Oklahoma’s Collings Castle stands as an adventurous discovery for tourists and a mysterious quest for local historians.
Collings Castle features serveral fortress-like structures. Photo by Hayley Leatherwood
Dr. Ellsworth Collings, dean emeritus of the University of Oklahoma College of Education and an emeritus professor, built the unique structure in the 1920s or ’30s.
From the castle grounds, visitors can hear Turner Falls’ gentle roar.
The beauty is bittersweet for local historians who say the castle cannot be preserved as they would like it to be.
Little girls often dream of castles. Paupers, princes, knights and maidens all play a part in the tapestry of a happily ever after.
At Turner Falls Park in Davis, Okla., childhood dreams become reality. Nearly 90 years after its construction, Collings Castle remains a blank canvas for imaginations of kings and queens of all ages. Today the winter sun peeks over the battlements, shining a gentle glow on the cold stone below. From the base at Honey Creek, 60 steep steps lead up to the fortress-like structures, summoning the young at heart for a game of capture the flag.
The kids can’t get enough of the castle according to City Manager Billy Standifer.
“Grown kids play all over it too,” he says with a chuckle.
The park can bring in up to 13,000 visitors on any given weekend. From clean camping grounds to natural swimming areas, the falls have many diverse sights and activities to offer outdoor enthusiasts.
Standifer monitors the grounds often. In the summer he says he can’t make it far in his side-by-side ATV before a visitor will hail him down to ask, “Where’s the castle?”
Possibly the best viewing of the mysterious structure is from the falls’ scenic overlook. To the left, water cascades continuously down the majestic falls. Nestled amongst the trees to the right, all the buildings are visible including the main castle, guesthouse and stables.
The setting made an impression on Jeff Flowers, a People’s Electric Cooperative member.
“It’s a very neat place,” Flowers says. “Where it sits in the mountain kind of looks like you have stepped back to medieval times. For kids it’s a super place to explore hidden right there in the mountains by itself.”
Dr. Ellsworth Collings, dean emeritus of the University of Oklahoma College of Education and an emeritus professor, built the unique structure as a vacation home and ranch house for his Bar C Ranch sometime in the 1920s or ’30s. Many wonder why Collings chose the European design, but as far as the castle’s beginnings, this is one of many unanswered questions.
“See?” Sharon Chadwick, “The Davis News” publisher says, pointing at an array of conflicting documents. “We have so many mysteries.”
Chadwick has reviewed “The Davis News” files back to the 1920s, and to date she has not found one mention of the castle’s construction in the paper.
“I have this ‘Great Gatsby’ idea that the Collings family was wealthy and wanted to entertain their friends in rural America,” Chadwick says. “They could afford it, so why not?”
Using local help, the castle’s construction gave job opportunities when work was scarce. An old photograph depicts Collings helping one of his workers construct the stone steps, which were likely hauled up the steep mountainside by hand or aided by a donkey.
Gwen Williams of the Arbuckle Historical Museum in Davis says the height of the walls and ceilings can be indicative of both the challenging slope and the conservative nature of the Depression era.
“I remember going as a child and I couldn’t believe the small doorways,” Williams says. “How did people get around that itty bitty space? But I could certainly imagine how lovely it all must have been.”
The towers are perfect for tiny explorers. Tunnels are accessible through narrow doorways, and adults may find the need to turn sideways to get through the winding stairs.
As another point of intrigue, Oklahoma materials were used to create the faraway-inspired design. In the upper room, the central point of focus is a rose rock framed fireplace.
To Chadwick, it’s clear the castles were built for entertaining. Several outdoor fireplaces, patios and benches still look ready for a summer barbecue.
The beauty is not fleeting, but it is bittersweet. Over the years, graffiti has marred several of the walls. The lower structure’s roof has since collapsed and the walls and floor are completely exposed to the elements. The main castle, however, remains in relatively good condition.
“You feel a sadness that we can’t preserve it like we would like,” Chadwick says.
The park brings in quite a bit of revenue, but Standifer says most of those funds go toward natural disaster repair and recovery.
“We can’t recover from one disaster, like recent floods, before we have another one,” Standifer says. “It’s hard to spend money on things that aren’t essential.”
Because most of the structure is concrete and stone, it should be able to weather the elements for at least a few more years to come. The Arbuckle Historical Society continues to work actively to preserve the castle’s history for future generations.
“Because of Dr. Collings’ life and what he contributed to the castle, to Davis, to Oklahoma—we need to preserve it,” Williams says. “History affects everyone in one way or another.”