Closed in 1967, mysterious tales about the tower at Hills & Dales still persist, but what is the real story?
Known by some as Patterson’s Castle or the Witch’s Tower, but more commonly as Frankenstein’s Castle, the turret-shaped lookout tower on the grounds of Hills and Dales has surely been a source of intrigue over the years.
Historic photo left courtesy metroparks.org
All types of sensational stories and mysterious tales have circulated the Miami Valley concerning this now permanently sealed tower. Did Frankenstein really live there? Obviously not. But do ghostly figures haunt the tower? Who is the lady in the black robe? And are there really ghostly silhouettes charred into those three-foot thick stone walls?
It turns out, the truth is much more somber than sensational.
Built in 1940 and completed in 1941, the 56-foot high turret-shaped tower was built by the National Youth Administration as a project with stone salvaged from buildings condemned by the city. It was closed shortly after an incident in 1967 that left Bellbrook teenager Peggy Ann Harmeson dead and her companion severely burned.
Local website, daytonunknown.com, uncovered an article from the Xenia Daily Gazette, confirming the incident on May 17, 1967. Peggy and her companion were hit by a bolt of lightning which reportedly hit the tower while the two were inside. Peggy was buried three days later in nearby Calvary Cemetery.
Skip Peterson, a former chief photographer of the Dayton Daily News for 33 years, remembers the events of 1967 like it was yesterday.
"Peggy Harmeson lived 2 doors from me in Bellbrook. She had just turned 16 and had her learners permit," Peterson told us. "She was dating Ronnie Stevens and he was teaching her to drive. It was like her 2nd or third time behind the wheel. They were driving his convertible, no one knows who was driving, but a rain storm came up fast so they stopped by the tower and sought shelter, not knowing that it has no roof to speak of. Lightning struck the tower, killing Peggy instantly."
Peterson remembered that a Journal Herald photographer got on the scene while police and medics were trying to help him. Peterson said Ronnie, who was also injured in the incident, was apparently incoherent, screaming and running hysterically in front of the tower.
"The word spread through Bellbrook quickly because a classmate was a copy boy at the Journal Herald and called someone. Even without the internet, the whole town knew by 10pm," Peterson said. "I was a pallbearer, a rude awakening for a 16-year-old kid to bury his classmate."
This story was first published 10/13/2015, and updated 10/27/2022 to include new information provided by local photographer Skip Peterson of Sugarcreek Photography Gallery