Best known for its iconic “castle cave,” likely no place in the county stirs the imagination quite like the nationally-recognized Kalida historic site; yet it is often forgotten that the area was once also home to a working farm, bustling village, and temporary county seat. You can visit Kalida and its castle by turning south from US-54 onto Osage Road, then driving about 1/3 a mile.
The castle itself, located on the original Davidson farmstead, is an elaborate structure built from native sandstone, complete with towers, carvings, two seventy-foot rampart walls with miniature battlements above, and a unique “open” parapet walk. Nestled beneath the castle is a utility cave built for storing items like milk, vegetables, and other perishables, though it is often referred to as a cyclone cellar or “fraidy hole.” James Davidson was inspired to contract the castle’s construction, carried out by countian Henry Ashley, after visiting the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and marveling at its “White City.”
The Davidson farmhouse, though worn by time, still stands beside the castle, along with other farm out-buildings, which are now painted red. And on a par with the castle structure itself, ornately-carved gates adorn the area’s entryways to the east and southeast, further earning the site its title, as “kalida” seems derived from the ancient Greek word for “beautiful” (kah-los).
Though gone today, in photographs from around 1873 of the accompanying townsite (south-southwest of the Davidson farm), one can identify multiple buildings such as the: “Iowa House” hotel, pool hall, pharmacy and general store, schoolhouse, grocery store, blacksmith shop, clinic, and post office. Other organizations and service-providers included: two-four churches, a second hotel, dentist, attorney’s office, notary, carpentry shop, saloon, and more. (Some of these frame buildings were transplanted to become the first in Yates Center.)
Kalida was likewise embroiled in battles during early county history regarding location of the county seat. In 1873, Kalida won the mantle of county seat from Neosho Falls, only to lose it shortly after in 1874 to “Defiance” (perhaps due to a rigged election), another nearby similarly-sized village of which almost no trace remains. Political tactics at this time were amusing, such as when Defiance-backers from Neosho Falls disrupted a Kalida political convention by handing out free whiskey-laced beer, which reduced the event to a drunken revel. Ironically, members of the Davidson family had wanted Kalida to be a “dry” town, but were eventually forced to relent due to political aspirations.