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in south St.Louis County sits the ruin of what would of been one of the grandest houses ever built here. If George F.Wood-Smith had been able to complete his Scottish castle, its splendor may have rivaled the mansion built by August A.Bush Sr. at Grant's Farm. Just as fasinating as the castle is the man who dreamed of building it. George F.Wood-Smith was 2O when he arrived in this country from Scotland about 19OO. In his lifetime, George became a millionaire more than once. Yet he died essentially broke. He was talented at making money as he was spending it. According to children,he was an inventor who hobnobbed some of the giants of the early 2Oth century. He was a friend of Henry Ford. And when Wood-Smith lived back east, he was a Sunday dinner guest of Thomas Edison.
Family records show he was born son of a doctor in Glasgow, Scotland, in 188O. He earned a degree in marine engineering from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. After arriving in this country,George worked at building ships on the east Coast. He was an engineer for the Pennslyvania Railroad. He desinged tank cars and railroad switches. In the early 19OOs, he got into the oil business just as this country was turning to automobiles. He also manufactured railroad tank cars. By all accounts, he amassed a fortune. "He designed things, but he never took out patent on anything he designed,"said Wood-Smith's daughter, Bonnie Ferbet, who lives in South County. By 1914, he had moved to St.Louis. And it was in 1914, that he started to build his magnificent castle
After looking at several spots, Wood-Smith decided to build his house on 42O acres of land at the end of Fine Road on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. It was going to be a smaller version of the castle near Glasgow of his aunt, Lady Jane Maxwell. It would be in chateaus from the period of King louis XIII. Wood-Smith commishined St.Louis architect Raymond E. Maritz Sr. to draw the plans. The 86-year-old blueprints are still on file at Laclede's Landing office of Maritz's son, Raymond E. Maritz Jr. According to the blueprints and documents on file with the Missouri Historical Society, Wood-Smith's castle would have 2O spacious rooms,including 11 bathrooms,and a dining room with a spectacular panoramic view of the Mississippi River.
It would have two swimming pools,one outdoors and another in the basement for winter swimming. Plans called for a billiard room, numerous guest rooms and spacious servant's quarters. There were to be sunken gardens, a tower, a waterfall fountain, tennis courts, a golf course and a stable. Wood-Smith hired a small army of workers to put in sewer and water systems, and a quarry was opened at the site. The sunken gardens were built,as well as the towers and a massive stone staircase. The fountain was started. At a time when the average worker took home $13 a week, Wood-Smith was spending an astounding $1,OOO a week on his castle. Between 1914 and 192O, he is believed to have spent about $5O,OOO a year in salaries and supplies. Work on the castle stopped in 192O when Wood-Smith's fortunes changed. Work would resume sporatically until the stock market crash of 1929 stopped it for good.
The 3O-foot walls of Wood-Smith's castle still stand, as well as the sunken stone stone pool and the sunken gardens. The wide steps of the grand stone staircase still remain, 15 steps to a landing and then another 3O stone steps to the castle wall. Wood-Smith was going to have a spectacular, panoramic view of the Mississippi River from his castle. The view is still there,but the castle has been slowly crumbling for years. The gargoyles that once perched on top of the castle walls are gone. Those familiar with the Wood-Smith castle say that pieces of it can found in a few lawns and front yards of south St.Louis County.
Over the years, a number of tall stories have circulated about Wood-Smith, says his daughter, Bonnie Ferbert. One story is that he never finished the castles because his young son fell to his death while playing there. Another is that he fell under the spell of a younger woman. Neighbors who live along Christopher Drive in South County have heard stories and wondered about "those castle ruins" off Fine Road. The rumors are, of course, untrue. Wood-Smith didn't finish the castle because he ran out of money. But the family suffeed a tragedy when Bonnie Ferbert's older sister,Slyvia,fell into a cictern well and drowned. And Wood-Smith was quite a bit older when he married his secretary, Josephine Wieczoreck of St.Louis. They had five children:Georgia, Joseph, Slyvia, Bonnie, and Julian. Of those, only Bonnie survived. Julian Smith-Wood, in an interview before he died; said that his parents' lives had been something out of the Great Gatsby. Wood-Smith had a long ago memory of his mother sitting regally in the seat of her Duesenberg converible flanked by two Russian wolfhounds.
While he worked on his castle in the 192O's, Wood-Smith built a 12-room house on the grounds of what is now Sherwood Country Club, a nine hole private course at the end of Fine Road. The house, now vacant, still stands. Bonnie Ferbert likes to tell about the time her father, without telling her mother, decided to build a nine-hole golf course for his friends. "That's how he was," she said. The Goldenrod Showboat is said to have made stops at the boat landing on the Mississippi at the foot of Wood-Smith's property to entertain the family,friends and neighbors. In 1937, the land surrounding the castle was sold to Ford Motors Co. for an assembly plant. But the plan was never built, and the land was bought in 1948 by Union Electric Co., which later built the Meramac plant.
