Washington County businessman almost ready to open his castle
WHIPPLE — Bill Grizer can’t wait to see the first wedding in his castle.
The Washington County businessman is within a few months of realizing a childhood dream — a castle that not only reproduces the architectural beauty of the Norman era but also has the potential to bring back some of the culture of chivalry.
On Wednesday afternoon, Grizer — a robust, energetic man in his early 50s — gestured as he walked around the vast interior of the structure. Four towers rise at the corners, enclosing a great hall and several ramifying, high-ceilinged rooms that include the makings of two bridal suites, a library, several tower rooms and spaces that spread off the main hall and which eventually will include outdoor courtyards.
The castle sits at the top of a hill well off Scott’s Ridge Road, with vistas of forested hills and valleys in every direction, beyond any traffic noise, a natural oasis.
Grizer’s fixation with castles began when he saw a movie — “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” — at the age of 8, he said, in which Neuschwanstein Castle is a prominent setting. He began collecting discarded and unused concrete blocks from his neighbors, with their permission, of course. When his mother gave him $200 for his high school prom, he used it to buy a truck so he could haul more blocks. Over the years, rather than dissipating, his enthusiasm for castles became more refined.
“I really prefer the old Norman castles to the ones like Disney uses,” he said.
And that’s what he’s built. The four towers are three stories high, and the roof is lined with battlements. The windows are compact, the outside is finished with dressed stone, and the building exudes power and elegance in its simplicity.
The exterior work is complete in all but a few details — walkways outside the upper rooms, and landscaping, which has been held up somewhat by rain. Inside, the ceiling in the main hall — 100 feet by 50 feet of tongue-and-groove pine — is finished except for installation of recessed lighting, the floor is done and the walls are lined with benches.
The walls are finished in stone and wood. Grizer said he deliberately left the windows small to remain faithful to Norman architecture, which intended windows as an opening for firing arrows, not for letting in light. The rough-in plumbing and tile work are done in the bathrooms, and all the doors are hung, waiting only for metal banding to give them an authentic look.
Grizer finally started the project, having stoked the ambition for it most of his life, at age 48.
“I was at the point where I would either do it or spend the rest of my life regretting that I hadn’t,” he said.
Now, after five years of working weekends and spare time, with the help of his son-in-law Jason Myers and many friends, notably Jamie Littleton who helped with the engineering, Grizer is close to completing the massive project.
There is, however, more than a building in Grizer’s vision, which in Medieval times could easily be called a chivalric adventure. He describes what he imagines might take place in and around the castle.
“We’ll build trails on these grounds, maybe two or two-and-a-half miles, and people could come here in the morning and park, just walk the trails, and leave. We wouldn’t charge for that, for coming to experience this,” he said. “Children could come here for lessons in how to be ladies, or how to be squires.”
He points at blocks of white and of darker gray in the outside walls, saying children could play games to count the number of blocks as keys to finding treasure hidden on the grounds.
Inside, a mezzanine loft above one of the rooms will house a library.
“I’ve got about 14,000 books,” he said.
The castle will start as a venue for rent, Grizer said, mainly for weddings. He imagines the bride entering the great hall, with men standing by in armor and creating an archway of crossed swords for her to walk through. Swords could be forged and engraved specifically for such occasions, he said.
“I just can’t wait for people to come out her and start getting married,” he said.
Grizer’s sister, Sarah Myers, is doing the marketing for the facility.
“It’s a Medieval experience that is one-of-a-kind for our area,” she said. “Our starting-out plan is to offer it as an event venue, for weddings, children’s parties, and we may start our own events like masquerades and festivals. Eventually we’ll offer overnight stays, and in the longer term we’ll build outdoor stages and a Medieval village.”
It is sometimes said that chivalry is dead, but Grizer is out to prove that wrong. He has built the castle not just as a unique venue but as a community resource.
“When the big flood happened, I remember seeing Washington Elementary School opened to help people,” he said. “We can do that. We’re collecting military cots, and we’ll set by enough food to feed 100 people for five days.”
For Grizer, it’s more than a castle. It’s a call to shift a culture to a better time, a time of knights and ladies, courtesy, manners and good deeds, a time of great quests — like building a castle for all.
* Project started: 2014
* Location: A few miles east of Whipple
* Property: 54 acres, plus another 30 acres available
* Building area: 15,000 square feet
* Number of concrete blocks in structure: 46,000
* Expected opening date: Spring 2019
Source: Bill Grizer