About five rural miles outside of Bellville, there’s a one-lane gravel drive, shrouded by trees, that winds its way off the pavement. It’s peaceful and shaded, birds sing, the road meanders, finally veering left, and suddenly, a full-scale castle rises from the still waters of its encircling moat.
Even though expected — that’s the destination we’re seeking, after all — the first glimpse of the greyish-white crenellated stone walls, turrets and drawbridge have once again produced what owner/builder Mike Newman calls “the wow factor.”
“I bought 20 acres,” Newman, 59, explained, “it was 1999, I wanted a private residence, and had no idea of opening it to the public.” A small pond on the property was enlarged, an earthen dam and spillway constructed, and the concrete slab was poured. “I ended up building it myself — not too many castle contractors around here these days.” Then something unexpected happened.
“I did not want to open my home to the public,” Newman stressed, “but whether it was the oddity, the novelty — I saw the castle creating something in people. It fostered the idea that they can accomplish great goals.” Visitors, many uninvited and unannounced, were transfixed by the storybook architectural appeal of the Medieva
l manse. Though not formally trained as an engineer or architect, Newman knew what he wanted. “It’s from my imagination. I remembered castles from the Middle Ages with crenellated walls and round turrets that I read about in books.” Gazing up at his newest addition, an eight-foot square, sixty-foot high bell tower, he smiled. “It’s really the imagination of a kid.”
And that imagination has been working overtime for almost two decades, producing both authentic and whimsical touches as his castle creation has evolved. A working drawbridge weighing over 3,000 pounds, activated by two men inside a fourteen-foot diameter jumbo squirrel cage, which rattles as the massive antique iron chains raise and lower it over the moat, leads visitors inside the walled courtyard. A cozy, circular chapel is appointed with a centuries-old sculpted frieze, handcrafted benches and an alter with an oversize vintage Bible. The Great Hall, with its soaring twenty foot vaulted ceilings, curved wooden rafter ties, flagstone floor and natural wood tables and chairs seems poised for the entrance of King Arthur, El Cid or another legendary nobleman from antiquity.
The two-story dungeon, with its tongue-in-cheek props of fake human hands still encircled by wrist irons, also has a realistic set of stocks, an iron-banded body cage and a bed of nails. Climbing the spiral wooden stairway reveals a skeleton seated in front of a TV set. A sign reads: “Forced to watch ‘Wheel of Fortune.’”
As is fitting for a man that owns a bakery (see sidebar), the kitchen in Newman’s castle is state-of-the-art, with a bump-out structure that is an eight-foot pizza oven — accessed through two doors mounted flush on one wall. His personal rooms have a marked spartan feel, and stainless steel chain mesh curtains, sets of armor and handmade, rustic furniture echo the Middle Ages atmosphere. A mammoth bathtub is one of the few concessions to modernity, along with electric lights, indoor plumbing and central heating and air conditioning. Door handles, faucet knobs and other details are fashioned from rough finished wood, and water faucets of old-appearing pipe pour into basins that are handmade.
Newman’s original, mind’s-eye vision was fortuitous — the site and setting of the castle are idyllic and storybook-correct. No other structures or man-made objects interrupt the forested hills surrounding the grounds, and the photogenic moat, dotted with lilly pads, is a photographer’s dream. He’s come to realize what an effective revenue-generator the castle is, too. “I can promote Bellville, my hometown — I graduated from high school here in 1973 — and I can promote my business, Newman’s Bakery.” Tours are ongoing at the castle, and the Harris County Precinct Bus for senior citizens regularly schedules visits. “Schoolkids love it, we have campouts for Boy and Girl Scouts, we’ve had weddings and film crews.” The addition of more guest rooms will enable longer stays, for group retreats, and Newman’s Bakery bundles meals in with the tours.
Back across the moat sits the formidable battle weapon of lore and legend, the trebuchet. “The arm is sixteen feet long,” Newman said, loading a small boulder into the wooden contraption, which he also built. When released, the rock whistles through the air, landing with a splash into the far reaches of the moat. “Kids love this,” he said, beaming – and you get the impression that he does, too. “There’s nothing more fun than to give ‘em a sword, and dub ‘em a knight.” TFH
Story and Photography by Steve Pettit