Castles are guardians of history. Their weathered stones and chambers hide numerous secrets, for they’ve witnessed oaths, rituals, alliances, business deals, and listened to echoes of centuries-old conversations that took place there.
Their towering presence teleports us back in time to experience what transpired behind closed doors and guarded gates.
Pythian Castle is one such building that is of great significance in the Toledo community. It’s a reminder of our city's rich history (which you can carry with you, thanks to the Pythian Castle Shirt).
The majestic structure is nestled in Toledo's Center City at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and N. Ontario Street. It occupies an expanse of 30,000 sq ft.
While the building’s remarkable design is enough to teleport you to another era, it holds other lesser-known intriguing facts.
As we take you back in time to Pythian Castle, you’ll discover:
- The building was constructed by a secret society in the 1890s
- Romanesque architecture was used for the building’s design
- You can encounter a ghost, based on other people’s stories
- This mystical building has been vacant for over forty years
Let’s step into Pythian Castle and discover the mysteries that beckon us.
1 - The Castle Was a Secret Society’s Meeting Place
What comes to your mind when you think of secret societies? Perhaps you envision mystical practices, exclusive membership, power, influence, and sworn secrecy.
That couldn’t be far from the truth, because secret societies are exclusive organizations that conceal their activities from the public. Members employ oaths, secret language, symbols, and rituals to solidify their unity.
The Toledo Pythian Castle was built in 1890 by Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization and secret society. This was after Justus H. Rathborne, a clerk in the US treasury during the Civil War founded the Pythian Knights organization.
Rathborne was hoping to help the nation heal from the violence of war by embracing the brotherhood organization, which was dedicated to the ideals of friendship, charity, and benevolence.
Because the organization was formed during a time of war, They needed to hold meetings secretly due to political pressure discouraging people from joining such groups. Secret meetings provided them with the privacy and security they needed.
Members wore metal jewelry with the symbols FCB to stand for friendship, charity and benevolence. Rathbone came up with ceremonies, rites, and costumes which remain secrets of the order to this day.
The Knights of Pythias group continued using this castle until 1951 when they sold it to Greyhound Lines, a bus services company located next to the castle.
2 - Its Marvelous Design Features Romanesque Architecture
We chose to showcase Pythian Castle on a vintage t-shirt due to the building’s unique structure and history in Toledo. We love preserving our culture, and so celebrating Toledo’s architecture is one of our favorite things.
Pythian Castle stands out from the surrounding buildings due to its breathtaking design. In fact, in 1908, it was described as "the finest building entirely devoted to Pythianism." Its uniqueness was a result of the Romanesque design used.
The Pythian Castle occupies 30,000 sq ft. Its highest point is the turret at Jefferson avenue, which reaches 122 ft (37m), while the main roof is 79 ft (24m). The exterior is made of contoured sandstone, a conical roof, a tower, and arched windows.
Our Pythian Castle Shirt features a hand drawn illustration of the iconic building. The colorful accents and text give it a vintage vibe similar to the building. You’ll also find this illustration in the You Will Do Better in Toledo Coloring Book.
3 - Rumor Has It That the Building Is Haunted
“The moon cast eerie shadows across the abandoned castle, illuminating the overgrown ivy and thorns. Suddenly, a cold wind howled through the broken glass, echoing ghostly whispers inside the castle.
As I stepped inside, a tingling sensation crawled up my spine, and I realized I wasn’t alone. I could feel an invisible pair of eyes watching me keenly. Without warning, a loud shriek…….”
Such chilling descriptions usually originate from people who dare to explore haunted houses. Some abandoned structures seem to harbor spirits trapped in time—neither living nor resting in peace. It’s like they’re condemned to wander eternally in the empty hallways and rooms, spooking whoever they encounter.
Pythian Castle has had its share of ghost stories, probably due to the fact that it has been abandoned for years. Some people who‘ve visited the place claim that the place is haunted due to the paranormal sensations they experienced.
A Toledo resident recounts her experience at the castle:
“As we made our way from room to room, we took countless photos and marveled at every architectural detail until we made our way back to what looked like the back-stage area, complete with small dressing rooms and vanities for performers long since dead or forgotten. As we walked through, careful where to step as the floor boards had rotted through in some spots, I felt a strange presence about me. Someone was there with us, yet I saw no one. It was the unmistakable feeling of being watched. I never forgot that feeling.” — Jennifer Shortridge, Haunted Toledo
Whether the castle is haunted or not, the ghost stories make the building more mysterious, and if you like going on ghost tours, now you have a new target to investigate.
4 - The Castle Has Been Frozen in Time Since 1974
Pythian Castle has been vacant since 1974 when a fire erupted in the premises, forcing the occupants to move out.
Prior to 1978, The castle served not only as a place to hold secret meetings, but it also had retail space. One of the earliest tenants was J.W. Green Co, a retail and wholesale dealer of pianos and organs.
When the Knights of Pythian eventually moved out of the castle in 1951, they sold it to Greyhound Lines, a bus services company who owned it until the 1970s when Ed Emery took over.
He set up a youth center and rented out space to an art studio, antiques shop, and music store. He also registered it under the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Unfortunately, a fire erupted in 1974, causing the occupants to vacate. The building froze in time until 2016 when David Ball, a developer, started renovating it. That was despite people commenting that it would be impossible, considering the caved roof, collapsed floors and other major damages.
David Ball said this when he took up the project:
“I knew it would be a challenge, I knew this project would be tough and expensive. It has certainly been all of that, but at the end of the day, I will be proud to see the building occupied. There’s nothing like it in this city. To have it removed from our skyline would have been a loss."
His words precisely echo our sentiments at Jupmode—the unwavering commitment to preserve our history for future generations.
Do you have someone in your life who appreciates Toledo’s history? Besides giving them a Pythian Castle Shirt, you can surprise them with more apparel from our Gift Guide for the Toledo History Buff.
Own a Piece of Toledo’s History With a Pythian Castle Shirt
We’ve discovered that Pythian Castle has a long history, from its origin as a venue for secret meetings and military training, to the fire that broke out, years of abandonment, and finally restoration.
That’s a pretty long history. Now you have the opportunity to carry that history with the help of an ultra soft unisex fitted Pythian Castle Shirt, designed and decorated in the Midwest.
If you can’t find the perfect shirt, hat, or jacket from our collection, let Jupmode customize for you. We offer custom screen printing & embroidery services, and we’ll be thrilled to add your logo or design to your personal and brand merchandise.