The Joslyn Castle is an example of Scottish Baronial Revival architecture, a romantic outgrowth of the 19th-century Gothic Revival movement. Sir Walter Scott, famous author of Ivanhoe, was among the first to incorporate a Scottish Medieval tower house, with its crow-stepped gables, crenellations, and small turrets or bartizans, into a newer private home, but the style can be found in innumerable public and private buildings of this era throughout Great Britain, the United States, and Canada.
Much has been made of the influence of architect John McDonald’s Scottish ancestry on the choice of Scottish Baronial style for the Castle, but the reality is more complex. The Joslyns, like other Gilded Age millionaires, chose a style that would lend an air of old money and sophistication to their newly found wealth and position. The specific idea of a Castle for their home might have originated in Joslyn’s youth from Union Pacific Railroad tycoon Jay Gould’s greatly admired home, Lyndhurst, with its medieval towers and extensive greenhouses. A third influence was likely that of another “Castle”, the Chicago home of Marshall Field’s founder, Palmer Potter. In the 1890s, the Joslyns would have attended Columbian Exposition receptions inside the Potter’s Castle with its crenelated towers and sumptuous historic revival interiors.
Lynhurst may look like a Castle, but it bears little resemblance to the drafty stone ruins of Europe. Like other gilded age mansions it was built with both dramatic ostentation and state of the art domestic technology. The gracious hall opening up to adjoining rooms with pocket doors, the carved rare woods, the sweeping staircase, the stained glass windows, a ballroom, an Aeolian pipe organ, and historically-themed rooms were coupled with telephones, central heating, gas, electricity, a refrigeration room, and indoor plumbing with bathrooms for each bedroom, one with an elaborate shower. The result was conspicuous consumption rooted in tradition announcing the Joslyns were a couple not only of cultivated tastes, but power and influence.