Far, far, away from the tourist trappings of Orlando and the sandy beaches of the sunshine state, following the power lines that criss-cross the unbearably flat landscape and down back roads frequently mostly by orange trucks and buses transporting fruit pickers, lays the wonderment that is Solomon’s Castle.
Shining like a knight of the round table in the full brilliance of the hot Florida sun, this folk art wonder tucked away in the deepest, most remote, out of the way places of Florida accessible by automobile. On a plot of land formerly submerged by the summer rains, art Solomon Howard has built the ultimate roadside attraction.
We made our pilgrimage to Solomon’s Castle on a trip from Fort Myers to Orlando via the really empty back roads. Its a bit out of the way from anywhere but if you plan your trip with the idea of having lunch in the “Boat in the Moat” it makes for a fun half day adventure.
“The first thing to remember, is to make sure you have a full tank of gas before you leave civilization. We are pretty far out in the central part of Florida and there are not many gas stations out this way.”
N 27 22′ 26.5″
W 081 58′ 40.1″
Once you start getting close, there are signs for “Solomon’s Castle” on all of the “major” roads in the area leading to the castle.
What to Expect
When we visited about 2 pm on a Weds in late April. The place wasn’t too busy. There was a tour of about six people ahead of us and one person in the restaurant but there is a big parking lot, room for buses and the restaurant can hold tons of people so they must be busier on the weekend and during the winter season.
When you arrive, head up to the castle and pay for your tour. A quick restroom break and you are off. The scripted tour if full of painful puns delivered non-stop as the tour guide’s follow Howard’s script and show off the castle which is full of Howard’s amazing sculptures and artwork. There are several large rooms full of his artwork, most done with tongue in cheek type of humor. The output of this castle builder really is amazing. You hear about the building of the castle, made from recycled materials such as the newspaper printing plates used as siding on the castle and the recycled materials used in his sculptures such as auto parts, oil drums, scraps of wood etc. Not too much about the man’s career as an artist and the tour tends to stay on script. I got the feeling that I was messing up the guide when I tried to ask questions but the guide did answer them and then got back on track.
Part of the tour is seeing Howard and his wife’s living quarters complete with a quirky elevator and other homegrown inventions from this amazingly creative mind. After the tour you are invited to explore the property and even check out Howard at work if he is in his workshop. There is a nature trail that is a bit overgrown and lacking in signage. Watch out for the gators! We saw one basking in the sun.
There is also the “Boat in the Moat” restaurant run by his daughter and her husband. Its rather impressive as a structure – built to resemble a Spanish Galleon, it “floats” next to the castle. Lots of seating and an especially beautiful tree house like function room. Seems like a cool place to get married and have the reception. There is even the “Blue Room” that you can rent for the night to see, as the guide put it, “what goes on there at night”. Convenient for a honeymooning couple.
All in all a trip to Solomon’s Castle is a bit wacky, a bit of fun and certainly an out of the ordinary experience. Plan your trip well so you can have lunch at the “Boat in the Moat” restaurant or on the weekends, stay for dinner and few drinks. Some nights they even have entertainment.
Fun Facts about Solomon’s Castle
- The castle is big and shiny. It has a tower, stained glass windows and a moat.
- The gleaming exterior is made of the printing plates discarded by the local weekly newspaper.
- Inside are the family’s living quarters, a stained glass studio, a main entrance hall, and the extensive galleries, exhibiting Solomon’s “found object” sculptures.
- More than 80 interpretations of stained glass windows in the castle.
- It took 16 years to build the 10,000 square foot gleaming castle
- Howard bought the 45 acre property for less than $400 an acre not knowing it was a swamp in the summer.
Howard S. Solomon
4533 Solomon Rd.
Ona, FL 33865
Telephone: (863) 494-6077
Additional reading – http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1988-10-16/news/0070380236_1_gold-mine-solomon-s-castle-hardee-county
Fax: (863) 993-0755