ONA, FL — Tucked away in the Florida woods, one man built his own castle and filled it with his artwork. After buying the property in 1972, Howard Solomon (1935-2016) built the castle to house his workshop and family home. A skilled carpenter and welder, Solomon did most of the construction himself over the course of seven years, with occasional help from neighbors. According to a castle tour guide, Solomon did hire someone to help put the joists in place, but he made the joists himself.
The gleaming three-story castle is covered in aluminum plates once used by the printing press at the Wauchula Herald Advocate. These plates (which still have news stories on one side) were part of the offset printing process.
Solomon made the castle’s 80 colorful stained-glass windows. He filled the 12,000-square foot structure with original artwork made from recycled materials. He created sculptures from wood scraps, pieces of oil drums, rebar, chains, motorcycle parts, beer cans, sea shells and other found objects. He encouraged his neighbors to bring him anything they wanted to throw away, and they happily complied. One room showcases a menagerie of animals made from thousands of wire coat hangers.
Over the years, he was dubbed the Rembrandt of Recycling, the Da Vinci of Debris and the Wizard of Odds and Ends.
After completing the castle, Solomon decided to build a boat in the castle moat. The replica of a Spanish Galleon became a restaurant to serve the hungry tourists who visit the castle. When the restaurant needed more seating, he built a lighthouse to go with it.
The restaurant offers a variety of sandwiches and salads as well as hot meals such as lasagna, meatloaf and chicken pot pie. Homemade desserts, such as “Diamond Jack’s Walnut Pie,” are popular. Queen of Hearts Lily Lime Pie is made from limes grown on the castle grounds.
While there’s no charge for parking or admission to the grounds, tickets for tours to see the artwork inside the castle are $25 for adults; $8 for children ages 4-12; $12 for children ages 13-17; $23 for seniors age 62 and older. Children age 3 and younger are admitted free. For an additional $6, visitors can tour other buildings on the property to see more of Solomon’s artwork as well as his collection of antique cars. (He considered anything prior to 1935 as antique.)
The tour guides use a script that Howard Solomon wrote, with plenty of jokes and puns woven into the stories behind the works of art.
Solomon’s Castle, 4533 Solomon Road in Ona, is just west of Arcadia off SR 70. It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 2- Aug. 1.
In 2022, the castle reopening was delayed by Hurricane Ian, which flooded the main building. The well-built structure survived the storm, and after an extensive cleanup, they were able to reopen after Thanksgiving.
This tourism feature was brought to you by Handy Food Stores, who encourages you to get out and explore your own backyard and all the things our region has to offer!