Tucked away in Aberdeen at the end of Second Avenue NW is a historical gem in danger of fading into oblivion. Older locals may know about the Easton Castle hidden past a smattering of industrial buildings, but newer residents—and many people across the entire state—likely have never heard about the beautiful old home where famed Oz series author L. Frank Baum once spent time.
“It’s like living in a jewelry box.” -Tandy Holman
Aberdeen’s famous resident gave the first tour of the grand house when it was owned by businessman C. A. Bliss, who showed off his wealth by constructing in 1889 a mansion in an area known as West Hill and promoted by Baum’s brother-in-law, Thomas Clarkson Gage. Bliss referred to his home as O-TE-LA.
Just three years later, financial issues forced Bliss to sell the castle to Carroll Francis (C.F.) Easton, a native New Yorker and area banker who finished it in the grandest style of the day.
“The Eastons chose the crème de la crème when it came to furnishing the home,” said current owner Tandy Holman.
By 1904, the Eastons bricked over the original wooden facade per designs developed by son Russell, then a civil engineering student. The Easton family lived a seemingly lovely life in the castle with their children (two daughters, Violet and Hazel, completed the family, although Hazel died at age 28 in 1918).
C.F. Easton died in 1935, with ownership passing to Russell. After his mother Eva died in 1944, Russell shut himself away until his death in 1956, triggering a decade of disrepair and vandalism for the Easton Castle.
In fact, the home was scheduled for demolition when veterinarian Sam Holman toured the home in 1965, recognizing instantly the immense historical value beneath the layers of dust and grime.
“Dad had been a contractor before, so he knew it had good bones,” said Tandy.
Sam bought it from the Easton heirs in 1967 and established his vet practice in the home. Tandy returned to the home 37 years ago to help her father with his vet practice and never left. She’s been a stalwart supporter of the home’s historical importance not just to Aberdeen but also to the story of Baum.
“You will never find this again anywhere,” said Tandy. “There are hundreds of years of fauna in the trees… why would we destroy that?”
That is her greatest fear. She and sister Margaret Holman James are tending to the home and promoting it as a historical destination, as well as a nature adventure by staying in the campground developed in the 20 acres of lush forest.
You can take a tour of the home or even rent a few rooms for events or overnight stays.
There’s No Place Like Home
Before being bricked over, the home was painted green. Legend has it that L. Frank Baum named Emerald City in his book series after the enormous green mansion on the western hill of Aberdeen.
The pandemic complicated many of those efforts, but the Holman sisters remain optimistic about the home’s importance while being realistic about its tenuous future.
“It will not survive another private ownership,” said Tandy.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Matilda Jewell Gage, who spent time in the castle as a child and became the Easton’s insurance agent as an adult, likely inspired the character of Dorothy in her uncle’s famous Wonderful Wizard of Oz series.
The sisters remain undeterred. They watched their father toil away keeping the home up in a way that would have made its namesake family proud, and they want to continue his legacy by doing the same. It’s not an easy job, given the scale of the home, the amount of items that have made their way within its walls, and the fact that Tandy and Margaret are at retirement age.
The Easton Castle/O-TE-LA Conservancy has been established as a nonprofit entity, and Aberdeen resident and meteorologist Scott Doering serves as its president.
Because Sam Holman turned the original kitchen into his vet clinic, his wife Jacintha designed a new one that was installed in the home’s front parlor. The entire apparatus was constructed out of horse stalls from the carriage house that can be removed completely.
“We hope to buy the castle and preserve it for years to come,” said Doering. “We want it to be a spot for people to come visit, and we want to save the large forest surrounding the castle.”
Doering adds that the small board of only a handful of volunteers are passionate about saving the historic home, and they have many ideas for possible fundraisers. More than anything, they need more help and for people to know the castle still exists.
“I think people know it’s here, but they don’t know the history behind it,” said Scott. “If you’re coming through [Aberdeen], reach out and come do a tour, rent a room, or stay in the campground and experience life the way it was more than a century ago.”
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