A short 25 miles down the road in Charlevoix, Michigan, you will find an impressive display of trains, trains and more trains. The trains will bring you in, but there’s so much more to see during your visit to Castle Farms.
Antique toys, castles, and giant chess sets are displayed throughout the buildings and grounds, along with royal family memorabilia from around the world. Not to mention the exclusive Twilight Tours that are offered just four times during the summer season. (Twilight Tour event dates for 2015: June 17, July 15, August 12 & September 16th – find out more here.)
When Linda Mueller purchased Castle Farms of Charlevoix in 2001, she had no idea that the French Renaissance style castle would someday be home to what is now the largest Outdoor Model Railroad in Michigan.
Built in 1918 by Albert Loeb (president of Sears), ‘Loeb Farms’ as it was then known was built as a working model dairy farm. Originally the Castle was home to 200 head of dairy cows. When Albert died in 1924, his son Ernest took over running the farm. The Great Depression forced its closure in 1927, and for many years the property sat idle.
Two owners and 74 years later, Linda Mueller became the Castle’s fourth owner. After undergoing a complete renovation, Castle Farms has been fully restored to its original beauty, and is now open to the public for year-round tours.
Model trains play a special role in Castle Farms’ history.
Ernest Loeb and his older brother Allen, loved playing with trains as children in the early 1900s. Even as adults, the two of them spent considerable time together in their office in Chicago working on train lay-outs. After they both married, and had children of their own, Ernest and Allen hosted train parties for all the kids. Ernest’s three daughters, who always received trains at Christmas, were rarely able to play with the toys. Instead, it was Ernest and their Uncle Allen who were the ones down on the floor, manually switching the trains as the children watched. It was that love of trains that brought the two Loeb brothers together. And it was that same passion for trains that inspired two modern-day brothers to build the Outdoor Model Railroad at Castle Farms.
Just like the Loeb brothers, Richard Mueller (Linda’s husband) and his brother Glenn enjoyed playing with trains when they were growing up. Glenn liked working with the scenery, while Richard liked building complicated track lay-outs.
When they became grandfathers, they decided it was time to get back into model trains. But rather than indoor layouts, Richard and Glenn chose outdoor garden-scale trains. Richard and Glenn’s creativity in track layouts and scenery culminated in Castle Farms’ Outdoor Model Railroad, which has proved to be a big hit for kids of all ages.
Opened in 2008, the Castle’s original Outdoor Model Railroad was designed to feature Charlevoix’s rich railway history from the 1890s through the 1950s. It includes replicas of the Pere Marquette 1890s era steam locomotive, the famed Charlevoix Depot, plus the historic railroad swing bridge. Trains steam across bridges, through tunnels, and around a waterfall which cascades into a live fish pond. A Victorian tower bridge with two separate towers offers guests a bird’s eye view of the trains and tracks.
In 2010, the Railroad was expanded to feature the Fantasy Railroad, with its 26-foot-long bridge, Double Helix Tornado Tower and Five Level Twin Coaster. The expansion doubled the railroad’s size. Today, over 70 G-scale engines and more than 160+ G-scale trains operate on seven separate levels, zipping across more than two thousand feet of track. By season’s end, there’ll be 80-85 engines running on separate tracks.
At Castle Farms, kids of all ages are train engineers at heart. The addition of three new G-scale lines in 2014 increased the scope of the Outdoor Model Railroad, while an expansion in spring of 2015 added an extra four new sections of track.
Also new for 2015: kids will now be able to ride small trains. A layout addition in the ABC Garden will feature more of the children’s trains inside a train yard, as well as a turntable layout. More trains will be added to the 2nd tower roof.
Kids love interacting with the trains, and the Castle encourages hands-on learning. Plans are underway for the addition of new train layout tables, which will be on display in the Queen’s Rose Pavilion. These unique layouts, easily moveable, will be fashioned from materials and trains provided by the Castle, and designed and built solely by volunteer members of the Castle’s Model Railroad Club.
Meanwhile, the Lionel Room (under one of the towers) has been emptied out. We won’t spoil the surprise and tell you what’s planned… Come out to the Castle and see for yourself what we’re doing with all that space!
A 1918 Museum, honoring the year the Castle was built, features items from that time period, including a wooden mouse trap collection and artifacts from World War I. As Castle Farms is also one of the Midwest’s premier wedding destinations, what could be more appropriate than an elaborate display of wedding cake figurines? One, a Victorian cake topper, features frosting more than 100 years old.
Your Castle tour winds in and out of historic buildings, as well as through landscaped gardens based on European design. The King’s Grand Courtyard Garden is a multi-terraced vista set amid fragrant roses, with four stone maidens gracing the grand promenade of this splendid parterre. For the young at heart, the Enchanted Forest features gnomes, elves, and fairies, plus even a Mossy Moose! Norm the Dragon (a 2012 finalist in Grand Rapids’ renowned Art Prize competition) guards the Castle from his post in the Dragon’s Lair garden. Conclude your tour with refreshments or a picnic lunch relaxing by the Reflection Pond. Garden gazebos and wooden porch swings are waiting just for you.
Hours of Operation:
Castle Farms is open year round for self-guided tours
Monday-Saturday 9 am – 4 pm (November-April) and
Daily 9 am – 4 pm (May-October).
Interested in a more extensive tour?
Special during the months of July and August: public guided tours daily, at 10 am and 1 pm.
No worries for visitors with special needs. The Castle is fully handicapped-accessible.
All aboard for a trip to Castle Farms, offering family friendly fun on a family friendly budget.
Garden Railroad Facts:
- Opened July 2008; expanded 2010, 2012, and 2014
- 70+ G-Scale engines
- 160+ G-Scale trains running on seven levels
- More than 100 buildings and structures
- More than 200 people and animals
- G-Scale: 1:29 with some LGB plus O-Gauge
- Models from the 1890s and 1950s
- Stainless steel Aristo-Craft Track G-scale
- Electric train models of steam engines and diesel locomotives
- LGB, Aristo-Craft, Piko and Scratch Built structures
- Push button timer controlled – lots of fun
- 26 foot long bridge, double-helix Tornado Tower, Five Level Twin Coaster