Howard Solomon was a creator of art, or what I call a blue-collar artist, an artist whose creations speak to everyday people. He took ordinary objects and turned them into masterpieces that people from all walks of life could appreciate. Howard saw through imaginative eyes that could look at old discarded car parts and see the makings of a wild animal. Where the average person would see discarded printing plates, Howard saw siding for his castle in the woods.
He was born in Rochester, NY, in 1935, and he created his first skillfully detailed piece of art at the early age of four when his mother handed him a razor blade. I shudder to think what a normal four year old would do with a razor blade, but Howard Solomon was no normal child, Howard had a special talent, and with that razor blade, he carefully carved a truck from a discarded piece of wood. Paying close attention to detail, Howard even carved spinning tires, created from his mother’s wooden knitting needles.
In 1955, Howard Solomon moved to St. Petersburg, where he opened a cabinet shop. He eventually moved to Freeport, Bahamas, and while living there, he worked creating interior embellishments for bars and restaurants.
Jump ahead to 1970 when Howard Solomon was looking for a place to build a home and workshop when he bought the swampland in Ona, Florida, in an area called Lilly. Of course, it was dry season when he bought the property, and he didn’t know it was swampland, but he made it work just the same.
Why did he build a castle? Well, he was after all an artist.
Howard Solomon “could not sit idle,” said his friend and our tour guide for our visit, so why stop at a castle when you can build a boat and a lighthouse. Why did he build the lighthouse out of aluminum? To make it light, of course!
I have to be honest, when John suggested that we visit Solomon’s Castle, I was skeptical; I thought it would be one of those cheesy roadside attractions that we would end up laughing about afterward. But boy, was I wrong.
I was truly amazed that a man with no formal training, a man who never finished high school, a man whose parents were even told that he was semi-retarded, could on his own, sculpt, weld, and create from junk no less, such detailed and even ingenious pieces of art.
But that is only part of the story. To me, the best and most interesting part of the story is that he was a man that had all the odds against him—a man with little education that took his God-given raw talent and turned it into a kingdom. A castle with stained glass windows that he made into a home, a boat in a moat that he turned into a restaurant, a man that acquired a priceless antique car collection, a man that not only made a living but some would say a fortune, a man who left a legacy that lives on after his passing. Not bad for a man who couldn’t sit still and never finished high school.
How much time to allow for a visit depends on your level of interest. John and I took both the castle tour and the antique car garage tour with a lunch at the Boat In the Moat in between. After the garage tour, we walked the property and the trail along Horse Creek, walking off just enough calories to head back to the boat for a tasty dessert. For us, it was an over 4-hour visit.
Boat in the Moat restaurant seating is available in the boat, an outside patio, or in the lighthouse.
Solomon’s Castle is located at 4533 Solomon Road in Ona, Florida, and is way off the beaten path, or as our tour guide said “out in the middle of everywhere”. Ona is in Hardee County about 70 miles southeast of Tampa.
Hours are 11 am – 4 pm Tuesday – Sunday. Solomon’s Castle is closed on Mondays. ( Solomon’s Castle is closed during August and September and I would suggest checking their official website as they update their hours periodically).
The ticket price for the combo tour is $22 for seniors or veterans with ID, $24 for adults, $11 for ages 13 -17, $8 for children 5-12.
An important item to note: Solomon’s Castle does not accept Credit or Debit Cards. All purchases, including the restaurant, must be paid in cash. (this is due primarily to poor internet service in the area. There is an ATM on-premises; however, again, service is very spotty)
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