FESTUS — A castle tucked away on 2,400 acres, visible to the outside world only from water or air, is on the market for $24.75 million — more than twice the asking price of any luxury property for sale in the St. Louis area.
It’s being touted as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to own a private estate that includes a furnished castle with a conference center and an 18-hole golf course, according to the listing by Cushman & Wakefield real estate firm.
Union Pacific has for more than 30 years owned the nine-bedroom, limestone mansion with a gun tower used in the Civil War. The railroad used it as a corporate retreat, but in 2018 decided to close it to cut costs.
“It’s immaculate,” said Michael Hanrahan, the listing agent. “They’ve done a fantastic job maintaining it.”
The estate goes by several names, including Selma Hall and Selma Farm. Most locals still call it Kennett’s castle for the wealthy family who built it more than 160 years ago. But the property has long been shrouded in mystery. Few outside the company have been allowed on its grounds, on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.
The new real estate listing offers a glimpse into the castle kept from the public for decades:
Four much smaller houses sit on the property, as does a hunting-and-fishing lodge overlooking a lake and shooting range.
The 6,400-square-foot conference center that once was a stable includes meeting rooms in silos with 30-foot ceilings and a patio with a view of the pool and tennis court, as well as eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a kitchen and a fitness room.
The Course at Castle Ridge golf course has a 5,900-square-foot clubhouse, and its cart paths and ponds “are accented by the same locally excavated limestone used for the castle,” the listing says. Golf carts and maintenance equipment are included.
A string of influential families and companies have owned the property, where the future King Edward VII of England reportedly once spent an extended stay.
It has been for sale since around the beginning of this year, said Hanrahan. He said potential buyers include resort operators, a company looking for a conference center or corporate retreat and the very wealthy.
Finding comparable properties for sale on such a huge expanse of land is, well, challenging.
In 1996, McDonnell Douglas Corp. bought one of the most famous estates in St. Louis County to create a learning center. The company paid $7 million for the Vouziers mansion — a French country chateau built by Joseph Desloge in 1926 in a wooded area near the Missouri River — and the 286 acres surrounding it north of Florissant, just west of New Halls Ferry and Shackelford roads. It’s now part of the Boeing Leadership Center.
“It’s really difficult when you talk about this type of property,” said Bob Boyer, assessor of Jefferson County. Apartment complexes in the county sell in that price range and above, he said.
Union Pacific has allowed assessor personnel on the Selma Farm grounds only a few times in recent decades, the office said. It has instead used aerial photos to assess the property, about 3 miles south of Festus.
The castle’s price is millions and millions above the most expensive single-family home for sale in Jefferson County, which is part of a Dittmer cattle farm that’s being sold for $1.5 million, according to the real estate firm Zillow.
A 13,000-square-foot house on more than 1,000 acres in Brumley, Missouri, about 150 miles southwest of St. Louis, is listed for $15 million, according to the Property Shark website that ranks it as the most expensive house for sale in the state.
It has been on the market for nearly six months.
In the St. Louis area, the Westbury Estate in Ladue is the most expensive house on the market with a $10.9 million price tag, according to Zillow. The 20,000-square-foot house sits on more than 4 acres and includes a “gentleman’s lounge and conservatory.” It has been listed since Sept. 12.
The listing for Selma Farm plays up its history, saying it has “long been a meeting place for the ambitious and the influential.”
The castle is said to be a replica of a castle on Lake Como in Italy, according to a history published by Union Pacific in a brochure.
It was built for Ferdinand Kennett and his wife, Julia. The Kennetts were a rich and powerful family — Ferdinand’s brother was the mayor of St. Louis when the Eads Bridge was dedicated in 1874.
The Kennetts hired George Barnett, best known for designing Henry Shaw’s house that’s now a part of the Missouri Botanical Garden, to design the castle, which is almost 12,000 square feet. It was completed in 1854 at a reported cost of $125,000.
The family brought in a master stone cutter from Philadelphia to supervise the stone quarrying, as well as other workers including cabinet makers, plasterers and sheet metal workers from the east. Slaves did much of the labor.
Ornamental iron throughout the castle and a parlor mantle came from England, and the Kennetts used part of the second floor as a Catholic chapel where the village priest celebrated Mass once a month.
Thomas Reynolds, a slaveholder who was the U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri, and Benjamin Gratz Brown, editor of the Missouri Democrat newspaper, dueled in 1856 over slavery in what was the last reported duel in the state on a sand bar across the river from the castle. Both survived, but Brown suffered a shattered kneecap. He was elected Missouri governor in 1870.
The year after the duel, the Kennetts entertained the future King Edward VII of England.
Ferdinand Kennett Jr., who inherited the property, was “reported to be much chagrined when Union troops and officers took over the residence during the Civil War,” according to Union Pacific. The castle’s shot tower was used throughout the war, during which the family moved to St. Louis.
Later owners included Robert Brookings, founder of the Brookings Institution in Washington, as well as W.K. Cavanaugh and St. Louis industrialist William Schock.
A fire gutted the castle in 1939, and the Schock family rebuilt it. When the Mississippi River Fuel Corp., which became the parent company of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, bought the land in 1953, its president, William Marbury, continued restoration efforts and added a golf course and two fishing lakes.