Friday, February 03, 2012

THE CASTLE ON THE HILL, WEATHERFORD TX

Several weeks ago, my daughter, Stephanie Smith, attended a weekend women’s conference near Weatherford, Texas. One of Stephanie's serious hobbies is photography. On a free afternoon, she took photos of the Pythian Home, also known as “The Castle on the Hill” and “The Castle That Love Built.” Since we combined our info with her photos (unless otherwise noted), we’re sharing credit on this post.

If you're driving west from Fort Worth, Texas on Interstate 20, when you reach the exit for Bankhead Highway, look north and you'll soon see a castle on the hill. This is The Pythian Home.

Pythian Home on Bankhead Highway
Weatherford, Texas

The Castle was proposed in 1895 and construction began in 1897. The Texas Pythian Home opened on March 1, 1909, as a home for widows and orphans of Knights of Pythias members. Three hundred acres were donated to the Pythians to build the castle-like structure. The castle was designed to house 250 people. At its peak, 500 people lived there. The administrative staff had their offices and quarters on the first floor. The second floor housed orphaned children, matrons and teachers along with classrooms and a large auditorium. The basement was divided into apartments for widows with children. The castle was designed with the intention of adding additional wings for housing as needed.


In 1914 all of the boys were moved into their new dorm. A girl’s only dorm was built in 1925. By the early 70’s the last remaining widow had died and there was no longer a need for widows to live at the Pythian Home due to the completion of a retirement home for aged Pythians in Greenville, TX.

 



From the beginning, the Home was designed to be totally self-sustaining. The Home had a large dairy operation and livestock was raised to provide meat for the residents. There were also huge vegetable gardens, orchards, a laundry, a hospital with a full-time Doctor and nurse on staff, a power plant generator and a water tower - even their own cemetery. The staff and children living at the Home kept busy maintaining all of the operations. Extra produce, fruit and milk produced by the Home was sold and provided substantial regular income.



By 1972 the FDA changed the regulations and most of those facilities, including the hospital and dairy, were shut down. They were no longer allowed to participate in the canning of their own produce and fruit, and by 1976 they were not self-sufficient. Some of the land has been sold. Once it reached to what is now Interstate 20. There is still some livestock on the grounds, for occasional income and meat. New child labor laws prohibited children from working the farm and kitchen.

 

Gatehouse is in need of repair.
The Home has suffered over the years due to the economy, but about 50 children still remain on site. Children no longer need to be related to a Knights of Pythias member, but are accepted as the need arises. The Home is not State funded and is operated mostly via donations and volunteers. The Pythian organization supports and organizes fundraises for these children, and most renovations are usually through volunteers and the generosity of the community and others. 
 

Knights of Pythias Meeting Hall.
 Second Floor
Weatherford, Texas Downtown Square


The Weatherford Knights of Pythias meeting hall is on the second floor of this building located on the southwest corner of the downtown square. Note that the crenelated roofline and the stationary knight facing east carry out the castle theme with a Templar flair. Meeting “castles” are located all over the United States, though many have been destroyed or are in sad repair.



Faith, Charity
Benevolence
The Knights of Pythias was the first fraternal organization to receive a charter under an act of the United States Congress. The order was founded by Justus H. Rathbone, who had been inspired by a play by the Irish poet John Banim about the legend of Damon and Pythias. This legend illustrates the ideals of loyalty, honor and friendship that are central to the order.


The order has over two thousand lodges in the United States and around the world, with a 2003 total membership of over 50,000. Some lodges meet in structures referred to as Pythian Castles. The order's auxiliaries are the Pythian Sisters, the less serious Dramatic Order Knights of Khorassan, The Nomads of Avrudaka, and two youth organizations: the Pythian Sunshine Girls and the Junior Order, Knights of Pythias for boys.

According to www.pythias-tx.org, “The Fraternal Order of the Knights of Pythias are pledged to the promotion of understanding among men of good will as the surest means of attaining Universal Peace. We believe that men and women, meeting in a spirit of goodwill, in an honest effort of understanding, can live together in a spirit of peace and harmony. We seek those who agree with this belief, and have a personal belief in a Supreme Being, to join our ranks in an effort to reach ‘Peace Through Understanding.’"

Knights of Pythias Castle, Fort Worth TX
Houses upscale business, offices
photo from Pythian website
In 1881 the first building ever built specifically for use as a Pythian lodge hall was erected in downtown Fort Worth. It was a three-story affair, a rarity at the time, costing a magnificent fifteen thousand dollars to construct. The cornerstone ceremony was presided over by Justus H. Rathbone, who had founded the Order Of The Knights of Pythias in 1864. The building is a Texas and National Historical Site.

Notable Pythian Knights include:
Hugo Black, U.S. Supreme Court Justice,
William Jennings Bryan, U.S. Secretary of State     and Presidential candidate
Warren G. Harding, U.S. President
Hubert Horatio Humphrey, U.S. Vice President
John Ellis Martineau, Governor of Arkansas, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas
Richard Irvine Manning III, Governor of South Carolina
William McKinley, U.S. President,
Nelson A. Rockefeller, U.S. Vice President
Joe Rollins, Texas Attorney General, Houston Asst. City Attorney, Prominent Private Practice Attorney
Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. President
Sun Ra, Jazz Musician, Composer, and Band Leader
Lew Wallace, Territorial Governor of New Mexico, Major General (U.S. Army), Diplomat
Freddie Martin, Musician, Band Leader
James E. West, first professional Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America
Francis E. Warren, First governor of Wyoming, long time senator of Wyoming
Louis Armstrong, Jazz musician, actor

As times change, all fraternal orders have seen their membership dwindle. I sincerely hope the Knights of Pythias’ efforts continue to support the Weatherford, Texas Castle on the Hill.

Does anyone in your family belong to a fraternal order?

Thanks for stopping by!

3 comments:

Julianne said...

Wow. That is really neat! Wish I had one like it nearby me. :) How creatively inspiring that must be!

Marianne said...

The pictures are great. Love the reason behind the order. Any novels coming out of this?

Doug n Evey Downs said...

This is where I grew up. There is a bond like no other that is made with my brothers and sisters who I was raised with in the Pythian Home. This home made me who I am !