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A Weekend Getaway to Castles & Caverns


The Piatt Castles sit regally on hills in a West Liberty pastoral valley. With frescoed walls painted by the French artist Oliver Frey, floor to ceiling wood paneled rooms and valued antiques the castles seem to have absolutely nothing in common with its next-door neighbor, the rugged Ohio Caverns.


Yet it simply depends on how you look at it. One location decided to showcase limestone in its natural earthed splendor while the others chose to take the limestone in the area and show off just what man can create.


“I think what so many visitors find compelling is that these buildings almost look like they grew up out of the land,” Margaret Piatt, the great-great granddaughter of Original Owner of Mac-A-Cheek Castle Abram Piatt, said.


Approximately one hour away from Columbus, both the castles and caverns make the perfect one-day Columbus getaway. If seeing castles in Ohio, a rarity in and of itself, is not enough incentive to make the trip, enjoying a break from the summer heat in the 54-degree caverns should seal the deal. Besides the pleasing temperature, the caves are also known to attract the eye.


“The pure-white crystal formations are really not found elsewhere and also the very colorful mineral coloration within the cave. Those are the two thinks that make it unique and stand out from other caves and caverns throughout the United States,” said Ohio Caverns Owner Eric Evans.


Though the Caverns is careful to maintain the cave’s natural interior, the Caverns is still capable of providing new attractions.


Customers can purchase a bag of rough to pan for gems, fossils, arrowheads and minerals outside of the caverns.


The real digging, however, started in 2002 when the Caverns began a development project to open a third room of caves in 2012. The room is now part of the most popular tour, the Natural Wonder Tour. The room may not contain as many crystal formations as the rest of the cave. Yet, it modernizes the Caverns by making it accessible to those who cannot use the stairs, leaving the amazing and rare view for everyone to see.


You won’t find anything modern at the two Piatt castles, Mac-A-Cheek and Mac-O-Chee. Yet, fans of the modern ‘local’ trend may relish at its foresight. The Piatts used many other nearby natural resources besides limestone. The elegant paneling within the castles comes from various woods from the area, such as cherry, walnut and ash. The wood was also processed in the area before it was installed in the castles.


The usage of nature is not the only binding force between the castles and caverns. They both have a history depending on brotherhood, adding to the list of famous Ohioan brothers such as the Wright Brothers and the Smuckers Brothers.


Land worker Robert Noffsinger discovered the Caverns in 1897 after a sinkhole opened up. Yet, it was in fact brothers Ira Smith and Albert Smith who developed and promoted the cave, making it an Ohio must-see.


“Ohio Caverns is really one of the first tourist attractions in the state of Ohio. There were not the King’s Islands or Cedar Points or any of the tourist attractions back then and caves and caverns were some of the first ones in the country, really for that matter,” said Evans.


About 70 years before the caverns were discovered, Abram Piatt and Donn Piatt came to West Liberty as young children from Cincinnati. Their father bought a farm and named it ‘Mac-O-Cheek’ after the Shawnee phrase for ‘smiling valley.’


‘Mac-O-Cheek’ has even become a popular middle name for members of the Piatt family. “It’s a real tribute to the land and its heritage,” Piatt said.


Continuing the name with a few adjustments along the way, Abram Piatt had Mac-A-Cheek Castle finished in 1871 and Donn Piatt had Mac-O-Chee Castle completed in 1881. The castles artistically express just how cultured these Cincinnati brothers were.


“Donn was a writer and [his wife] was an artist. It’s a very inspiring building. And one thing I would want visitors to realize is that we want them to be welcome and stimulated here,” Piatt said.


As for the future of the Castles, Piatt has enjoyed keeping the castles in her family, but realizes it may not always be that way.  “I don’t like to plan lives who haven’t yet been born … it’s very meaningful to me to have had an opportunity to exercise my interests and creativity and work with the public … and I believe that this environment is a way for people to discover science and art and nature and history and literature and drama and it’s just a very inter-disciplinary site,” Piatt said.


Inter-disciplinary indeed. The castles offer an event each month. Coming up on Saturday, July 19 “Strange, Quant & Great,” a performance of Donn Piatt’s reflections on his relationship with Abraham Lincoln by actor Tony St. Clair will be held at Mac-O-Chee Castle. Registration fee for the event and a self-guided tour of Mac-O-Chee is $10. Registration is online and must be done by July 14.


In August, The West Central Ohio Community Concert Band will perform on Saturday, August 17 at Mac-A-Cheek Castle for free, weather permitting.


If looking to create an event of your own, the Caverns caters to any event in its 35-acre shelter park that is also perfect for a family picnic after a day underground and up in the sky.



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