The adage goes that a man’s home is his castle. It’s supposed to mean that when you have your own place, you can be yourself and be in charge, but of course, a few people take the “castle” part a little too literally.Out in the rolling hills of Wyoming towers a one-of-a-kind residence — one just as colorful as the man who built it. Even though its countless nooks and crannies still provide a spectacle for onlookers today, there also hides a tragic history behind every nail and board…
Francis Lee Smith was an engineer in Cody, Wyoming, but Lee’s real passion was the great outdoors. He loved nothing more than exploring Wyoming’s rivers and mountains, and more than anything else, Lee wished he and his family had their own place out in the wilderness.
When a wildfire tore through nearby Rattlesnake Mountain, leaving many trees scorched by the flames, Lee had an idea. By law, this damaged timber was now available to anyone who wanted it. Lee jumped at the chance.
In many ways, he took inspiration from the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Sarah Winchester, the wife of a firearms mogul, continually added to this mansion throughout her life, often adding whimsical additions and stairways that went nowhere.
Flickr / 3xmachina
While he enlisted some friends to help haul the wood, Lee built the Smith Mansion singlehandedly. Whereas most construction projects start with a detailed set of blueprints, Lee had no interest in any of that: he was building from a set of plans that only existed inside his head.
It was like he was being pressed ahead by an unseen force. Even at night, he toiled away on the Mansion by the light of a single light bulb, powered by a tiny generator. Of course, his fanatical building habits began to take a toll on his family.
Lee’s wife couldn’t stand the project and divorced him, but that didn’t deter Lee. He brought his children (his daughter Sunny is pictured below) to spend summers with him in the Smith Mansion, and they still have fond memories of the many nights they spent under the looming wooden roof as their father continued to build.
Though the mansion is ornate — in its own junkyard way — its living conditions are far from luxurious. The home has no running water, and its only source of heat is a small iron stove in the dining area. That can only provide so much warmth during the harsh Wyoming winters.
On the other hand, the mansion made the perfect home for all kinds of wildlife. Several raccoons, owls, and even skunks moved into the mansion right alongside the Smith family. There’s no word on whether or not any of those critters ended up as dinner.
Lee did not include any specific bedrooms — he wanted all the spaces to have multiple uses. The family and their guests slept on the floor in sleeping bags. They were essentially camping in style.
Alternatively, Lee made foldable wooden hammocks that were handy for both sleeping and storing supplies. We can only imagine Lee woke up with a sore back most mornings, but even that couldn’t stifle his joy about living in his dream house.
No, Lee was not too big on including pillows or cushions in his log estate, though he did cobble together some neat swinging benches.
The house was a virtual playground for the Smith kids. Bucky, Sunny’s brother, liked to use the larger rooms as an indoor basketball court. It’s safe to say that he got his fair share of splinters while balling here.
Although his mansion already had more than enough room to shelter his entire family, Lee wasn’t satisfied. He went bigger and bigger, almost like a man possessed, tacking on wild additions like a “crow’s nest” that rose five stories above the ground.
Lee even designed a set of metal wind chimes out of scrap metal for his towering home. He completed almost all the work with conventional tools, except he brought in a crane to place the upper level’s A-shaped frames, as seen around the chimes in the picture below.
After 12 years of back-breaking work and counting, Lee understood the enormity of his project. He always joked, “The building will get me before I can get the building.” He had no idea that he was essentially predicting the future…
In 1992, two whole days passed without anyone hearing from Lee, so his family drove out to the mansion. That’s where they found his body. He was improving the upper levels of his home when a piece of timber came loose and knocked him off the five-story building. He was only 48.
Sunny Smith-Larsen, his daughter, is now the owner of her father’s strange property. It might be the place where he perished, but she is trying to focus on all the beauty the place has to offer, in spite of locals say about the house…
You see, the story of her father’s obsession with the build has begun a sort of legend attracting tourists interested in the strange and the supernatural. There are even some townsfolk who refuse to visit the place after nightfall.
Outside of Sunny giving the occasional tour to those who dare, the only visitors the residence gets are wild animals and vandals. Sunny realized she needed to take drastic action to salvage her dad’s masterpiece.
In the summer of 2018, Sunny put the Smith Mansion up for sale, in the hopes that some special individual would come along and treasure the palatial cabin as much as her father did. For a mere $750,000 it could be all yours. But the buyer ought to be careful… they just might start building themselves!