After the financial setbacks, George Wood-Smith moved on to other things, his children say. In 1948, Wood-Smith read about a scandel involving the Training School for Boys at Boonville, MO. He decided the boys there needed a vocation training program. He passed a test at the University of Missouri at Columbia and earned a teacher's certificate. At the age of 68, he started a new career as a vocational instuctor. In the 195O's, he drove himself to a boys home in Boise, Idaho, where he taught vocational training for several years. George Wood-Smith died in 1961. He was 81. "He had a keen mind that wouldn't grow old," recalled Julian Wood-Smith of his father."He was a pretty smart man until the he died. He knew quite a bit about everything." Neither Bonnie nor Julian ever could remember talking much about the castle he never finished. "He never talked about he past at all," said Julian."He looked into the future."
Later, I received E-Mail that said:
We were there today... I was searching for information about it and you're the only place I could find it! We didn't pursue it very far... we reached the outer wall..an old layed-stone "fort-like" wall..which was, long ago, covered with fence and barbed wire.. about every ten feet there is a large, obvious sign saying "KEEP OUT - UNION ELECTRIC PROPERTY". The fence has been cut where people have went in, but Union Electric has patched it.
Later, I received E-Mail that said:
I went to find the woods smith castle and found the house and golf course, and a really neat mansion in a park near by but no sign of the castle. I drove onto Ameren UE property (they bought out union electric) and found no signs of a castle. There was one road leading up a hill behind the golf course but a big sign said treepassers would be prosocuted so I didn't enter. I tried to get there by the course but didn't see the castle. Anyone that could help me find it would be appreciated, but I think that they probably just demolished it.
Later, I received e-Mail that said:
I have up to date pictures of this castle since I work for UE and patrol this site everyday, if you would like me to send them let me know
On 5-26-05, I received E-Mail that said:
I am married to G.F. Wood-Smith's grandson, you can see the unfinished castle from the Mississippi River. We are boaters and have enjoyed only to look at it from the river. I would love to have some stones from the castle but do not know who to contact.
On 10-9-06, I received E-Mail that said:
The way you get to the ruins is by going through Bee Tree Park. It is fenced, but the fence has again been cut and is open. You can jump the fence on the side just a few yards down past the blockade, too. In Bee Tree park, you take the road to the left down to the river overlook, and walk down the trail and go straight. If you keep going straight, and go through the fence, and keep going straight, not to the right, you run into it. It's awesome, but has alot of damage and trash, and someone is apparently filming a very amature horror film there. When I was about 6 years old, my Mom took my brother and I down there and told us there was a castle, but we stopped at the No Trespassing signs. I forgot about it until I went there again today. I didn't know the story on it until I read your passage on it.
On 5-23-12, I received e-mail that said:
I am working on a book of lost and forgotten places in Missouri, so intriqued by your site. I began research into the castle. I spent 3 ½ years attempting to obtain authorized access to the grounds and requesting information on it’s history. Currently the Missouri Historical Society is in the process of obtaining information for me. Eventually, through many contacts and patience, I was given permission for an escorted visit to the grounds of the castle. I was allowed to photograph the site extensively, but with the condition they not be posted on the internet and before being used in my planned book, both a writeup and photographs would need to be reviewed. It took a lot of effort and is complicated. I also wonder if it was actually worth it for a building that was never completed and does not have much history per se. Much of the rules/conditions according to AmerenUE, who owns the property, are due to Federal regulations pertaining to the Department of Homeland Security. Compared to your photos on the site, the location has been cleaned up nicely, no vegetation or graffitti remain. They have installed many modern security features and, based on my younger years when I was in law enforcement, anyone currently attempting unauthorized access will be caught and with Homeland Security issues involved, I suspect those caught will have some serious legal issues to deal with.
With that said, let me try and describe what you cannot see in the photos. In the photos above, you are seeing about 1/3 of the described courtyard as viewed from the castle foundation. Remains of a Greek style fountain remain as do a couple of stone structures, one easily seen in your posted photo. There appeared to be at last one more that at some point was destroyed or collapsed as it is lying in pieces. There is a massive stone staircase which takes you to the top of the foundation. The foundation for the castle itself is complete and a very big electrical tower now sits easily within the confines of the foundation. Beyond the walls of the top photo on the left and top is 50 foot or more drop to the bottom of the bluffs. Much of the top course of stone work is damaged and loose. It is obviously not a very safe place to be wandering around. Generally speaking, the site has not been restored obviously as it is not accessible to the public. They have cleaned it up and stabilized it and I doubt it will deterioriate any further.
When finished, the AmerenUE folks suggested I visit the country club next door to them. The home the Wood-Smith family lived in while building the castle still remains. With a smile, the AmerenUE folks said”if they give you grief, tell them we said you had permission. We OWN the land they use for the country club.” I did so. I requested permission from the Country Club to get access inside the house, but they refused. They actually weren’t very happy I was there, but allowed me to photograph the outside. I have attached a photo of the family’s home in case you are interested. It is in fair condition, but showing age. It is apparently used for storage. It appears to have been quite grand for its day.
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A special thanks to Mandy for sending the first top photo, and John Bure for the second top photo.